VoIP, UC and Education: The Perfect Fit

By Brian Ferguson

Group of teenagers sitting in classroom with raised hands.Several times over the years I’ve been asked by analysts, customers, and others, “What types of companies or organizations are the best fit for VoIP or Unified Communications?”  There are many possible answers to that question, as both technologies offer so much to so many, but the most simplified answer I can conjure up is this:  VoIP and UC are perfect for organizations where communications is vital to their success, they are not averse to technology, and cost savings is a key driver for change.  I would have to follow that description up by saying that a perfect example of an organization that fits the use case extremely well for VoIP and UC is a school.

Schools, from K-12 to small colleges and Universities, easily meet all three of the qualifications I outlined above.  Quality communication between the administration and staff, administration and parents, and teachers and parents/students are the most important factors to success for schools.  Any breakdown in these relationships can lead to safety concerns, legal ramifications, and create roadblocks to student learning.  Schools have quickly become early adopters when it comes to technology as web-based education, and interactive learning tools are now the norm for most schools at every level.  These advancements make the adjustment of moving to a mobile application (and a web-based Switchboard) simple.  And, of course, there is likely not a more budget conscience organization on Earth than a school.

Since education is the perfect place for UC and VoIP, lets take a closer look at what communications problems are solved with a modern phone system like Switchvox:

Problem #1:  Cost

Schools today are dealing with shrinking budgets and vanishing government funding that make it very difficult to even consider a new phone system.  Over the past couple of years, E-Rate funds have changed from being available for all phone systems to only Cloud-based systems, and funds are now being further reduced.  Starting in 2015, funding for phone systems is dropping 20% over the next two years as the primary focus of the funding is on broadband and Wi-Fi services.  These reductions, in part, have forced schools to consider settling for their current legacy systems and deal with subpar features and outdated communications tools.

The Answer:

What many schools do not realize is that it is very possible for a modern phone system, like Switchvox, to pay for itself in a short amount of time.  Consider the savings a school will incur when getting rid of costly, dedicated voice circuits like PRI, T1, or analog lines and switching to SIP Trunking. Not to mention, additional savings from the much lower annual renewal, support, and maintenance fees that UC brings compared to older, legacy equipment. The new phone system can be paid for in less than 24 months. Not to mention the reduced expense that is realized from ongoing phone service costs when using SIP Trunking. It is often 70% less than traditional phone service.   So even with dwindling budgets and vanishing funding, UC and VoIP are possible with a strong ROI.

Problem #2:  Inefficient Call Routing

It’s surprising how many schools are being forced to live with the limited features and complex administration of older, legacy phone systems.  These disadvantages make basic call routing and call management extremely difficult.  Consider a typical elementary school, for example. They are often stuck with a single person responsible for answering all incoming calls regardless of call volume and limited auto-attendant capabilities that are so complicated to set up and change when needed that they end up being more trouble than they’re worth.  All outgoing calls to parents for attendance issues must be done manually and teachers receive hand-written notes because they don’t even have voicemail.  Schools today are also bound to the same archaic intercom and overhead paging systems that disrupt class time to summon people like me to the office over 25 years ago.

The Answer:

Today’s UC systems provide so many options for schools to be more efficient with call handling and management and can do so in a very simple way.  Switchvox can allow schools to create queues, or groups of people that can easily handle incoming traffic with one person, or balance calls with an entire office of people. This ensures no one is overwhelmed and parents are taken care of, as needed.

Auto attendants have been replaced by Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems that can allow schools to not only set up basic automatic call trees and menus, but can handle traffic with interactive experiences for parents.  A great example for this is by allowing a parent to call in to an automated option that asks for the students name and reason for absence and the phone system automatically sends that information to the student management software for logging.  Imagine how much time that could save the front-desk employee in the mornings?

Outbound activities can be automated as well to save time and eliminate tedious and monotonous tasks.  Switchvox, when coupled with an auto-dialer, can make all of your outbound calls to let your parents know if a child was absent or to notify parents of a school delay or closure.

Combine these few examples with the wide range of other call routing features available in Switchvox and schools can improve the way the communicate overnight.

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