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Top marks for Indiana University's messaging upgrade

With its messaging system on its last legs, Indiana University searched for a new system to unify its campuses.

The old-school voice-messaging system at Indiana University just wasn't making the grade.

Instead of graduating, it dropped out. It became increasingly hard to find replacement hardware and the system couldn't support advanced functions like one-number find me/follow me, unified messaging, call screening and presence management.

Indiana University has eight campuses, each creating its own small city. The two main campuses alone -- IU-Bloomington and IU-Perdue University Indianapolis, a shared campus that offers degrees from both Indiana and Purdue universities -- have nearly 35,000 end users.

The faculty and staff craved a way to check e-mail and voice messages from the same device, and the old system failed to provide that function. So Paul Clegg, IU's voice operations and systems manager, set out on a mission to find a new one. Clegg and his department are responsible for maintaining the campuses' telephony switches, voice-mail systems, conference bridges and other voice applications, while also helping develop and adopt new and advanced services like VoIP and unified messaging.

"The system needed to be able to integrate with our existing e-mail environment [Microsoft Exchange]," he said. "It needed to support advanced applications such as follow me and unified messaging. It needed to have geographical survivability and be able to grow with the university. Additionally, we wanted to be able to provide input into the development of the system."

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And finding the right choice didn't take long, Clegg said. The IU team picked Communité from Interactive Intelligence Inc. He said Communité has the reliability, scalability and flexibility the university wanted in a unified messaging system.

"Communité was really the only choice," Clegg said. "Other products we looked at did not have the required feature set and were not scalable."

Communité gives the university voice-mail service and the ability for unified messaging, which provides users with a single repository, or universal in-box, where they can receive and process voice mail and e-mail. The software also features find-me/follow-me functionality, which allows users to customize call-handling rules based on personal preferences, such as date, time and who's calling. Users can also listen to e-mails via the phone.

In a statement, Clegg said the new feature set gives staff "the tools to communicate in real-time where it makes sense -- such as the ability to take a high-priority call during a meeting, while screening other calls -- or managing their communications better, whether in the office, across campus, or on the road."

The switch required no changes to the data network. Additional T1 cards had to be added to the PBXs to support new services and additional Simplified Message Desk Interface (SMDI) links were also added to support message-waiting notification. The university sent three staffers to an intensive two-week training session prior to implementation.

"Since we were utilizing the unified messaging component with our Exchange servers, interaction with our Exchange team during planning and implementation was critical to success," Clegg said. "Included in our discussions was the decision to store Communité data in either Active Directory Services or Active Directory Application Mode."

It needed to support advanced applications such as follow me and unified messaging. It needed to have geographical survivability and be able to grow with the university.
Paul Clegg
Voice Operations and Systems ManagerIndiana University

The transition required eight servers, one for each of the campuses. Each server has two T1s connected from the private branch exchange (PBX) for redundancy. Two servers on each main campus run Communité. Two of the other servers are for SMDI. The last two are used to access "personal settings" Web pages so users can control their features, such as find me/follow me.

"Once all servers were up and running, a group of pilot users was identified to ensure everything was configured correctly," Clegg said. "We also trained internal staff and populated the IU Knowledge Base with pertinent user information so the university community could access information on Communité from the Web."

The pilot program comprised 50 users. Once that group was ready, more users were offered the service. It's been in use now for about six months, and Clegg said everything met expectations, user responses have been positive and he would do nothing differently. Overall, he rated the new system an eight on a scale of one to 10.

"The product has a tutorial and the documentation within the system," he said. "We also have written several Knowledge Base articles on how to use the system. At this point, moving to the system is voluntary, so there has not been any reluctance to overcome."

Clegg said the cost of the system is difficult to quantify, because the university's licensing agreements is outside of the norm. IU has a relationship with Interactive Intelligence that lets the university give input on feature and product development, which benefits the university while also helping other universities who use the software because they have access to IU's input.

Despite the ease of deployment, Clegg had advice for organizations considering similar changes: "Plan ahead and set defined goal and benchmarks. Make sure you know exactly what you want and need, and then communicate that to the vendors you are working with. If they do not have what you need, discuss their willingness to develop it."

Clegg continued, "Unlike traditional voice-mail systems, implementing unified messaging will involve several other areas in your organization besides your voice systems team. You will need to work closely with your e-mail staff as well as your customer service/help desk."

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