Tayside Fire and Rescue provides emergency services to 400,000 people in Scotland. It spends most of its budget on people and equipment—with only a small percentage available for communications technology. Although it used e-mail and the telephone to communicate, the organization did not have voice mail, audio or video conferencing, or instant messaging. High PBX support costs significantly affected the budget. In 2007, Tayside took control of its telephony and deployed a unified communications solution built on Microsoft® Exchange Server 2007, Office Communications Server 2007, and Office Communicator 2007. Tayside subsequently deployed Office Communications Server 2007 R2 because the new capabilities enable it to improve communications and reduce operating costs with only a small investment to upgrade. Tayside Fire and Rescue can now better serve the community while reducing costs.
Tayside Fire and Rescue is one of eight fire authorities in Scotland. Headquartered in Dundee, the organization provides emergency services to 400,000 people in a 7,500-square-kilometer area in the heart of Scotland. Tayside's mission is to protect the communities it serves by providing the highest standard of fire safety and emergency response services. Tayside employs 750 people, who work out of 24 fire stations. Six stations are staffed by resources 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; a mixture of retained and volunteer personnel operates the other 18 locations. At any given time, approximately 300 people are on active duty.
Tayside’s coverage area is a mix of rural and urban communities. This diversity presents real challenges for contacting its officers that are remote from the stations and valuable time could be wasted trying to track down available specialists, which ultimately could cause delays in critical response times. “Officers don’t always work in a fire station; many work remotely within our communities providing education on fire prevention and emergency responses,” explains Gary Bellfield, Manager of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) at Tayside Fire and Rescue.
The organization’s Private Branch Exchange (PBX) system and mobile-phone plan provided only basic phone service. “The fact that we didn’t have voice mail was an issue for us, but we were unable to justify spending tens of thousands of pounds for it,” explains Bellfield. Another issue was that the organization had to hire a consultant to make any changes to the PBX system. “The last time we wanted to implement a single analog extension in one of our fire stations, we spent more than £4,500,” Bellfield says. “That’s U.S. $9,000. We didn’t want to continue investing our resources in a PBX system that wasn’t giving us value for our money.”
In addition to voice mail, Tayside wanted to offer audio and Web conferencing capabilities to users, but found them to be too expensive as well. “We have evaluated many different services over the years, but we could never justify the cost,” adds Bellfield. These conferencing capabilities would be used to help facilitate more efficient and cost-effective methods to deliver group and self training at times more suitable to firefighters’ availability. Tayside firefighters spend a considerable amount of time training. In the past, training officers traveled to fire stations to conduct training sessions, which was costly and often inefficient for the organization.
Tayside also wanted to improve its telephony service for employees. The organization’s PBX system provided only basic phone service. Even the limited functions such as team calling proved difficult to operate and were generally not used. “We would have team calling so that people could call within a group by dialing an extension, but it was not very easy to maintain and not easy for our users,” explains Stephen Hutchinson, ICT Support Engineer at Tayside Fire and Rescue. “Right now, we have six PBX systems in six different locations,” adds Bellfield. “What we are really looking to do is reduce our PBX systems.”
After researching many options to improve their communications capabilities, Tayside selected a Microsoft® unified communications solution consisting of Exchange Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007. Exchange Server 2007 with unified messaging delivers voice mail and e-mail that users can manage from an Office Outlook® 2007 inbox or from a telephone. Office Communications Server 2007 provides the ability to make calls using voice over IP (VoIP). It also offers audio, video, and Web conferencing, instant messaging (IM), and presence icons. These icons—which appear next to users’ names in Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 and in all other Microsoft Office applications—indicate people’s availability status. By clicking an icon, a user can see the person’s contact information and preferred method of contact—such as IM, e-mail, or phone.
Tayside upgraded its e-mail system from Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 to take advantage of the unified messaging features. One new server was required for the solution and, within a month, was deployed at one data center supporting all 750 employees. The total hardware costs required for the Exchange Server 2007 upgrade was £9,000. “We desperately wanted to have a unified messaging system before today,” says Bellfield. “But being a local government organization, we could never justify the kind of monies that were required to deploy the solutions we evaluated over the last four years.”
||We are set to reduce our six PBX systems down to two. That would make a significant reduction to our operating costs.
