Better customer service: City employees share workloads via VoIP

Sioux Falls, S.D., making the transition.

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"I'm a systems guy, not a phone guy," says Monte Watembach, network administrator for the city of Sioux Falls, S.D. He makes this distinction as a preface to saying how easy it is to handle a VoIP rollout. "Managing voice mail servers and phone queues, that's something a sysadmin can easily pick up and do."

NamesEd Castle and Monte Watembach
TitlesIT manager and network administrator
OrganizationCity of Sioux Falls
LocationSouth Dakota

Municipal government

Ed Castle on backup access points: “We had a lot of phone services coming into one building. It was extremely important that we needed a backup access point. We were able to split access and put a T-1 into another location.”

Watembach and IT Manager Ed Castle should know. They are in the midst of an aggressive rollout of VoIP to the city's 1,100 full-time employees. The project, which started in 2003 and is expected to conclude in the next few years, will cover most of the city's critical infrastructure, including city hall, the libraries, the mayor's office, the town hall, the utility billing office and the community health center.

With 400 users up and running on a ShoreTel VoIP system, the goal is to do 80 or more each year until the project is complete.

The focus has been on making the switchover from PBX-based phones to IP telephony painless. "Two people handle the rollouts now. We bring the users into a training room to teach them how to use the equipment. While they are in a two-hour session, we deploy the phones at their desks," Watembach says. The process is so smooth that most users are comfortable with the new system in two to three days, he says.

The biggest benefit they've seen is the ability for employees to share workloads. For instance, before the VoIP system, the community health clinic was overrun by customer calls. "They only had two lines so callers would often get a busy signal," Castle says. Now, calls can be queued, and if the operator has too many stacked up, other clinic workers will receive an alert to help handle the load. "We've raised morale for workers and improved customer service," Castle says.

The network overhaul has cost $250,000 and includes switches, desk phones, software components, installation and training. It's targeted at departments using PBXs that are 7 to 10 years old. With the new system, employees have a shared voice mail system and four-digit dialing. They also are integrating the VoIP system with Outlook.

"Engineering has a public folder with their contractor contacts that all public works employees can dial from. This saves them time looking for names and numbers - there is no manual dialing or typing, they just look in the folder and click on a name," Castle says.

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