Collaborating with unified communications gives the staff at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., decision-making capabilities it never had before.
Brian Paige, director of technology for the college, says he and a colleague recently struggled with a concept during a voice conference call. “I then sent her a Lync video invitation and moved to a video call, and we did some visual demos with documents,” he says. “Because of Lync, we had a more efficient meeting and were then able to move to the next item on our agenda.”
The move to Microsoft Lync is part of the college’s push to standardize on Office 365, says Paige. Faculty and staff frequently use Lync’s instant messaging and video features, and are slowly adapting to the presence capability.
This summer, the college plans to begin upgrading its voice system. And with Office 365 integration, faculty and staff will also be able to pick up voicemails in their email and integrate even more fully with Lync.
“One of the best parts of Lync is that it runs on mobile phones and tablets,” says Paige. He notes that advancement and admissions staff can hold meetings from wherever they are on campus or across the country, and faculty and students can use the conferencing capabilities in the classroom.
Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says as awareness of UC spreads, more organizations are tapping the technology. While colleges and universities may use video differently, depending on their organizational culture, most take advantage of document-sharing tools for collaboration. “Now, people can meet online, actually show their colleagues the data and information they are talking about and get people to make decisions as opposed to waiting for a set time to meet at a physical destination,” he says.
All In on UC
The university began its UC initiative a few years ago by deploying Cisco voice technology, says Terry Vahey, associate vice president for IT and CIO for IT Services. She says the IT team wanted to use technologies that worked well together; were easy for students, faculty and staff to use; and offered a way for the San Jose State community to collaborate. By the time the campus was ready for more advanced UC capabilities, Cisco was marketing Jabber for IM, presence and video chat.
All of those technologies helped the university meet the goal of enabling collaboration with anytime, anywhere access. San Jose State took UC a step further with WebEx-enabled telepresence, which enables students to watch a lecture from a subject matter expert located on the other side of the country while also viewing PowerPoint slides and other supporting documents.
“Professors are very excited about this technology,” Vahey says. “They tell me they can now bring the world to their classes.”
Instructors are also realizing improved outcomes in the classroom. For example, a speech professor spent the semester recording students as they gave speeches. “Throughout the semester, students would view the recordings and give feedback to their peers. By the end of the semester, the professor told me she saw more advancement in skills than she’s ever seen in the past,” Vahey says. “When I heard that, I realized that’s why we’re doing all this work with technology.”
Charter Oak State College, Connecticut’s public online college, also has a strong Cisco UC deployment. Eric Zematis, director of enterprise systems, says students, faculty and staff use the Cisco Unified Personal Communicator (which will ultimately be upgraded to Jabber) to send instant messages and perform video and voice calls via the softphone feature.
“Since we’re an online college, most of the faculty are remote, so we depend upon video and WebEx quite a bit for meetings,” Zematis says. “We also use it internally here for meetings so people don’t have to leave their desks.”
Zematis says the video/WebEx features give faculty the option of holding traditional lectures with the students and recording them if students want to view them on their own.
3 Questions to Ask Before Moving Forward with UC
Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, outlines three important points to consider before moving forward with a unified communications system implementation.
- What is the desired business outcome?
IT managers should ask themselves if the UC system will be used internally to run video calls with external users. If important partners will use the system, the organization may want to invest in a higher quality telepresence system.
- Will the system run as a stand-alone unified communication system, or will the organization integrate it with existing workflow?
Determine if the organization wants the UC system for standard meetings where it can run video, share documents and exchange messages. If the organization wants to integrate UC video into its help desk trouble-ticket operation, for example, ask the prospective vendor if it has experience running those kinds of systems.
- Is the organization culturally ready for unified communications?
Try to honestly determine if the staff has the mentality and potential skills to work with the technology effectively. Are there enough people in the organization who can be trained quickly so that those in the organization who aren’t as technically adept can be slowly brought up to speed? If the answer is no, budget appropriate funds for training the staff who will be leaders.