Effective communication is a challenge for Argyll and Bute Council in Scotland, which needed to improve workforce productivity through unified communications. It introduced flexible working and replaced its Cisco phones with Microsoft Lync 2010.
With each user expected to gain 20 minutes of working time a day through greater efficiency, the Council expects a significant contribution towards the savings required to meet budgetary pressures.
Argyll and Bute Council serves hundreds of isolated communities in the north of Scotland. It is responsible for 26 inhabited islands and 3,000 miles of coastline. Unsurprisingly, given the geographically dispersed workforce operating from 60 principal sites,
communications has been a major challenge for the 4,000 council employees including staff for 90 schools. Accommodating winter weather and sudden power outages present additional challenges for IT resilience.
In 2010, the council introduced a programme to help employees work flexibly across a total of 60 separate sites, with IT services extended to another 350 locations. This major transformation plan involved not only a change in IT, but also new ways of working—the
majority of staff needed access to all IT systems and telephony from a variety of locations, including their homes.
The council was no stranger to videoconferencing, which it adopted in 1997 to help cut the amount of time staff spent travelling to meetings. It had already introduced a combined voice and data network using voice over IP (VoIP) through Cisco technology
to replace traditional telephony. But in the current economic environment, the council needed to make significant additional savings. Gerry Wilson, IT Infrastructure Services Manager, Argyll and Bute Council, says: “We knew we’d be unable to achieve our workforce
deployment targets using the existing Cisco VoIP network so we had to find another solution.”
Before making a decision, Wilson and his colleagues looked at both IBM and Cisco technology—with the authority having already deployed a Cisco Call Manager system. They also became aware of a change to the Microsoft Enterprise Agreement for low-cost volume
licensing of software, which became a persuasive factor in the council’s eventual choice of architecture.
Microsoft Unified Communications Gold Partner and systems integrator Exactive recommended the replacement of the Cisco IP telephony system with Microsoft Lync 2010 as the most cost-effective solution and work began in December 2010. “We’d struggled for almost
a year to get Cisco to integrate more effectively with the rest of our Microsoft software, including the desktops, collaboration technology, file and print, and security. In the end, it made more sense both from a financial and a productivity angle to progress
our workforce deployment programme with Lync 2010, which gave us up-to-date presence information on staff,” says Wilson.
Lync 2010 has been deployed at each of the two council data centres in what will be a three-year programme. Robert Hutchison, Sales and Marketing Director at Exactive, says: “The purpose is to split the load and incorporate redundancy for the council with
the use of hardware in voice-critical locations.”
In the initial phase of the deployment, which has reached around 1,800 users, integration between Cisco Voice Gateway Routers and 11 Dialogic Media Gateways was completed. This was to ensure resilience and a smooth transition between Cisco and Lync 2010.
The seamless transition has resulted in several technical gains. Lync 2010 is capable of serving network sites that were not previously reached by Cisco, resulting in significant rental savings. As part of the new architecture, the council is upgrading to
the Windows 7 operating system, Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, Microsoft SQL Server 2008 data management software, Microsoft Office 2010, and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.
The principal benefit for the local authority is the improvement in staff communications. The presence function makes it easier to find the right person to engage with to take a voice call and videoconferencing reduces the need to travel across the country
for meetings. Budgetary pressures have also reduced because of the deployment. Wilson says: “With Lync 2010 fully rolled out and our workforce adopting new flexible work styles, we’re expecting each user to gain at least 20 minutes more productive time every
Unified communications helps meet cash reduction targets. The savings achieved from deploying Lync 2010 stem partly from the rationalisation of office space. In Oban, for example, three offices have been closed, which has provided cashable
savings on maintenance and leasing costs. The process will be on-going over the next two years.
Travel and subsistence costs fall by five per cent in the first year. Through greater use of videoconferencing for meetings and training, the budget for travel and subsistence for employees has been reduced
by five per cent in the 2011–2012 financial year, with more savings to follow.
Enthusiastic user adoption assists new ways of working. Users were introduced to Lync 2010 at 40 road show awareness sessions and then advised by email and requested to go to a new online training portal to learn how to use Lync 2010. Wilson
says: “Many liked the system so much they asked to be migrated sooner. Lync 2010 is the most important system we’ve deployed in 15 years.”
Partner support helps overcome challenge of integration with existing services. The contribution from Exactive as helped overcome the biggest potential challenge—systems integration—to allow a smooth migration. Hutchison says: “The council
took on a product that was new to the market, but it proved to be the solution that integrated best with the existing systems, including Cisco telephony.”
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