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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How local governments can capitalize on real-time communications

Perhaps no industry sector is under more pressure to improve services while reducing overall costs than government. From state and local agencies to the federal level, government IT is under increasing scrutiny to deliver more convenient, simple ways to improve employee communications, whether those employees are using traditional phones, desktop computers or mobile devices. Despite this pressure, many U.S. governmental bodies, including the largest municipalities, still have 20- and in some cases 30-year-old technology at the heart of their communications systems.

Advances in voice over Internet Protocol technology has not only improved the economics of voice communications, but they have enabled new software-based features that pave the way for the mobile communications critical to staying connected in today’s digital world. VoIP has also led to video collaboration, secure instant messaging and the unification of multiple communications channels that enable individuals and teams to work more efficiently than ever.

Nevertheless, governments still rely heavily on these legacy systems for critical communications. Why is that?

First, the quality of the systems in place is often deemed “good enough” for now.

Second, the technical debt associated with implementing those systems in the first place has been diminishing steadily as the capital required for the initial procurement has been retired through depreciation and amortization schedules. The only remaining operational expenditure is for maintenance, which pleases the financial officers and relieves budget pressures.

Third, moving from an old system to a new system requires time and effort. Not to mention, the changes to newer, innovative cloud communications technologies and related applications require new skill sets and training.

That said, the benefits associated with cloud-based real-time communications are so great at this point, that forward thinking municipalities have shown that they can dramatically improve productivity, save staff time and streamline workflow processes. These new systems can integrate voice and video and securely share data internally and externally through security software baked into communications platforms. Even when working remotely, agencies can improve teamwork through instant collaboration with secure, private video, screen share and instant messaging tools that employees can access across all device types.

In some cases, implementing this technology allows agencies to repurpose thousands of square feet of data center space, saving them tens of thousands of dollars in system and HVAC power consumption. These savings can in be invested in other mission-critical areas.

On top of that, real-time communications technology allows government to preserve the value of its existing technology investments, while seamlessly migrating to state-of-the-art unified communications architectures. This means that large municipalities can keep using the communications tools they already know, while future-proofing their communications capabilities. There is no need to “rip and replace” at one time; given the architecture of cloud communications, offices can be migrated to the cloud one at a time, which makes secure communications possible inside and outside of that office.

The transformation of communications networks can be planned carefully and implemented systematically, leveraging existing databases, provisioning systems, access policies, application servers and more. Take, for example, the replacement of legacy IP-PBX “back office” equipment with virtualized servers that can support more users with less overall expense. It is now possible to move users, applications and features onto a secure communications cloud literally overnight, without any disruption in the user experience.

Many of these benefits have been realized through cloud-based solutions, where virtualized real-time communications services have been set up to mimic the primary system. These solutions have shown  agencies the potential of moving all communications to the cloud, such as making mobility more seamless, bringing communications more in-line with the digital habits of citizens and securing the entire system --  at the edge, in the core and in the cloud itself.

The Los Angeles Public Library, for example, recently introduced cloud-based technology to enhance communications and collaboration for its central location and 72 branches.  With the technology enhancements,  all employees can communicate in real-time via voice, video conference, text or web conference on any smart device on any operating system (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, etc.). In addition, the library's technology upgrade also included an advanced emergency alert notification solution that delivers real-time campus and systemwide alerts in emergencies.     

This is just one of many examples of how municipalities -- often thought of as technology-challenged institutions that are stuck in the past -- are in some ways leading the pack. Now that the systems put in place a decade or more ago have done their job, municipalities can make the move to modern digital communications services that allow teams to collaborate securely and efficiently, increase productivity and even better protect citizens -- and doing so with economic flexibility.

About the Author

Patrick Joggerst is the EVP of business development at Ribbon Communications.

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