Century College, Minnesota state’s largest community and technical college, needed to replace its aging telephone and voice-mail systems. Having already selected a Cisco voice over IP (VoIP) solution, the college chose Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Unified Messaging over Cisco Unity for voice mail because the Microsoft solution offered greater functionality, stronger integration with the college’s e-mail system, easier administration, and lower costs. Through its use of unified messaging, Century College is making users more productive by enabling them to access e-mail, voice mail, and other forms of data from Microsoft Office Outlook, using any of a broad range of devices. Consolidating voice mail and e-mail on Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 has also freed the equivalent of a full-time IT staff member for other projects.
A member of the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities System, Century College was created in 1995 through a merger of Lakewood Community College and Northeast Metro Technical College. Those two colleges now form Century College’s East and West campuses, situated on opposite sides of a local highway and connected by a walkway. The college serves 14,500 students and an additional 10,000 to 12,000 non-credit students each year.
||Today, people can access voice mail from anywhere by using Microsoft Office Outlook, Outlook Web Access, or their Windows Mobile phones to view, listen to, and forward those messages.
Director of Technical Operations, Century College
In 2008, Century College built its new U.S.$19.9 million, 70,000-square-foot Science/Library Building. As the first new campus building in 17 years, the structure combines the East and West campus libraries into one location and brings together the science instructional areas. Along with constructing the new building, Century College decided the time had come to replace its unsupported, out-of-warranty Avaya PBX and Octel voice-mail systems as a means of providing modern communications functionality to the entire campus.
“Most offices had basic analog telephones without visual message-waiting indicators or the ability to conference call, put users on hold, or forward a call,” says John Rohleder, Chief Information Officer and Associate Vice President at Century College. “We also knew that, with the new building, we would be moving people around many times and didn’t want to have to ‘touch’ each station every time someone moved, which was required with the old systems.”
After working with technology partner CDW Government (CDW-G) to select a Cisco voice over IP (VoIP) system, Century College turned its attention to the remaining piece of the puzzle: how to best integrate voice mail into its new phone system—and into the rest of its IT infrastructure. “In 2007, we moved from NetWare and GroupWise to Microsoft Exchange Server [e-mail messaging and collaboration software] and Active Directory [directory service],” explains Rohleder. “In selecting a voice-mail solution, our key goals were improved functionality, the ability to leverage existing IT infrastructure, and seamless integration of voice mail into our existing e-mail solution. Given that we had to integrate with both Cisco and Microsoft technology, the two options we considered were Cisco Unity and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Unified Messaging.”
Century College selected Exchange Server Unified Messaging over Cisco Unity because it offered several major advantages. “Compared to Cisco Unity, Exchange Server Unified Messaging offered greater functionality, stronger integration with our e-mail system, easier administration, and lower costs,” says Rohleder. “Furthermore, the Microsoft solution ensures a firm foundation upon which we can continue working toward a unified communications infrastructure—including the use of Microsoft Office Communications Server for presence and instant messaging.”
||Having e-mail and voice mail in one place is a huge benefit. Now I know when I’ve missed a call, even if that person doesn’t leave a message.
Chief Information Officer and Associate Vice President, Century College
Decision Process and Solution Implementation
Century College began its decision process in early 2008. In examining its requirements, the college knew that it wanted true, native integration of voice mail and e-mail, with voice mail delivered to users’ e-mail inboxes—functionality that both Exchange Server Unified Messaging and Cisco Unity promised to deliver. However, when the college examined the other features that each option offered, the additional value provided by Exchange Server Unified Messaging quickly became clear.
“Exchange Server Unified Messaging is far more full-featured than Cisco Unity,” says Rohleder. “For example, it enables users to call in and listen to voice messages, e mail, and calendar items while commuting to work, or even to reschedule appointments by voice if they’re running late—all things that we couldn’t have delivered with Cisco Unity.”
Century College also saw Exchange Server Unified Messaging as a better way to leverage its existing IT infrastructure. “With Exchange Server Unified Messaging, we can store voice messages in our existing Exchange Server message store, whereas Cisco Unity would have required us to deploy and manage a separate message store,” says Rohleder. “Interoperability with Active Directory and Exchange Server 2007 was a huge advantage of Exchange Server Unified Messaging.”
Finally, Exchange Server Unified Messaging was much less expensive than Cisco Unity in terms of both upfront and ongoing costs. “We were able to license Exchange Server Unified Messaging under our existing campus agreement, which made it significantly less expensive than Cisco Unity,” says Rohleder.
Implementation began in the spring of 2009, during which Century College worked with CDW-G to deploy Exchange Server Unified Messaging together with its new phone system. With the campuswide rollout now complete, all users are supported by two HP blade servers running the Windows Server 2008 Enterprise operating system and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. Software from Geomant powers Message Waiting Indicator lights on the phones, a solution component that Rohleder says will go away after Century College upgrades to Exchange Server 2010.
