When Edith Cowan University (ECU) needed to refresh its communications capability it had two guiding lights – simplification and collaboration.
Shackled by an aging and expensive telephone system with handsets that kept people glued to their desks, the University sought a modern communications alternative allowing anywhere, anytime access as well as a richly featured platform for collaboration.
Vito Forte, Director Digital and Campus Services and CIO at ECU explains; “We had a choice – upgrade and spend substantial capital or look at where we needed to be in the future and we chose that.” Simply replacing the older equipment would have required a substantial investment and left the University still needing to bridge gaps in collaboration and flexible work practices.
Instead Forte decided to make full use of ECU’s existing Office 365 licence which includes access to Microsoft Teams. The rollout of Teams Telephony ticked both the simplification and collaboration boxes for the University, and promised significantly better value for money. The Microsoft Teams platform is also integrated with Optus Enterprise SIP services.
Fortuitously, the solution was deployed in time to also support ECU staff as they moved off campus and into their own homes in response to COVID-19 social distancing requirements.
Forte acknowledges that ahead of the upgrade there had been some pushback from staff who were used to having a handset on their desks from which to make calls, but says that; “Once COVID came along the lights came on for a lot of people who are happy with headsets and like the flexibility and capability.
“This is a fundamental shift in what was very traditional to fundamentally a work from anywhere anytime paradigm. That’s been very useful through recent events and will continue into the future,” he says, adding that the solution “came through COVID with flying colours”.
Working with Ensyst and its parent group Optus, which together developed and deployed the hosted Teams Telephony service, ECU rolled out a comprehensive change management program to assist staff. This included engaging one on one with personnel who were offered the chance to visit booths dotted around the university campus (in pre-social distancing times) and test various head set options before making a decision which they preferred.
That built a level of comfort among users allowing ECU to deploy Teams Telephony to all administration and faculty personnel over a period of around six months and well ahead of the need to transition to home working. Today more than 4,000 people use the system, by mid-2020 they had racked up more than 240,000 calls and 12,000 desktop sharing sessions. ECU also has access to online, audio and video conferencing capabilities through Teams.
Teams Telephony has also been used to allow ECU contact centre employees to work remotely during the COVID pandemic, and the University is exploring how it can integrate Teams with the bespoke solution used in its Survey Research Centre to again streamline operations, inject flexibility and rein in costs.
Forte notes that with Teams now widely deployed there is the opportunity as well to enhance communications between students and staff. “Previously the only way was to phone – if you had their number and they were available. Now you just need Teams chat and you can call them, or set up group sessions – this is a whole additional capability. It gives us a great platform to launch into the future.”
There are still some issues that he wants to address – for example if the Teams phone call rings on a desktop, the user has to unlock the device before they can take the call, but Forte says these are minor issues that are being addressed.
He is now eager to explore additional uses for Teams, and has a chatbot pilot underway and is considering how Teams could be a window into ECU’s learning management system.
The move to cloud-based telephony via Teams continues the infrastructure simplification that is well advanced at ECU. The University transitioned almost all workloads to the cloud at the end of 2019 – which Forte says helps to expand the range of options available to ECU without being constrained by infrastructure.
The acid test of that approach came when COVID-19 struck as; “People could work from home and that required us to do fundamentally nothing,” says Forte, who adds that in terms of technology supporting workplace flexibility; “The genie is out of the bottle.”