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OIT hails tech plan a success

Amanda Michaels | Monday, November 22, 2004

The Office of Information Technologies is hailing the deal with SBC Communications to install a new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) network as Notre Dame’s move to join the technological wave of the future, and is optimistically looking toward the five-year transition to the new system.

Negotiations for the VoIP network – which will be one of the largest of its kind in the country – began approximately a year ago, and the contract was signed in early fall, according to OIT’s chief technology officer and assistant provost DeWitt Latimer.

The new system boasts a unified mailbox – allowing users to read their voicemail from their e-mail client and listen to their e-mail on their phone – “click-to-call” functionality from computers, “find me, follow me” call routing options and a “plug-and-play” service for the addition of new phones and service and location changes.

“It [the VoIP system] is going to be the technology of choice,” DeWitt said. “All the features it makes possible are viewed as future needs that our users are going to want. Not all of them will be necessary at first, but over next five to seven years, they will become more and more common for entire user community.”

Officials are currently debating whether to extend the service to students, or keep it isolated to faculty, staff and administrators. DeWitt said the problems lies in the fact that surveys have shown students don’t find value in the current dorm phone systems, and the University is reluctant to extend the service if it won’t be used.

“We are cognizant that lifestyles are changing, so we’re looking the idea that if it’s not a cell phone or instant messenger or e-mail, is it a mode of communication that students want to or will use,” DeWitt said. “That’s why there’s a hesitancy. We’re not sure where the students will be two to four years out.”

DeWitt said that the University was motivated to switch to the new service in part because its current Legacy phone system contract is set to expire in January 2006.

“With the contract expiring a little more than a year from now, we needed to take some type of definitive action,” he said. “Instead of reinvesting with Legacy system, we saw this as the right time to take Notre Dame down the path they were eventually going to need to go down.”

Despite being more technologically advanced, DeWitt said the new system will come at no extra cost to what the University currently pays for phone service.

The transition between the current Centrex-based system and VoIP will take place over a period of three to five years, starting with a six-month trial with a limited set of users early next year, said DeWitt.

“If all goes well with the trial, we’ll start rolling it out to the balance of the campus,” DeWitt said. “The exact order of doing that hasn’t been decided, but new construction like the Jordan Hall of Science will get it by default.”

Regardless of how many users the University connects to the system, DeWitt said he sees a potential problem in users’ adaptation to the new technology.

“I don’t foresee any problems with the actual system, but I think most of the energy and potential angst will come around the training aspect of it,” he said. “We know some people are apprehensive about the transition, which is why we’re really going to put the emphasis on user training aspect of this.”