Manager of Information and Communications Technology, Tayside Fire and Rescue
The highly mobile resources at Tayside Fire and Rescue appreciate the ability to manage voice mail and e-mail from an Office Outlook 2007 inbox or from a telephone. “The feature that I think is brilliant within Exchange Server is Outlook Voice Access,” says Bellfield. “Having seen so many different voice-activated systems and features over the years, I’m really rather skeptical about how good they are. The voice-activation system in Exchange Server 2007 is the best I’ve used.”
Office Communications Server 2007
Tayside’s unified communications solution also includes Office Communications Server 2007 to provide valuable new capabilities to their users such as instant messaging, Web and audio conferencing, and presence.
Instant Messaging and Presence
When officers on a scene contact the control center and request additional information, the dispatcher can use instant messaging to send critical information to the officers via their smart phones. In addition, central control can use IM and presence features to quickly locate experts for additional information and validation of the field response. “One of the most important features of our solution is the presence feature,” explains Stephen Hunter, Chief Fire Officer at Tayside Fire and Rescue. “This allows me to see who is available to deal with an incident or any situation instantly, without having to waste time trying to contact an officer clearly unavailable.”
The team also deployed several Microsoft RoundTable™ conferencing and collaboration devices. The Microsoft RoundTable communications and archival system offers synchronized voice and video conferencing with a 360-degree panoramic view of everyone in the conference room. Any remote participants using Office Communicator 2007 or the Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2007 Web conferencing service and a webcam can see side-by-side images of all of the people in the conference room.
Tayside Fire and Rescue recognized that with a solution based on Microsoft unified communications solutions, the organization would be able to provide much more than just voice mail. Explains Bellfield, “We saw a massive opportunity with Office Communications Server 2007 to take real control of our telephony. With it, we could add new users to the phone system in minutes rather than weeks. And we’d be able to avoid the high costs associated with our PBX system, because we already had most of the skills that we needed to manage a Microsoft solution.”
In addition, resources can access the Office Communications Server 2007 features, including presence and VoIP, from any location as long as they have a computer that has Office Communicator 2007 and Internet access. “Previously, if I was going to work in another location, I would have to use an alternative telephone extension,” says Bellfield. “With Office Communications Server 2007, my telephone number remains the same regardless of where I am. This is really a fantastic feature because it means that where I happen to be when I pick up a call is really irrelevant.”
Office Communications Server 2007 was deployed to provide IM, presence, conferencing, and voice capabilities. Because there was no in-place migration path possible for Office Communications Server 2007, implementing these capabilities required an investment in new hardware. The total hardware required for the solution was £184,363.
Office Communications Server 2007 R2
When Tayside learned of the new capabilities available through Office Communications Server 2007 R2, they were interested in deploying the new release to improve the services offered to users. Tayside wanted to upgrade because of the audio conferencing capabilities and the improved voice features available in this release.
“Office Communications Server 2007 was a brilliant fit on top of our existing PBX, but it wasn’t a direct replacement,” explains Bellfield. “Office Communications Server 2007 R2 provides more of the features that a PBX offered.”
By participating in the Microsoft Rapid Deployment Program, Tayside gained early access to the code and moved all of its users to Office Communications Server 2007 R2 prior to the release. All users currently access Office Communications Server through one site for presence, IM, conferencing, and voice capabilities. “We were looking to get into production as soon as possible to take advantage of the new features,” explains Hutchison. “We wanted to get these new capabilities out to our users.”
||We saw a massive opportunity with Office Communications Server 2007 to take real control of our telephony. With it, we could add new users to the phone system in minutes rather than weeks.
||Gary Bellfield Manager of Information and Communications Technology, Tayside Fire and Rescue
Tayside currently has two front-end servers running behind an F5 Big-IP 6400 load balancer. All 750 users have access to the entire feature set. “We have a strategy whereby every PC can have access to all the features in Communications Server. Voice and video are part of the package,” explains Bellfield. “We wish to deploy a standard PC configuration that can take advantage of all the capabilities.”
Tayside is deploying the application to ensure there is no single point of failure and will eventually have three sever pools at different locations with failover between the sites. Another part of the solution that adds reliability is SIP Trunking. SIP Trunking is the use of SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and RTP (Real-time Transport Protocol) to pass telephony traffic from the enterprise network to a network service provider over an Internet Protocol (IP) connection. SIP Trunking provides automatic failover for circuit connections, ensuring that incoming calls can reach users when one network connection is out of service. SIP Trunking also enables Tayside to easily implement the network bandwidth for the audio conferencing and voice capabilities.
