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Houston's San Jacinto College Deep in $5 million Network and Phone Upgrade

San Jacinto College in Texas has begun work on a five-year, $5 million project to upgrade its network infrastructure and introduce voice over IP to its three campuses. The college contracted with Verizon Business to act as prime contractor for the project. Verizon is also providing project management services in the initiative and, with the help of a subcontractor, deploying the new equipment.

According to CIO Rob Stanicic, the college will be deploying Juniper Networks hardware to replace legacy network gear and Avaya products for the new telephone system. The college recognized that it needed to replace both systems about three or four years ago. The evaluation was started about two years ago. Verizon was chosen, Stanicic said, because, "We were really were looking for an implementation partner we could work with and rely on. It is a big project and there's a lot of risk associated with it."

The new network and phone infrastructure upgrade will provide multiple benefits to the college, he explained. "Our primary driver is to make the experience of dealing with the college as seamless and easy as possible. In addition, with this new IP system, we'll have a much richer and instantaneous experience in the classroom in terms of 'cloud' streaming, multimedia and rich instructional material."

On top of that, San Jacinto needed power over Ethernet to support its new voice system. In turn, VoIP will allow the college to have voice mail and e-mail integration, which, said Stanicic, will provide the ability to transfer calls, provide robust audio conferencing for distance learning, and "take us into a direction where we can use VoIP's flexibility to build on that system as our requirements change year by year."

The college will also upgrade the services provided by its call center, which receives 364,000 calls a year from people seeking information and support. The new system will allow for more interaction, such as the ability to forward calls and integrate the call center activities with the college's Web site through a shared database.

"We had a very old PBX system," the CIO said. "So when you're looking at that type of integration--the ability for voice, for interactive response to feed off a single database that both the Web site and call center share--it just helps us give students the right information at the right time and keep it current. With the existing technology, we couldn't really do that."

According to Teri Fowle, associate vice chancellor of marketing, the new contact center will also allow the college to retain similar staff levels while providing more service to an ever-growing population of students. The latest enrollment is at a record 29,000 credit students, up six percent over the previous fall registration. "We're a growing college. We have a growing enrollment," said Fowle. "We need to continue growing, but we need a way to efficiently and effectively take care of our students."

Funding for the new project is coming from several sources, including bond money to construct new buildings on campus and a capital expense account.

The work has already begun. Stanicic said the main network switch is near the end of its replacement. Also part of the VoIP system has been implemented. That will probably be tested in October on one campus. He projects that by January 2011 the telephone system, including all handsets, will be replaced.

"Students calling into the college often have an immediate academic need, and we are working with the college to help make sure they aren't stuck on hold," said Jared Kearney, vice president of sales for Verizon Business. "Implementation of what we call next generation technology continues to keep San Jacinto ahead of the curve in regards to preparing themselves for the years ahead for leveraging the applications that will be IP-enabled and to bring efficiencies and ease of use to the clients, their students."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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