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The University of Oxford has signed a three-year contract to replace its ageing telephone system with unified communications so that staff and students can collaborate better, work remotely in more ways and take greater advantage of bring-your-own-device (BYOD).

The University of Oxford has signed a three-year contract to replace its ageing telephone system with unified communications so that staff and students can collaborate better, work remotely in more ways and take greater advantage of bring-your-own-device (BYOD).

As part of a three- year project, Unify, formerly Siemens Enterprise Communications, will replace the university’s existing iSDX and Cisco Call Manager telephone exchanges with OpenScape Voice and OpenScape UC application. It will also provide managed services, including lifecycle services, Service Delivery Manager and a dedicated call receipt desk.

Oxford’s existing phone system, installed in the mid-80s, was due to go out of support in 2017. Further, the university did not have a standard approach to collaboration technology. It used a range of audio and video conferencing tools, “two or three” different tools for instant messaging and had an “ad hoc approach to Skype”, according to Dr Darrell Sturley, deputy CIO at the University of Oxford.

Sturley said that the modernisation programme was one of just a few IT projects that spanned across the whole university - affecting 40,000 students and staff across 38 colleges, on over 100,000 devices, from smartphones to desktops.

Oxford spent the summer building the virtual infrastructure to host the new system, and will be spending the next couple of months testing it.

It plans to start piloting it for four to six weeks after Christmas with 250 individuals from the university’s departments and student population.

“Based on their experience we will then move on to the early adopter rollout and take on another couple of thousand users for the rest of the year. [We will] bring in the rest of the university by 2017,” Sturley said.

Challenges

According to Sturley, there were some technological challenges with the project , although these are “not insurmountable”.

“We want to integrate this with our authentication system for single sign-on,” he said, not wishing to name the authentication system provider for security reasons.

“We want to integrate with calendar and email so we can show when people are available for calls. We have Outlook Nexus, Outlook Exchange.”

However, it is the cultural challenge of moving to a completely new, modern system that will be the true test, Sturley said. The university will use Unify’s ‘OpenScape UC Adoption Programme’ to help the staff and students to understand how to use the new unified communications systems, and to develop ‘champions’ for the changes.

“We are testing it thoroughly before we use it. The real challenge will come after Christmas. We want to make sure as people come into the system they’re able to make real use of the system,” Sturley said.

The university will be using Unify’s services through its Enterprise Licensing scheme. Sturley said the deal allows the university a certain number of licenses for staff and researchers, and it has a special licence for students.