Setting up the audio conferencing capabilities was very simple for Tayside. “Essentially, you just take one of the available numbers and assign that to the global policies of Communications Server,” explains Hutchison. Tayside no longer needs multiple dial-in areas, just a single number for audio conferencing, which essentially only requires one click. Adds Hutchison, “It is definitely one of the most impressive elements of R2. It’s so easy to set up, and the results that you get from 15 minutes of configuration are brilliant.”
On the voice side, Tayside plans to take advantage of the new capabilities to replace much of its existing PBX equipment. The Office Communications Server 2007 R2 features, Response Groups and the Attendant Console, will play a key part in this transformation. With a Response Group, incoming calls are queued and routed to designated agents based on predefined routing rules, while Office Communicator Attendant is an intuitive, integrated attendant console that facilitates accurate and rapid call handling.
“What we’re trying to achieve is a single point of contact. We want to stop people from calling three or four stations trying to find someone,” explains Hutchison. “We will have a number from the SIP Trunk tied to a response group called Reception. Then multiple people throughout the organization who previously functioned independently can sign in to this number through the attendant console.” With this setup, calls will be routed to anyone signed in as a receptionist rather than transferring to voice mail. Tayside is also planning to establish similar setups for internal support groups, such as human resources and finance.
Office Communications Server 2007 proved to be a low-cost alternative to continuing to invest in the organization’s Private Branch Exchange (PBX) equipment, and Tayside was able to quickly generate a positive return on investment. “We had set a goal of reducing toll charges by 10 percent,” notes Gary Bellfield, Manager of Information and Communications Technology for Tayside Fire and Rescue. Tayside also reduced administration costs by shifting workloads off its PBX systems. Beyond saving money with Office Communications Server 2007, Tayside provides beneficial new services to its employees and better serves the community.
With the deployment of Office Communications Server 2007 R2, Tayside improved its communications capabilities with little to no additional investment. Tayside expects to reduce the costs of its communications capabilities by removing PBX equipment and implementing SIP Trunking for network access. At the same time, Tayside is able to provide additional services to employees, such as audio conferencing and improved voice functionality. These improvements not only help employees, they also help Tayside better serve the community at large.
Increasing Operational Agility
When an emergency call comes in, Tayside routinely dispatches its firefighters but, depending on the issues it is facing at the scene, it must also dispatch specific managers and/or specialists who have specific training to assist these crews. For example, if Tayside receives a call regarding a chemical incident, it would initially use voice to try to contact its specialized chemical officers. Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007 make it possible for resources to know, at a glance, the availability of other resources and how they want to be contacted. This is critical when there are only specific resources who can deal with a certain type of emergency, as in the case of a chemical incident. “We used to spend countless hours chasing down individuals to try to contact them, but with Office Communications Server 2007 there is no longer a need to do that,” notes Bellfield. “With presence in Office Communicator 2007, you can see clearly when people are available, on vacation, or in a meeting. We’ve seen a lot of efficiency gains from being able to do this.”
Internally, Tayside will use Response Groups to improve access to services. “The improved access to people is key for us. Any support service we run internally will be exposed through Communications Server. Users will be able to click on one contact and reach the entire support staff for that department. When you can get an immediate answer, it provides a far better experience than just calling one person and waiting for a response,” explains Bellfield.
This not only helps staff members who require support, it also helps the staff members who provide that support. “Previously if someone from headquarters was out of the office, we would have to physically move other staff to cover for them. Communications Server will give us the flexibility for staff to sign in from their desk to cover that service if required,” adds Hutchison. “Similarly, for people who need to take a break, they’ll be able to see who else is signed into that response group so that they can sign out and the response group will stay online.”
Instead of a disjointed approach to managing telephony within the company, Tayside will have a uniformity that it has never been able to achieve before. “We can now achieve this without having to physically move people,” notes Bellfield. “That is a key component of the system. We can get people to work together far more closely without having to physically move them together.”
External communications will be improved, as well. “Office Communications Server 2007 R2 will enable us to capture third parties in conversations, which we couldn’t do before. This adds a great deal of flexibility and allows our use of Communications Server to span much wider than the walls of Tayside Fire and Rescue,” explains Bellfield. “For example, we may need to have a conversation about building a fire truck, which is a very detailed and expensive item that requires many design decisions. With a couple of clicks, we can connect with a representative from another company to discuss the project.” The new communications capabilities will help Tayside complete projects in less time and reduce travel to visit with suppliers.
Improving Public Service
With the assistance of its new Microsoft solution, Tayside has improved its ability to serve the public by being more accessible and responsive to non-emergency public services. “The Microsoft solution we use now enables us to work as a unified community of firefighters,” says Hutchison.
