Locals form party lines for telecom deals
Buying in bulk usually produces a cost savings for consumers purchasing products and equipment. That rule has proven true for the California Communications Alliance (CCA), a consortium of six municipal agencies whose united efforts are saving money on procurement of telecommunications equipment.
Since 1997, when CCA began its program to purchase voice and data telecommunications services, the consortium has saved its members significant telecom equipment costs. “Any group working alone has limited resources,” says Bill Bostwick, executive director of CCA. “Together, we can save money and get help with future development.”
Current members of CCA include San Diego, the San Diego Fire Department, the San Diego Police Department, San Diego Unified School District, Rancho Santa Fe School District and San Diego Data Processing Corp., a city-owned, nonprofit technology agency. Members use their collective buying power to save money on equipment, and they exchange information for development of telecommunications programs.
As part of their membership obligations, CCA participants pay a small percentage of the total cost of acquired equipment or services to the alliance. The fee varies based on the acquired equipment or services, according to Bostwick, but could cost a member $18,000 annually.
The savings outweigh the costs, says Philip Thalheimer, vice president and general manager of customer service for San Diego Data Processing. “San Diego saved $250,000 on initial voice and data equipment through CCA,” he notes. “The city was able to reinvest that savings as a result.”
Currently, CCA is working to acquire videoconferencing systems for its members to establish distance learning and improve communications. The technology, from Los Angeles-based RoseTel Systems, connects telephones, televisions, video equipment and computers to enable real-time communication between separate locations.
In addition, videoconferencing will help agencies cut costs by reducing travel. For example, the San Diego Fire Department will use the technology to link seven fire stations with its training center so that firefighters will not have to leave their posts as often for training. “We can now have training without disrupting our emergency operations,” says San Diego Fire Chief Robert Osby. “That reduces liability [for the city].”
The department is currently acquiring the components for the videoconferencing and will have full deployment later this year. “I’m excited about this project,” Osby says. “[Government agencies] have been following in the wake of technology for so long, and it’s great to be at the forefront for once.”
CCA is monitoring the department’s use of videoconferencing over the next two years to compile data regarding cost savings and improved production for use by other members. The alliance also is working to expand its membership to smaller municipalities that really need help with technology, Thalheimer says.
“There are a lot of one-time costs associated with telecommunications that some cities can’t afford,” he says. “CCA can help them provide better services affordably.”