How It Works
Century College implemented Exchange Server Unified Messaging by using the Unified Messaging server role of Exchange Server 2007. The Unified Messaging servers provide an entry point for data from the Cisco phone system, allowing voice mail (and fax messages, in the future) to be stored in Exchange Server rather than in a separate system. The Unified Messaging servers contain logical objects that reflect the telephony infrastructure of the college, with users divided into groups that define who can use voice mail and what they can do with it.
||By consolidating e-mail and voice mail on Exchange Server, we’ve freed the equivalent of a full-time staff member for other projects.
Director of Technical Operations, Century College
Exchange Server Unified Messaging also provides a customizable, speech-enabled Automated Attendant service that answers phone calls and automates dialing through integration with the college’s Global Address List in Active Directory. In addition, Outlook Voice Access, a feature in Exchange Server 2007, provides telephone-based access to inbox data using speech or touch-tone recognition and offers text-to-speech functionality to read e-mail, calendar, personal contacts, and directory information to the caller.
“Today, people can access voice mail from anywhere by using Microsoft Office Outlook, Outlook Web Access, or their Windows Mobile phones to view, listen to, and forward those messages,” says Leif Jordahl, Director of Technical Operations at Century College. “Outlook Voice Access extends the reach of our Exchange Server implementation even further, enabling users to access e-mail, voice-mail, calendar, and contact information from any phone. We’ll soon integrate faxes into the solution, making them available through users’ inboxes, as well.”
With its new VoIP and voice-mail solution fully deployed, Century College is turning its attention to other forms of Microsoft Unified Communications technologies. The college recently deployed Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 for presence and instant messaging and is testing its functionality within the IT team. The college also plans to deploy the Windows 7 operating system during the 2010 summer semester, which Rohleder thinks will be a good time to deploy the Microsoft Office Communicator unified communications client.
“We’re excited to be looking at a campuswide solution for presence and instant messaging,” says Jordahl. “Today, our admissions department uses AOL Instant Messenger, while the rest of the campus uses a mix of AOL Instant Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. By converting everyone to Office Communications Server and Office Communicator, we’ll benefit from better privacy, security, and control over our instant messaging environment. We’re also very interested in deploying Microsoft Office Live Meeting, which appears to be useful for collaboration in many different ways.”
Century College also plans to convert the college’s mix of Windows Mobile and BlackBerry phones to a fully Windows Mobile environment. “We’re in internal testing with Windows Mobile now,” says Rohleder. “Our goal is to convert fully to Windows Mobile and then decommission our BlackBerry Enterprise Server.”
Century College is using Exchange Server Unified Messaging to consolidate the e-mail and voice-mail communications that people need to be productive in one place—their inboxes—and making that information available in new ways. The college’s decision to use Exchange Server Unified Messaging also provides a simpler, more integrated IT infrastructure than it had in the past or that it would have had if the college chose Cisco Unity. Now Rohleder’s team can support its new unified messaging environment with less time and effort.
What’s more, the solution is more cost-effective than both the old Octel voice-mail system and the Cisco option, enabling the college to continue enriching its communications environment in other ways, such as through its planned deployment of Office Communications Server 2007 for presence and instant messaging.
Increased End-User Convenience and Productivity
With Exchange Server Unified Messaging, Century College is delivering increased convenience and seeing productivity gains. E-mail and voice mail are delivered to each user’s inbox—making it easier for those users to access, find, and act on information. “Having e-mail and voice mail in one place is a huge benefit,” says Rohleder. “Now I know when I’ve missed a call, even if that person doesn’t leave a message. I can even forward a voice mail in an e-mail message, which is also quite useful.”
Perhaps the largest productivity gains are being delivered through Outlook Voice Access, which makes it possible for users to access Microsoft Office Outlook and retrieve their e-mail messages from any phone—for instance, while commuting to and from work. “Outlook Voice Access is rapidly becoming more and more popular,” says Rohleder. “People can listen to their e-mail, voice-mail, and calendar items on their way to work, which is a great timesaver for staff and faculty who have long commutes. The feedback we’re getting from the campus community on Outlook Voice Access has been very positive.”
Improved IT Efficiency
Rohleder’s IT team now has a single point of administration for both e-mail and voice mail, and the team no longer needs to worry about keeping an aging, unsupported Octel voice-mail system up and running. Just as important, with both e-mail and voice mail now managed using the Active Directory service, Rohleder’s team no longer receives complaints about information being different in the two systems.
“By consolidating e-mail and voice mail on Exchange Server, we’ve freed the equivalent of a full-time staff member for other projects,” says Jordahl. “And because both systems are managed using Active Directory, we can now make a change in one place and know that we’ve addressed both systems. Similarly, we can back up our Exchange Server message store knowing that we’ve captured voice mail as well. In the past, backing up the Octel e-mail system was a chore in itself.”
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