Choosing VOIP when combining three separate agencies was easy, but Summit County Public Health also had to weigh the options on where it would be hosted.
When Summit County, Ohio, consolidated three public health agencies into a single department in 2011, voice over IP was the obvious choice for replacing the aging analog phone systems with a single, unified communications platform. But there also was the decision of whether to buy the system from a vendor and host it in-house or to get a hosted service from a carrier.
Cloud-hosted applications and software-, hardware- and platforms-as-a-service are increasingly popular options for cash-strapped agencies looking to save money and simplify their infrastructures, but Summit County chose to buy and operate its own system. Avoidance of long-term expenses and the simplicity of the Digium Switchvox system were the deciding factors, said Cory Kendrick, the department’s information systems manager.
“Service from a telco is nice, but you don’t have as much control and you have to pay a chunk of money every month,” Kendrick said. “The up-front cost is low, but the ongoing costs are high.”
With the system up and running for about a year, Kendrick said the best feature of the new system is “the ability to run reports and see where we’re having problems.”
Much of Summit County Public Health Department’s work involves providing services and referrals to the public, and much of this is done by phone. The reports let managers see where calls are going, where they are being answered, where they are dropped and how long it takes to deal with problems and requests. This information is valuable for tuning the system’s Interactive Voice Response function, which is the front end for routing incoming calls to the appropriate office or person.
This has been particularly important, because one of the biggest challenges in consolidating three separate agencies — from the county and the cities of Akron and Barberton — was merging the phone numbering systems for each agency.
A study done by Kent State University on the first year of consolidation identified the merging of IT and phone systems as one of the major challenges of the project, and the assigning of phone numbers was one of the trouble spots highlighted. Some numbers were lost or temporarily abandoned, resulting in calls sometimes being misdirected and lost.
Kendrick said the technology for the new VOIP system was simple to deal with, but the biggest lesson learned in the transition was the preparation needed to understanding the numbering schemes when multiple systems are merged. Like proper management of any IT system, this requires discovery so that the current systems are fully understood and effective plans can be made for a new system.