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TMCNet:  Netelligent-School District Learns that Hosted Collaboration Solution is The Smart Choice

[March 24, 2014]

Netelligent-School District Learns that Hosted Collaboration Solution is The Smart Choice

(ENP Newswire Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ENP Newswire - 24 March 2014 Release date- 21032014 - Netelligent-School District Learns that Hosted Collaboration Solution is The Smart Choice.

At first glance, the Ritenour School District may not seem like the most likely place to find the latest technology being applied to education.

Despite serving a population where older homes with two or three bedrooms are common and roughly 76 percent of the families qualify for free or reduced lunches, the district has consistently been a leader in integrating technologies such as laptop computers, iPads, wireless networking, interactive white boards and more into the classroom.

Sometimes that leadership can work against the district, however. That was the case with its phone system. An early adopter of Voice over IP (VoIP), by 2013 its phone system was showing its age. The software for its Cisco Unified Communications system had advanced so much that the district would have to replace all its servers to catch up.

'We were stuck pretty much where we'd started several years before,' says Mike Wieland, Assistant to the Superintendent for Support Services. 'We'd had one upgrade over seven years. We have a very small IT staff, and maintaining the old phone system was taking up far too much of their time. Yet because the system was older it was very difficult to find outside support. It finally became apparent that we couldn't put it off any longer. We needed to replace the old phone system.' One of the major challenges, however, was funding. Because of the socio-economic realities of its communities, Ritenour School District couldn't afford to upgrade the technology itself. It needed E-Rate funding to cover the majority of the costs. Yet the district didn't qualify for enough funding to upgrade the servers and other equipment. It needed a more creative solution.

Solution As a government entity, Ritenour School District had to seek bids from several potential providers. In the end, however, the proposal from Netelligent, a Cisco Gold Partner, Master Partner and Cloud Partner with whom the district had worked previously, provided the best option.

Rather than replace hardware, Netelligent recommended that Ritenour School District move to a Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS), which they would manage. Because Netelligent maintains two data centers in different geographies, the HCS would automatically add a desired business continuity element to the communications system. Once it was confirmed that the E911 technology would pinpoint calls to the point of origination, Ritenour School District awarded the contract to Netelligent.

Business Results The most significant result that Ritenour School District has seen is that its IT department is completely out of the telephone business. Their assistant continues the responsibility for moves, adds and changes (MACs), along with the Netelligent staff.

'A lot of the MAC work we do is seasonal,' says Wieland. 'At the beginning of the year teachers tend to move around more, seeking out what they believe are better classrooms. After that, though, it drops off considerably. Since they no longer need to maintain phone server hardware or patch software, our IT staff is free to take on other, more impactful work. We pride ourselves on our use of technology to educate today's learners in a way that fits their life experiences. Not having to worry about the phones gives our IT staff the bandwidth to look for new and better ways to apply technology in the classroom.' Proof of concept for the business continuity aspect of Cisco HCS came quickly. In the spring of 2013, a series of tornadoes and floods ripped through the St. Louis area, knocking out power and communications throughout the community - including the building that formerly housed the phone system.

'We were without power for a few days, but since we'd already moved everything to Netelligent all of the phones continued to work in all our buildings,' Wieland says. 'That was important not only from a business standpoint but from a safety and security point of view. Had classes been in session at the time we would have no concerns about our ability to keep students, faculty and staff safe - even in a 911 situation.' Moving to HCS not only solved the technical issues, it also overcame the first barrier to launching the project - funding. Ritenour School District didn't have the available cash reserves to fund the project itself, and so needed to qualify for E-Rate funding.

'The issue for us is that E-Rate has different rules for different types of projects,' says Wieland. 'While the economics of the communities we serve allow more than three-quarters of our families to qualify for the lunch subsidies, it still isn't enough to qualify for E-Rate Priority 2 funding. As a result, we couldn't afford to make hardware upgrades even if we wanted to. But because the discount off services under Priority 1 is 86 percent, it only cost us $14 out of pocket for every $100 we invested. That made the change we already wanted to make affordable.' The ultimate success measure for the district, however, was the fact that the faculty and staff weren't aware that a change had been made, and didn't notice any differences in their service. He attributes much of that 'non-event' to the quality and care Netelligent took in its approach to the project - and the district's technology needs as a whole.

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