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Delaware State University: One University—One Telecom Infrastructure

A university's commitment to students and education can be seen in its commitment to providing the technology necessary to fulfill its mission. Like many universities' mission statements, Delaware State University (DSU) aims to provide an education that emphasizes both the liberal and professional aspects of higher education. But unlike many universities, DSU has made the commitment to providing the necessary technology for its students, faculty and staff to succeed.

Driven by the vision of a voice and data converged campus, the University's Department of Information Technology has set its own mission to raise "the level of technology to its highest standard," reads the IT Department's mission statement. "It is our vision, that the future of communications at DSU empower the institution's thrust forward."

Without a focus on profitability, few universities operate with the cost-effectiveness of a business enterprise. More often than not, academic departments are left to their own devices in terms of operations. With their own budgets, for example, the biology department really has little incentive to link or share their technology solutions with the physics department. But at DSU a new vision of convergence and IT centralization has taken hold.

The DSU vision began to materialize in 1999, aimed at streamlining operations, fostering interdepartmental communications, enhancing learning opportunities for students, and gaining economies of scale when purchasing technology. In that year DSU was able to obtain Y2K funding from the state of Delaware, as well as Title III federal funding under a mandated program to support historically black colleges and universities.

For the first time in its more than 100-year history, DSU was able to develop a campuswide IT strategy. It set out to bring order from chaos, eliminating islands of technology and cost effectively leveraging technology as a universitywide resource. With this newfound dedication to providing advanced technology for students, faculty, and staff, DSU began work on its floundering telecommunications network.

Small as DSU was, it still had 16 different private branch exchange (PBX) systems operating independently that essentially could not communicate with each other. Some buildings had four-digit dialing to call the state capital building downtown, yet others could not use this feature to call someone in the next building on campus.

Having so many different systems contributed to a duplication of services that was both costly and inefficient. The problem was addressed in the Y2K planning period. DSU officials hoped to purchase a campuswide PBX and replace all small Centrex-based PBX systems. DSU wanted to provide a unified face to its existing IT infrastructure as well as improve the level of service it offered to faculty, staff and students. But as a public-assisted university, the solution had to be cost-effective, as well as efficient.

Beginning in 1999 and lasting six months, DSU officials planned and reviewed companies on the State of Delaware-approved vendor list for telecommunications systems. During this time, DSU administration used state funding in the Y2K budget to establish a CIO position titled Assistant Provost for Technology & Information Systems. This position would serve to centralize all current and future technology under a single administrator and thus eliminate confusion that resulted from multiple functioning PBXs.

The University issued an RFP in 1999 and by September a contract was issued for Siemens Enterprise Networks to cover six buildings for a cost of $133,000, excluding wiring. After initial work on the project, university officials asked Siemens to expand its project to include the remainder of the campus.

The solution was to replace the 16 PBXs with one Siemens Hicom 300 IP convergence platform at a cost of $471,184. The new PBX delivers more effective switching, campuswide four-digit dialing, ISDN capabilities for video conferencing, and a call center that provides students with critical support. The solution connects the entire campus as a single site with a dialing plan that is the same for everyone. Even the once-remote welcome center is fully integrated with the rest of the campus.

The next stage in the Y2K technology vision started in the spring of 2001 with the construction of new campus-styled housing south of the main campus. To progress toward its goal of having a completely converged voice and data network, the DSU and Siemens team worked with University Courtyard to pilot a Voice over IP (VoIP) system for the 256 students in the complex. The University implemented a Siemens HiPath 5000 enterprise softswitch that provides both voice and data services to a new off-campus dormitory facility that will serve as a pilot project to prove the benefits of a converged, campuswide network.

Just as important, with the help of this vendor, DSU was able to integrate the new technology with their existing Octel voicemail system, thus protecting the investment they'd already made in equipment. The VoIP system went into production on Aug. 10, 2001, and has been so successful that University officials entered into another contract for the University Courtyard Phase 2, currently under construction. This phase will provide the VoIP structure for an additional 156 students.

The solution has raised the level of communications on campus light years. Faculty and staff now enjoy easy conference calling. And having the entire campus wired also gives the faculty and staff the ability to work in a more mobile environment. Taking this idea one step further, DSU is implementing a teleworking solution that will allow faculty members to work remotely while still having access to the campus network. Not only will this help with recruiting and retaining top staff, but it could greatly reduce the need to "house" these new recruits, as well as existing staff, on campus.

The new communications infrastructure promotes a more collaborative and creative environment on campus, between faculty members, as well as between students and faculty. DSU has also extended this connectivity off-campus to the University Apartments, a unique residence unit of 280 students developed privately in partnership with Ambling Development Company LLC. DSU extended fiber from campus to the University Apartments so that students could have the same level of access to University services as do those living on campus.

These services now include the support of a contact center that allows the University's 15 call center agents to provide students with critical support for financial aid, admissions, registration and administration. In addition, reporting functions track both calls and expenses, which allows administrators to better analyze department cost expenditures.

The new telecommunications systems will provide a fine return on investment (ROI) for DSU. With the old Centrex system, the cost of leasing figured to be $15 per line, per month, bringing the total yearly cost to approximately $360,000. The new system is expected to have a complete system payback in just six years and eliminate the costs associated with the leased lines.

The new telecommunications network was not only a solid investment for the university, the multi-year project has clearly created the type of infrastructure required to provide a quality education for DSU's 3,350 students. The IT department at DSU has provided the kind of technology that, in-line with the university vision, will "thrust" the school forward.

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