09 Jul 2021
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Canadian Municipalities & the Best Unified Communications Roadmap

To stay on top of trends, the District of Mission, BC’s, IT team typically attends the Municipal Information Systems Association (MISA) Conference. This event gives municipalities in the province an opportunity to share ideas and to discover innovative, new ways of delivering services and provisioning IT services more efficiently. At one such conference, the District of Mission team discovered how the City of Langford—a sister city with a similar population size—uses ThinkTel SIP Trunking to cut costs, ensure greater continuity/disaster recovery, and improve service.

Municipalities require reliable communications solutions to engage their staff and support their residents, local businesses, and organizations. It’s a pretty big job. Municipalities must support the IT requirements of their local sports facilities, parks, recreation centres, security and safety (which includes but is not limited to policing and firefighting), road maintenance, waste service, building permits, and more. And of course, municipalities have their own direct communication needs, such as keeping residents informed of severe weather, major programs, and activities.

Of course, what local governments look like varies widely across Canada. You might be responsible for a remote district or town that looks nothing like an average city. We understand that local governments across Canada can vary dramatically in size, resources available, and services offered. What are your specific technology needs? Is there a digital divide in your area? Do you have a lot of legacy phone equipment? Does a modern communications solution seem daunting? Here’s some good news: a good unified communications (UC) roadmap can solve these problems.

What Does Unified Communications Mean & What Does the Best UC Include?

UC is not necessarily a single technology, but a collection of tools that provide a consistent unified user interface that works across multiple devices and media channels.

In its broadest sense, UC might encompass all forms of communication that are used via technology. For example, instant messaging or unified messaging, call control, multimodal communications, ability to see user status or online presence (i.e., busy, available, presenting, do not disturb), integrated calendars and one-click meetings/conferencing (audio, Web, and video), collaboration tools like sharing screens, documents, or even whiteboarding as a team, connecting to mobile devices through UC apps, and in the best case a complete business process integration (BPI). Take all these ways of communicating and give them a single, consistent user interface that can be used across devices. That’s unified communications.

Why Unified Communications as a Service Makes Sense for Local Governments

1. Support for Mobile and Remote Staff

Nobody likes missing calls. The newest cloud-based phone systems have dozens of features that make connecting easier. This means your staff need access to communications wherever their duties take them.

Do you think every city, town, or district employee sits behind a desk all day? Think again.

2020 was game changing for any city that did not embrace VoIP prior to COVID-19.

Making our communities better means empowering employees to communicate easily during their day on the road and in the field. Meetings with constituents, outdoor work, and special community activities and programs are the mainstay and the largest portion of municipal work. Unified communications as a service (UCaaS) takes care of remote connectivity.

2. Cost Savings

If budgets are really tight, a move to unified communications as a service might be the answer. Sadly, local municipalities use older equipment because they fear paying a premium cost for upgrades. These fears are misplaced. There are significant cost savings in UC, never mind the fact that old legacy equipment is expensive to fix.

A popular choice made by municipalities across Canada is the adoption of VoIP. Choosing an enterprise-grade VoIP protocol, some cities are switching to SIP trunks, rather than more expensive PRIs and analog service with significant maintenance requirements. Reducing the total number of vendors adds to the savings. As a ThinkTel SIP Trunking customer, the District of Mission only pays for their average capacity. When busy days and seasons occur, they access extra capacity with channel bursting.

All told, the District of Mission reduced their monthly costs by 49% and went from spending $8,530 per month to $4,400 per month.

3. Greater Flexibility

On a UCaaS plan, it’s incredibly simple to add and change services. If local agencies find site consolidation or departmental moves on their agenda, a UCaaS system will save time, labour, and money. This is also true for cities that are expanding.

Scalability is more cost effective with UCaaS because additional lines can be added with the touch of a button instead of a traditional setup.

4. Increased Functionality

Moving from outdated legacy PBX phone systems to UCaaS gives municipal employees the increased functionalities they need to adapt to a remote work environment. Not only can they communicate more easily with each other, but it’s easier to handle communication with constituents.

Municipal employees can more easily interact with others by detecting presence, forwarding voicemails as emails, and having one inbox for emails, faxes, and voicemails. More tools at their disposal means better communications with wider access to mobile devices, desktop, phone, or softphone.

5. More Effective Disaster Recovery

When disaster strikes, legacy and on-premise communication systems may take weeks or even months to recover. Whether due to human error or Mother Nature, disaster recovery can be managed faster with digital tools. Service continuity is protected thanks to fully managed cloud-based communications. Service can be brought back online in hours or less, and often at the touch of a button. Redundancy planning, including wireless backup, will minimize outage potential even further.

In the District of Mission, the IT team relies on SIP trunking with a data network connection. The result? The municipality is no longer at the mercy of local power outages. Their trunks can reroute and keep functioning. According to Mission’s IT manager, Chris Knowles, “Moving from PRI to SIP trunking definitely improved our business continuity and reliability. Because of georedundancy, our service is more agile and able to withstand disruption and disaster.”

6. Faster & Easier Deployment

Government agencies are complex in nature, and change doesn’t always come quickly. While implementing a cloud-based system is fast and easy, it is also flexible. Migrations can be phased, with departmental rollouts planned after individual testing and integration. Cloud-based systems can operate in a hybrid environment for any defined period of time.

Choosing a hybrid deployment—that is, blending legacy equipment and SIP trunking—has helped some towns gain the flexibility to plan slow or quick implementation depending on their needs and budget. They can choose to progressively retire the legacy hardware later in a phased approach. There is no downtime of critical services during a rollout of a typical UCaaS solution.

Choose Unified Communications as a Service

Administrators today in each community want to interact more with their constituents. Communications is the pillar of that—and where the smart city experience begins. And the smart city is not only for big urban centres.

Ask us how we customize our telephony solutions to meet the needs of each municipality. Whether you are a town, district, or city, we can give you a smarter phone system, keep upfront costs low, and help you have more time to focus on your constituents as your community goals are supported by the right communication technology.

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