OLD PHONE SYSTEM CREATED TECHNOLOGY AND SAFETY IMPLICATIONS
(Article appeared in the Spring 2019 Issue of Lead Magazine)
During the warm summer days of 2017, Scott Gates, Superintendent of Schools at Ross Local School District, began having conversations with Andy Klaber, the district’s Director of Technology, about the state of technology across the Ross School properties. One topic in that conversation began to raise serious concern for both Gates and Klaber.
(This article appeared in the winter issue of LEAD Magazine. Download the PDF here.)
The district’s telephone systems were old, different in different school buildings and beginning to show their age with periodic failure of system components. Klaber pointed out that power outages had taken key components down recently and could again. Worse still, the phone system equipment was out of warranty and support, and the network lines and carrier services were out of date, expensive and had not been updated or re-negotiated in years.
The technology implications were clear to Klaber, but the situation raised different and serious concerns for Gates. He had come to Ross Local School District from a district that had experienced total failure of their phone systems in the middle of a school year. That failure had caused serious safety and communication problems. “Having lived it, I did not want another district to have to live through that,” says Gates. This was an issue that needed to be resolved.
The Ross Local School District consists of 75 square miles in the southwest corner of Butler County. The area is a mix of sub-urban and agricultural lifestyles and incorporates four small villages. Southwest of Hamilton and northwest of Cincinnati, the district has an enrollment of 3,000 students in grades pre-kindergarten through high school. There are four schools: Ross High School, Ross Middle School, and two elementary schools Elda and Morgan. Each has its own buildings and there are two administration buildings that make up the six-location campus. The school district is also the largest employer in the area with 315 district employees.
There were two other Ross area players who were key in addressing the telephony issue in the district. John Kinsel is the district’s Treasurer, responsible for the district’s purse strings and for obtaining approval for funding from the district’s board and, by extension, the community. The other, a Ross area business owner, had recently made significant upgrades to the communication network and phone systems supporting two of his businesses.
Asked about his approach to the telephone system replacement project, Gates says, “I relied and depended on the knowledge and expertise of my Technology Director.” Klaber, meanwhile, used his ability to network in the technology community to connect with the Ross area business owner who strongly recommended Advanced Technology Consulting (ATC) and Nick Enger, ATC’s CTO and Senior Consultant.
ATC and Enger
ATC is an independent telecom and IT consulting firm that removes the complexities of researching, comparing, procuring, implementing and managing IT technologies and telecommunications services for businesses, schools and municipalities. Founded in 1999, ATC works as a solution-agnostic consultant to pair clients with services that improve efficiency and productivity, and significantly reduce costs.
Speaking about ATC, Klaber says, “Nick Enger had the technical expertise, but more important, he took the time to build relationships. He listened. He learned our pain points, how important it was for us to have all of our buildings on one system, to have extension-to-extension calling and call roll-over, and far more efficient communication.”
Kinsel adds, “ATC and Nick listened and did most of the work. Nick handled the whole bid process. We were the recipients of his leg work.” “ATC educated the Ross team. They knew the systems, features and cost trade-offs. They were armed and knowledgeable when it came time to present to the board – it was an easy conversation,” says Nick Enger. Gates says of the process, “I was looking for collaboration, compromise and accommodation. That happened every step of the way – there was no contention.”
Ross chose a two-prong solution. The system – a Mitel Connect on-premise, unified communication and telephone system; as important, implementation and support through Global Business Solutions (GBS) with Scott Reinert as Senior IT & Telephony Engineer.
GBS and Mitel
GBS is a leading, regional IT-based technology solutions provider serving the needs of small to mid-sized businesses, government and school entities. The company stands apart from many competitors as the only Greater Cincinnati managed IT service provider who can deliver truly integrated solutions across a suite of technologies, and throughout the IT and digital landscape. GBS partners with Mitel, certified and authorized to implement and support systems and ensure customers can communicate how they want, when they want.
(Unified communications work smarter: check out the ATC, GBS and Mitel co-branded ad here.)
Once the Mitel system was selected by Ross over multiple other solutions, ATC and Enger turned over implementation project management to Scott Reinert from GBS.
Reinert says, “When we decided to propose on the Ross Schools phone system project, we initially saw it as a perfect opportunity.”
Klaber added, “Once we started moving forward, Scott was just awesome. Because of him, I knew exactly what I had to do and when I had to do it – everything was laid out perfectly. Communication was always at the forefront.”
Scott Reinert and Alex Dailey, GBS Field Engineer, worked closely with Klaber and the people who would use the new phone system. Site assessments were conducted at each location. No effort was spared to understand what people needed and wanted. Plans were developed, equipment and services were ordered. Timelines for installation and training were put in place. Since the system would be installed in the weeks leading up to the August 2018 start of school, a train-the-trainer approach was taken. Emphasis was given to those functions and features that would be used right away and frequently. Twenty to 30 people received hands-on training supplemented with documentation and videos. By the start of school, approximately 250-300 feature-rich Mitel handsets were installed in classrooms and offices in locations throughout the district. Klaber, Enger and Reinert all say implementation was very smooth with no major issues.
Reflecting on the benefits of the project and the new system, Gates and Kinsel can’t say enough. “Integration across all locations was critical. Safety for our students and employees is greatly improved. 911 services have been vastly enhanced. The location of any call to 911 from any phone in the district is now immediately known and relayed to a broad list of people who need to know – administrators, school resources officers, etc. There is an immediate awareness of any crisis and availability for help and assistance,” says Gates. “The efficiency of communication is improved with voicemail, email, call rollover and transferring, making so many jobs easier and more effective.”
Kinsel’s advice to other districts undertaking similar projects? “Don’t be short sighted. Don’t ask for less than what you need. You will have this system and its benefits for 15 years, maybe longer. Ross should see a reduction of its telecommunication costs along with far superior functionality than before.”
#BetterTogether is a frequent hashtag in use at Ross Local School District. It is used to stress community among schools, students, teams and employees. Gates says “The new phone system has been a powerful enabler of #BetterTogether. The project, the way it was conducted, the relationships that have made it a success and the partnerships it has forged are true examples of #BetterTogether.”