Continues Bellfield, “The Response Group functions will give our workers a great deal of flexibility and will improve our external facing image to the public. Callers to a station won’t be waiting on hold if that station’s reception desk is busy because we will have multiple people on the reception line. These are capabilities that we couldn’t afford to implement without Office Communications Server.”
Tayside has also realized collaborative benefits by federating with other organizations that use Office Communications Server 2007. By doing so, Tayside establishes trust with other organizations so that employees can exchange instant messages, make toll-free VoIP calls to one another, participate in video conferences, and share applications. Bellfield explains, “We’re also discussing the possibility of federating with the other fire and police authorities in Scotland and the United Kingdom that are interested in Office Communications Server 2007.”
With Office Communications Server 2007 R2, Tayside can better communicate with organizations that do not use the solution. “Where it might have been a problem setting up conferences with outside organizations, now we can easily deal with those organizations. We just send an e-mail with a conference link. There is no great level of complexity and it allows people to quickly and easily set up a conference call,” explains Hutchison. “It comes across as a very polished and professional service for somebody dialing in from outside.”
Increasing Employee Productivity
Tayside has estimated £47,000 in potential annual benefits related to increased productivity and time savings with Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007. This includes end-user productivity gains of an average of 3 minutes per day per user in reduced time to search for e-mails, as well as, 3 minutes per day per user with reduced time accessing people or information. In addition, Tayside realized a time savings of over 7 minutes per day per user for their improved ability to work outside the office for mobile users.
Tayside estimated that 10 percent of its resources travel for meetings, on average of 5 times a year at a cost of £500 per trip. The ability to conduct audio or multimedia Web conferences has also significantly improved communications and will potentially reduce travel by up to 10 percent at a cost savings of £18,750 a year. “We used to struggle to get everyone who was working on a project together in one place to meet,” Bellfield notes. “With Office Communications Server 2007, there is no reason to be in the same physical location. We can join a conference from any end point.”
Raising the Competency of Firefighters
Year round training is expected for 100 percent of the Tayside firefighters. In the past, Tayside officers traveled to fire stations to conduct training sessions. However, the organization is now developing an online training program and estimates 10 percent of its training will be conducted with conferencing. This equates to an estimated £15,000 in annual savings in travel related to training. “With Office Communications Server 2007, we can broadcast training sessions to multiple stations so that trainers don’t have to drive two or three hours to get to their destination,” explains Bellfield. “As a result, we’ll be able to provide more training at a reduced cost, which will raise the competency level of our firefighters.”
In addition, features in Office Communications Server 2007 give trainers the ability to record sessions and store them on a Windows® SharePoint® Services site. “We are using Office Communications Server 2007 to create a catalog of training videos,” continues Bellfield. “If certain firefighters have not yet responded to a specific kind of incident, they can review a training session about that type of situation when it is convenient.” In addition, Tayside Fire and Rescue plans to share its training videos with other rescue organizations.
Reducing Telephony Costs and Improving Services
The ability to control the unified communications environments from a single, familiar administrative console has numerous advantages over other offerings. “I expect that with Office Communications Server 2007 we’ll be able to reduce ongoing IT costs because we’ll no longer have to rely on third parties to make changes to our PBX system,” explains Bellfield. “It used to take up to one month to have simple changes made. Now we can make the changes ourselves.” This benefit is a cost savings of approximately 80 percent per change or £15,500 a year for the organization.
When Tayside fully deploys Office Communications Server 2007 R2, it will be able to significantly reduce the cost of telephony management. “We have the outlines of a non-PBX environment,” says Bellfield. “Now that a call management application is available with Communications Server, the PBX is no longer required. Communications Server runs all of our core voice communication functions. We are set to reduce our six PBX systems down to two. That would make a significant reduction to our operating costs.”
Tayside will keep the PBX systems for emergency services, but the company expects Office Communications Server 2007 R2 to help manage most calls. Moving the telephony calls onto Office Communications Server through SIP Trunking also significantly reduces toll charges. “We expect our call charges will be more than 60 percent lower with the new system,” adds Bellfield.
Tayside is also pleased to add internal audio conferencing bridge capabilities with no additional costs. “We could not justify buying an audio conferencing system. These features will be available with Communications Server 2007 R2 and will not cost more than the cost of the licenses,” explains Bellfield. “The features list increases each time we redeploy, so it justifies the investment each and every time.”
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