Changing a calling plan
Herndon, Va., has begun using voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology to reduce telecommunications expenses and to improve services to residents. The new system also is helping the town alert employees to look for missing children.
Working with its cable provider, Atlanta-based Cox Communications, Herndon began building a fiber-optic network in 1997 to connect its seven government buildings with a single, high-speed computer network. Previously, the town leased voice and data circuits from its telephone company and had a variety of networks providing phone and Internet service to the buildings.
The disparate systems sometimes hindered communication between town offices. For example, the town used several different voicemail systems that were not compatible with one another, so employees could not forward messages to departments in other buildings. Additionally, some of the voice networks were filled to capacity, and the town was issuing cell phones to new employees.
In January 2003, the fiber-optic lines were installed, and the town contracted with Tysons Corner, Va.-based Reliable Integration Services to build a converged voice and data network using the lines. Subcontractor Vienna, Va.-based AAC Associates was chosen to install Cisco Systems VoIP applications. By May 2003, all town buildings were connected by the network and the VoIP system.
Using the new technology, the town installed an automated voice assistance system whereby callers can reach any employee by dialing his or her phone extension, accessing a phone directory of all departments or spelling the name of the employee on their touch-tone keypads. Additionally, the town installed one voicemail system for all departments.
Herndon’s VoIP system has simplified the process for adding, moving or changing employees’ phones. Previously, the town had to pay a vendor $150 per hour to change an employee’s extension or install a line for a new hire. Now, the Information Technology Department staff, and even employees themselves, can perform those tasks.
In October, the town expanded the capabilities of the VoIP system by connecting it with the national CodeAmber.org servers in Salt Lake City. The Amber alerts are automatically culled from a Herndon database, and news relevant to the northern Virginia region is “pushed” to municipal employees’ IP phones. The phones ring with distinctive tones and illuminate with text messages. Government employees can then view photos of crime victims and suspects, as well as other information, on their telephone screens. Dispatchers for road crews, garbage collectors, building inspectors and parks and recreation workers can relay the alerts to their crews to encourage them to look for the victims or suspects.
“The idea is to involve as many people as possible so that we reunite a child with its parents as quickly as possible,” says Bill Ashton, director of information technology. “We look at the alert system as an insurance policy. Hopefully, we never have to actually use it. But we have put ourselves in a better position to help if called upon.”
Later this year, Herndon officials intend to launch a similar system whereby employees will receive Emergency Broadcast System alerts of weather developments or terrorist threats via both telephone and computer. “Today’s leading-edge technologies, when wisely deployed, can transform our entire conception of government services,” Ashton says. “And it can be done cost-effectively. We are proof.”
Herndon spent $460,000 to implement the new data network and VoIP system. As a result of installing the applications, Herndon has eliminated leased lines for voice communications, which has cut the municipality’s telecommunications costs by 30 percent.