The Ministry of Social Policy says it is ahead of all the Fortune 500 companies in delivering telephony via internet protocol, and it is starting to look at integrating cellular phones and video streams into its IP telephony system.
“The Fortune 500 companies around the world are all still in the research phase we were in 12 months ago,” MoSP IT manager Neil Miranda told an industry conference in Auckland last month.
Project manager Peter Williams echoes Miranda’s belief there is no other site in the world that does what it is doing. “We like to think we’ve done something unique in New Zealand, and unique worldwide.”
In partnership with Cisco and Clear, the ministry finished implementing voice-over-IP ‘VoIP’ across 8000 handsets in more than 200 sites last October, replacing an advanced PABX telephony network. The 164 PBXs were replaced with 10 Cisco media convergence servers, running CallManager software, and 20 Cisco MCSs running the voice messaging systems. Call centres and facsimiles will remain, for the time being, analogue.
Compressed digital audio is now merged with the standard data streams in the ministry’s networks, which include CYFS and Work and Income New Zealand. PC data is now given a lower priority so that voice data is not compromised. Miranda and Williams say they believe cellular and video data could eventually be merged into the system, and that this could lead to more telecommuting and teleconferencing by staff.
In April, the ministry reported no unplanned outages of a system that deals with between 600,000 and 750,000 calls per week. Less than 50 of those calls hear a digital “echo” fault, which Cisco and Clear attribute to calls to long-distance lines.
Miranda says the project took three weeks of planning. Existing in-house staff wrote all the software and it was accomplished on time and on budget. Indeed the ministry’s IT unit has only recently had a budget increase — of just 5%.
The merger of Work and Income and CYFS with the ministry prompted the move to VoIP, since 30% more users and 30% more sites were likely to be added to the umbrella organisation.
The MoSP’s system is not perfect, however, with the system set up to restrict the flow of calls if required, says Cisco technical architect Murray Cresswell. Cisco’s system comprises its basic routing tools and feature sets, including an audio compression codec that doesn’t use silence suppression, a feature found by the Ministry of Social Policy’s test users to be distracting.
Clear’s senior business consultant Nicholas Woolgar says his organisation had a lot to learn from a technology they are watching closely. “We had to work a lot smarter in this project.”