Getting Schooled on the Cloud - West Aurora School District 129

9 Aug 2015

This is part of a series of case studies showcasing how Mitel helps companies achieve their business communication objectives

Hosting communication equipment in modern data centers takes the burden off of an overworked IT staff

Unified communications and cloud solutions offer benefits to all types of users, and one of the biggest beneficiaries of these solutions is the education segment, including K-12 schools. I recently spoke with Don Ringelestein, Director of Technology for the West Aurora School District 129 in Aurora, IL to discuss their cloud communications solution.

West Aurora is a large suburban school district near Chicago, with 20 buildings and over 1,800 staff and 12,000 students. Each building has a main operator phone, and each member of the staff in the administration office and the transportation center has an extension, although not all of the faculty have their own extension, as high school teachers, for example, may have a common office area based on their departments. There are phones in every classroom so that teachers can dial out if needed.

Most of the district's school buildings are very old, and include three of the states oldest buildings, including one that opened in 1880, and several from 1930s. Only three of the buildings were built in last 15 years. In addition, the district office is in a 100-year old building that was not designed for modern telecom systems, so a hosted solution with an off-site data center rather than an on-premise solution was the logical choice. According to Ringelestein, "We don't have data center space or staff, and moving to the cloud made the most sense." Ringelestein added, "Most school districts are operating out of buildings that weren't designed to be data centers. The less you need to put in that room, the better."

Thanks to the government eRate program, which provides discounted telecommunications, Internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries, the Aurora school district was able to get a large reimbursement to update its outdated system.

The school district turned to Mitel's hosted voice solution, MiCloud, to replace its aging phone system and provide communication capabilities for its 20 buildings.

Using the MiCloud hosted service and an off-site data center provides the district with many benefits. As Ringelestein explained, "We don't have to maintain the controller, which saves my staff time. We get automatic updates when there are new releases and new capabilities. Our IT staff is more freed up, and we don't have to worry about having controllers in each building any more. In the K-12 market, no one is staffed well, so having one less thing to manage is important." Ringelestein added, "We'll be constructing a new building next year and all we have to do is wire it for Ethernet - we don't need the phone company to put in phone lines or anything. As long as the building is wired for Ethernet, we're good to go. We don't have to buy another controller, and I just need to call Mitel and tell them how many licenses are needed."

The cloud service provides some cost savings over the premises-based solution. For example, the district no longer has to pay for PRIs, and there are fewer points of failure by not using PRIs. Having the conferencing capability built right into the service means that the district doesn't have to spend money on its third-party conferencing service.

Moving to the cloud also provides the district with more functionality, such as call forwarding, conference calling, forwarding voicemail to email, and more.

In addition, the reliability is better than the district's previous system. Ringelestein noted, "We don't have backup power or a generator, and using the cloud means that communications can keep running when there's a power outage. We also don't have to spend money repairing equipment on site when there's a problem."

Despite the fact that many of the district's end users are not technologically advanced, there was not much of a learning curve when the new service was deployed. "We had a little training for the staff, but not much was needed. Our users can be technology challenged, but there was surprisingly and amazingly little training needed. Mitel provides interactive demos and training videos that were helpful," noted Ringelestein.

When asked about lessons learned, Ringelestein commented, "This was our first VoIP implementation so there was a lot we didn't know going into it. We should have educated ourselves better about what to expect. For example, we didn't realize that when you get new phone numbers it takes longer than expected."

As anyone who's read the headlines over the past few years knows, safety and security is are top of mind for school districts. Ringelestein notes, "Our phone system is crucial and mission critical, especially when it comes to making 911 calls if necessary. This is true for any school district. It's good to have a reliable system. It's important to have a service that works well and is reliable."

In terms of functionality, reliability, and reduced staffing requirements, for K-12 school districts, moving to the cloud is a smart move.

This paper is sponsored by Mitel.

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