Good Bye PBX – did you notice?

Ok, what’s a PBX? It’s the old University telephone exchange that until Tuesday 22nd January 2013 was used to connect the University’s internal telephony system to the public phone system. All incoming and outgoing calls went through that system. We actually had two – one at Schoolhill and one down at Scott Sutherland.

 I explained back in November what we were doing to move from the old “analogue” phones to the new “VOIP” phones. The old “analogue” phones were each connected to the PBX by their own copper wire, and the PBX then connected us to the public phone network. As long as we had some analogue phones, we had to keep the PBX – but now that all the analogue phones have been replaced we don’t need the PBX systems any more. They are old, they are very inflexible, and they are “single points of failure”. If one of the PBX systems fails, then we lose all outgoing and incoming calls linked to that PBX. Not something you want to happen at critical times of the year.

So, the last step in the telephone switch over was to remove the PBX systems and that was done on Tuesday. In their place, our phone system is now connected through the National JANET network. We have dual connections into the University, and the fact that we are connected through a modern voice and data network will give us greater flexibility in future. For example, if we ever need to add additional capacity (more lines) it can now be done much more quickly than was possible before.

The switchover had to be done without a hitch – it was essential that incoming and outgoing calls across the University were not disrupted. So there was a heavy programme of testing the week before the switchover, and a final batch of testing on the Monday, and then the system was handed over from one telecom provider to another early on Tuesday morning. Hopefully you didn’t notice!

That’s the core of the new, modern, telephone system very much complete now apart from some tidying up. Oh- apart from fax machines. We still have 70 people wanting to keep their fax machines . . . that’s maybe a topic for another day.

Happy New Year

A Happy New Year to all staff and students at RGU! This is the first IT blog entry for 2013 – a good chance to have a quick look ahead as we enter the new year. I have been blogging on some of these topics already through 2012, so hopefully none of this should come as a surprise. We are now, however, just entering the period when our key changes are going to start to be implemented at some scale having completed the preparation in 2012. Today I’d like to focus on 4 areas – the “MyApps” service, Staff Portal, Telephony and our preparation for the move into the new Masterplan building.

MyApps is the service that we will use to allow staff and students to access these applications and services not just from University computers, but from any device, wherever they are – part of our approach to embracing “the personal environment”. It’s now ready to roll, and we will be starting with users in Pharmacy and Life Sciences as well as some selected areas in student IT Labs and the Library. We will start to replace traditional desktop PC’s in these areas with new low energy terminals. What will it look like? It will look and feel like a Windows 7 workstation – and as a bonus you will be able to access your applications from home and on the move. Office 2010 is also going to be launched through the MyApps service first and that will be coming shortly.

The Portal was due to be launched to staff in December, but we held back because of the air conditioning incidents in our server rooms. It’s ready to roll too so expect that launch soon. Initially, the Portal will be an information environment for staff, replacing for example the old Intranet, but we did also say that one of our priorities in 2013 would be to “e-enable” key University processes. As part of that I am pleased to say that we ran a “Lean Kaizen” event in December with a small team drawn from around the University to look at redesigning our business travel processes (currently centred around the “ABS” form). They’ve made some good recommendations and I’ll tell you more about them once we’ve agreed the way forward.

The project to implement the new telephony system is well advanced, and all staff who used to have an old analogue phone should now have a new IP phone and be connected to the new phone system. IT Services have a bit more work to do behind the scenes to complete the installation and remove old kit. The new system is more than a phone system – there are other new communication features that we will want to look at during 2013 but the first step was to complete the migration of phones. I’ll say more about starting to use the new features in a few months once we are ready.

Finally, we are gearing up for the commissioning of the new Masterplan building. All the IT network equipment needs to be procured, along with audio visual equipment and electronic signage and this will all need to be configured, installed and tested in time for occupancy of the building. Work to prepare the specifications and procurement documents is well under way and this will understandably be occupying a lot of time within IT Services over the next few months.