When our school district’s aging phone system started to fail and we had a hard time getting replacement parts and handsets, we took the time to assess our options. We decided to move to a cloud-hosted PBX system from FairPoint Communications, which gave us a modern, feature-rich phone system that eliminated the hassle of needing to install and maintain PBX equipment on school district premises.
Here are four keys to the success of our school district moving a new Internet-based phone system:
Going to the Cloud. Like any school system, price was a big factor in what we could do. Moving to a cloud-based system was a huge factor in lowering our total budget request. The cloud made it possible for us to address our entire phone network at once rather than replacing one PBX at a time as budget might allow. The new system also meant we no longer needed to run separate networks for voice and data, another cost savings and efficiency driver for us.
Tapping E-Rate Subsidies. E-Rate is a fund available under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which provides financial assistance to schools and libraries to obtain telecommunications and information services. E-Rate voice and data subsidies helped reduce our overall cost for a new hosted PBX system and made it doable for our budget. E-Rate doesn’t support us buying new on-site PBX equipment, so this ability to get some funding for a new solution made it that much more appealing.
Managing the Transition. We had a limited window to transition phone systems over summer break. Our plan was to start with the larger schools first, working toward smaller locations. We kept our legacy phone system working during the installation so we were not at risk of going dark for emergency communications.
Creating Flexible Call Management Plans. We have staff that floats between buildings during the day and our cloud-based solutions allows us to easily route calls to those individuals at any given time, which we couldn’t do before. And, in the event we lose connectivity or physical access to a facility through a power outage or a snowstorm, we route calls usually directed to that facility to another location temporarily using a convenient, easy-to-use online portal – which is key to our emergency management planning.
As the nature of education changes, we are getting digital tools in front of teachers and students at a much faster pace than even just a couple of years ago. This has made Internet connectivity as vital to school operations as power and heat.
We strive to provide our school district with a world-class technology infrastructure that rivals a Fortune 500 company, delivered in a fiscally sound way. Our staff and students deserve that.
Neal Richardson is the Director of Technology and Emergency Management for Monadnock Regional School District in Swanzey, N.H.