County switches to Internet-based phones
Columbia County, Ga., has installed an Internet Protocol (IP)-based telephone system that runs on the county’s Ethernet network. The county expects the system to improve phone service for employees and to save nearly $80,000 in phone expenses annually.
As the second-fastest growing county in Georgia, Columbia County must keep pace with the demands of a population of 92,000-plus people, an increase of 35 percent since 1992. As the population has grown, so has the size of the county’s staff. The county was spending $1,500 a month for a contractor to add or move telephone service to accommodate new employees, says Lewis Foster, IT manager for the county.
In addition to being costly to maintain, the county’s previous phone system did not have caller ID or other advanced features, and it was vulnerable to stormy weather, which resulted in frequent power outages and delayed communications. The county wanted a new phone system that would operate with its existing data network as well as with third-party voice recognition and billing applications.
In March 2002, the county purchased the SuperStack 3 NBX Networked Telephone Solution from Santa Clara, Calif.-based 3Com. The system runs on the county’s T1 lines, and it includes caller ID, conferencing, and automated “attendants,” which are computer-generated receptionists. The attendants are customized for each department to field external calls, reducing the time employees spend answering routine questions. For example, the Human Resources Department uses the attendants to announce county job openings, and the Recreation Department updates callers about Little League schedules.
The IP-based phone system includes voice mail, which is a feature that was not available on the previous system. Also, the county is able to create department-specific dial plans. That feature allows the county to establish custom dial groups in every department to speed callers to the next available employee when another is unavailable.
The county is working with a supplemental software program that integrates voice recognition software to the NBX system. The county will create one phone number that residents can call, and a voice recognition program will route callers to specific departments by voice request. Also, residents will be able to purchase building permits, renew commercial licenses and schedule inspections through an automated phone system.
Since the system’s installation, the Finance Department has tracked and monitored phone usage and costs. Based on initial results, the county expects to save $78,000 annually in phone services and support.
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