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Can you hear me or see me now?

New phone system updates college communications

By Aaron Cleavland, Times Staff Reporter
On December 4, 2012

By the end of this year, each MATC campus will have its old phone system replaced.
There will be a new state-of-the-art Cisco phone system, an impressive piece of technology with video capabilities that allows people to have a face-to-face conversation.
It can be with someone from on campus or at any of the different campuses. In a world of iPhones and Androids, it may be as surprising to hear as it is to say, but these phones are cutting edge.
Looking at them reminds you of all the days of your childhood spent hoping for science fiction technologies from "Star Trek" to "Back to the Future 2" to exist.
For teachers, this system and the new technology it presents is exciting in more ways than previously imagined as new ideas seem to pop up every day. Eddie Watson, desktop technology and telecommunications director, spoke of a teacher wanting to use the on-screen technology for sign language interpreter training.
The ability to have meetings with up to six people without leaving an office will also be an added bonus. Voicemail is now sent to a teacher's email in the form of a .wav file for anytime, anywhere access and since the phones are I.P. address based, the user needs only input the individual login to allow the phone number to follow them from campus to campus.
One of the main priorities for the new phone system is safety. On each phone screen is a button simply labeled "Emergency"; when pressed, it will immediately alert the security desk and enable Public Safety to see what's happening via that phone's built- in camera. If anyone dials 911, it alerts security as well.
On the surface, this is a story about the new phone system, but the real story is in the intricacies of the process itself.  
Watson, who oversees the entire process at each campus, spoke of the installation in detail, saying that when you take on a task as big as the entire MATC school system, which includes about 3,000 phones, you deal with what he called "the sins of the past." This includes 30 years of bad habits and endless wires that have been neglected by previous generations.
The main challenge was a puzzle-like order of operations that had to be arranged before Watson could even begin to physically replace the old phone system. In order to have a smooth transition, two phone systems had to be in place for a short time. In order to have two phone systems, more phone closets needed to be installed.  
Additionally, to have more phone closets, more power was needed; more power created more heat, which created the need for more air conditioning units and once that was fully in place, new hardware needed to be installed to replace the old phone switches; only then could Watson begin his portion of the install.
When you put factors like that into account, it seems any number of things is bound to go wrong, but Watson says it has been a smooth transition and he is, thus far, cautiously optimistic. "Believe me, I'm the first to be surprised it's gone well...but I'm not complaining," he said as he knocked on wood and laughed. "When you can cut a whole campus [phone line] and no one notices...that's great."
At the most, there was a period of about 30 seconds to a minute where phone calls couldn't go in or out. There was an issue at the Mequon Campus where some of AT&T's hardware was out of date and improperly installed and, as a result, left the campus without incoming or outgoing calls for three days.
A rumor began to spread that it was the result of the new phone systems. Not only was it unrelated, however, the IT department had presence of mind to be able to restore a connection to Student Services so that phone calls could be placed and received within the campus if need be.
All of the campuses except downtown have been installed without any major problems and Watson assuredly and confidently said that when it comes time to install the downtown campus' portion of the system there will be no problems whatsoever.


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