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Modern technologies, electronic gadgets and thousands of devices make modern life much easier, but it is questionable whether communication networks are safe enough. It is controversial whether different methodologies delivered over Internet Protocol can replace eye-to-eye or face-to-face communication to the full scale. People cannot be sure that their private conversations through the means of the Information Technologies still remain “private information” for other users. The VoIP system implementation at Butler University illustrates what is VoIP system and the way it functions, as well as its advantages and disadvantages.
VoIP (voice-over-Internet-Protocol) is a group of methods and principles that are designed to provide voice communication with the help of the Internet Protocol Network (Retrieved from dictionary.com). This technology transmits a speaker’s voice in a digital form as an audio file by means of networks (commonly by Internet) rather than telephone lines that were widely used around the world. In reality, it is a rather complicated methodology that needs to be carefully analyzed before implementation.
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The adaptation process of the VoIP at Butler University from a very beginning till the final full functioning took long 12 months of hard work and $ 1.5 million allocated by the educational institution. The project of the VoIP adoption was implemented step by step. Butler University in Indianapolis is a private arts college founded in 1855. Approximately 4.5 thousand students attended classes in 2005, and the university’s 20 facility buildings and campus were located on 290 acres (Brown, Kincaid, 2007). The great number of students who stayed on campus depended on telephone and network services provided by the university. At that time, these services were delivered by SBC’s Centrex service. Although the work of the system had successfully been operating for years, the network became sufficient in time since it was based on old features. There were some disadvantages of the system because it did not meet the needs of the students and university staff members. Only 3,000 phone units were provided with single-line phones. It means that students at the campus had one single voice mailbox in a room, so they were supposed to share one voice-mail box and a phone number. The system was lacking some practical features.
The university was going to celebrate its 150 anniversary in 2005, and the departments and staff constantly grew; thus, there was a physical need to change phone lines and phones itself. Since the SBC service could not address the Butler’s needs, it was ineffective and errors occurred too often, it was decided to install an in-house system. Everyone would benefit from a new service. It was planned that the system would improve the quality of call service (if there was a need, the callers would wait in a queue), the university personnel would be easily accessed through improved telecommunication network, and each student could have own voice-mail box and a phone number. The vendors predicted new system also to be cost-effective. In January 2004, a three-year plan was signed to improve the work of the network and replace the old one with the VoIP (Brown, Kincaid, 2007).
A group of Butler University personnel, students and representatives of Telecom evaluation team conducted a meeting consulting services and attended conferences to identify recommendations on proper telephony system. As a result of the interviews and surveys, it was found out that approximately 92 percent of students had and actively used cell phones, but the same percentage of students admitted that they use their room phones quite often, as well. About three-fourths of responders preferred using their own voice-mail box and a separate from a roommate phone number (Brown, Kincaid, 2007). Some other preferences were identified and evaluated into a Critical Issues List to meet the needs of the network users. To be successful in an effective implementation of the VoIP system, five strategic steps were established concerning hardware and software program installation, replacement of old phone equipment with the new one and improvement of communication between students, university administration and personnel. In July 2004, the results of the cost-benefit analysis were delivered to the university personnel (Brown, Kincaid, 2007).
The vendor selection process organized by Dietrich Lockard Group was complicated and laborious in order to meet Butler’s requirements mainly on cost and sufficiency. Moreover, the university staff and students enrollment needed a system that could have technological capabilities and provide great number of functions available for Mac, as well as PC users. One of the most important things the university wanted to have is simultaneous broad-casting of audio and text messages to all telephones in the campus. After the negotiation, User Advisory Group and Butler University team came to the conclusion to purchase an in-house IPT system with all the necessary additional services and products for its implementation provided by Berbee Information Networks. In spite of the fact that the system of this manufacturer was slightly more expensive, it would solve all the problems that occurred with the old system. Automatic Call Distribution would provide effective treatment of received messages and calls; emergency alerts would function over the territory of the university without breakdowns; each student would have its separate phone line and voice-mail box and changing the room; the line would not be changed any more, which saves time and labor. One more useful service was e-mail notification when the user received a voice mail. The installation works were supposed to start after the Christmas holidays.
The next step of the VoIP adoption was to update and implement software based on the IP network instead of telephone system. Furthermore, IP technology could ensure additional security. The previously developed three-year program was replaced with the one-year project to allocate money in a short period of time and to trigger the implementation. The idea of creating two separated telephone lines to the campus was supported by Time Warner Telecom and was not feasible with PBX system. Butler University adopted the QoS level function, as well, after signing the contract in mid-January 2005 (Brown, Kincaid, 2007). This set of techniques would be able to divide phone traffic to make voice transmission clear, without background noise; the origin of calls could be traced and the quality of calls controlled.
As the VoIP implementation comprised many complicated functions and labor, the number of people involved into the program installation constantly increased. Berbee Information system also provided testing on effective coexistence of voice traffic and data. Then, 18 students joined the implementation team to cope with testing and rollout. In April 2005, various functions and features of the system were tested for three weeks (Brown, Kincaid, 2007). Feedbacks from the users helped to find errors and reduce them. People involved in testing share their experience of using the new VoIP with friends and coworkers and later provided new coming users with advice and recommendations.
One more innovation of the VoIP system was to make users communicate freely, so the developers spread the idea that IP stood for “infinitely personal” since the privacy factor was regarded as the most significant one. When all the tests were finished and it was time to deliver the new phone system, the communications coordinator created a message to all students and personnel about the change of the Centrex system. Such information messages, notices, e-mails and voice-mails were announced to provide staff with the reasons to implement the new technology, training courses, date of old system dissemination, etc. The training courses for pilot users were organized by Dietric Lockard and Berbee. All the eagers could get acquainted with the improved functions and additional services of the new system. Some users felt uncomfortable transiting to the VoIP and did not understand the algorithm of connecting phone calls through computers or were simply scared of such a range of capabilities because system administration could run call traces. Nevertheless, most of the callers enjoyed considerable advantages of the innovation.
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Finally, in June 2005, all the elements of the VoIP system were installed and successfully functioned over the testing period and more, the roll out of the Centrex technology could be performed. IP based system did not require the old lines to be pulled up and replaced with new equipment at once; the new technological devices were distributed long before and put into operation. However, something went wrong and the range of technical issues happened in a week on June 13, 2005 (the university administration tagged this week as “Week from Hell”). The “plug and play” system did not work because of a software virus, so each number needed to be registered into the system by their unique address code. One more problem was that 2,000 phone numbers disappeared from database and the system administrator needed to provide them with all services one more time. Furthermore, telephony servers units had to be replaced due to the servers rebooting. Berbee solved problems by postponing the cutover date on two weeks later than it was supposed to start. Finally, in August 2005, the VoIP system was fully checked and could function well.
The analysis of the new system adoption at Butler University was conducted twelve months later – the full implementation process took a year. The total sum of money allocated by Butler reached $ 1.5 million. Although the VoIP system turned to be slightly more expensive as it was planned to be but provided more functions, CIO Scott Kincaid was pleased and proud of the new data and voice network at Butler University.