FeatureTel replaces City of Durham phone system with unified VoIP phone services solution

Updated: January 06, 2011

APEX – FeatureTel Telecommunications, North Carolina’s premier hosted VoIP telephone services solutions company, recently completed the installation of phones and related services for 1,815 users across the City of Durham operations, including police and fire rescue operations. The $1.63 million contract includes network equipment upgrades and a three-year service agreement.

“We had realized for some time that our system was antiquated,” said Michiyo Wagner, director of Technology Solutions& for the City of Durham, “but the cost to upgrade had been prohibitive.”

Because Capital Improvement funding, which is used for large, expensive projects, was needed for more urgent projects, Wagner issued an RFP to solicit proposals that would fit within her department’s existing budget. The initial RFP required either a hosted or managed solution, and every response came in extremely over budget. A second round RFP, to which FeatureTel responded, required only hosted solutions within the existing budget. FeatureTel was one of two businesses that made it to the final rounds of that process and eventually won the business.

“Our priorities in the selection process were clear,” Wagner explained. “We wanted a solution that would unify the City’s phone operations, provide redundancy in the case of emergencies, support us in disaster preparedness and business continuation, and improve features and functionality -- all within our existing budget. With FeatureTel, we got it all.”

Moving into the 21st Century

The City’s previous telephone system had been in place for more than 20 years and grew to require 67 different key systems, operating much like 67 different phone systems. Users could only transfer calls, including citizen calls, to other users on their system. Additionally, adds, moves and changes to phone numbers and extensions on the numerous systems made necessary a full-time contracted service just for that purpose.
“Since the old system had been put into place, we’ve seen the advent of tools like cell phones, e-mail and more that needed to be incorporated into an Integrated Voice Data communications system,” Wagner said. “We wanted to upgrade our services to include these technologies in a better, more efficient and effective way that would improve our overall service to citizens as well as within City operations.”

The project was a big win for FeatureTel, which has nearly doubled its sales over the past two years. “The City of Durham’s needs were a perfect fit for our services,” said FeatureTel Founder and CEO Paul Levering. “We knew that we could be successful if given the opportunity.”

From November 2008 to February 2009, FeatureTel assessed and planned with the City’s IT Department, and upgraded the City’s network infrastructure to support the new VoIP phone service solution. In February of this year, they began a four-phase installation of the VoIP service, conducted across 31 departments. During the process, FeatureTel successfully ported 237 different telephone numbers -- each with numerous extensions -- from the previous carrier to the FeatureTel service.& As a result, the City was able to disconnect 752 lines used by the old system.& &

“With our new VoIP system from FeatureTel, users throughout the City of Durham operations can now not only transfer calls to any user across the network,” Wagner explained, “but also can direct-dial call anyone in the network using a five-digit extension, and transfer voice mail messages -- an enormous benefit in ensuring citizen calls are easily directed to the appropriate person. None of that was possible before.”

Wagner also noted that the $60,000-a-year contracted services previously needed for adds, moves and changes to the key systems are no longer necessary. To move a phone, users simply unplug from their old location and plug in at their new location -- much like moving a computer. Additions and changes to phone numbers are completed using a software application.

“The project was a great success, but this was by no means a simple process,” Wagner said. “It took a great deal of planning, troubleshooting and teamwork on everyone’s part -- at FeatureTel and in the City’s IT Department. It was a huge accomplishment by the entire team. We worked together on all of it, and FeatureTel was excellent throughout. Their project management was very good at anticipating problems and having solutions ahead of time so that when we hit an install date, we were ready. Everything went very smoothly. They knew us, knew our systems and were and are still very responsive.”

When it came to the bottom line number, FeatureTel succeeded there, as well. The City of Durham IT Department stayed within its current annual budget while upgrading network infrastructure, purchasing new phones, unifying the system across City operations and improving service, features and functionality.&

Business Continuation and Emergency Response

According to Wagner, one of the most important results of the VoIP installation has been the system redundancy for emergency situations and the ability to ensure business continuation (and productivity) in any number of circumstances. If a network connection is lost in any one site, users need only to pick up their phones and plug them in at another location, including their homes if need be, to continue operations. City phones also can be forwarded to mobile phones, providing more options in emergency response and business continuation than was possible in the past.

“We have many services that operate 24/7, such as police and fire, water management and others,” Wagner explained. “It was important to have redundant services particularly for these operations. Each department presented unique needs, and FeatureTel was able to provide solutions at every turn.”

The new VoIP system also provides call level monitoring. For example, the volume of calls to the City’s Call Center can be monitored, and additional resources can be allocated to that site as needed in the case of emergencies or other high volume situations.

Next Phase: Web Portal

With a successful rollout behind them, FeatureTel is working with the City’s IT Department on the next phase of the project -- deploying the service’s web portal to users. The web portal is a simple, web-based user-friendly PC interface that enables access to a wide range of phone features and advanced services. The application does everything from providing access to company and personal directories, enabling click-to-dial calling, allowing users to view voice mails in a voice inbox (and return calls and forward voice mails via email), permitting call screening settings and more.

Wagner and her team are evaluating the various features and functionality of the web portal for appropriate deployment to departments across City operations.

About FeatureTel Telecommunications

Founded in 2003 in Apex, N.C., FeatureTel Telecommunications is a fully managed and Hosted IP Telephony service solution company providing businesses across North Carolina with a cost-effective, feature-rich alternative to the traditional IP PBX and voice solutions. Delivering Fortune 500 telephone system features and functionality to IP telephones, the FeatureTel service eliminates the need for investment in a telephone system. The company has been recognized for its high-quality service as a Top 25 Phone Service Provider in the Triangle, and was the first recipient of the Competitive Local Exchange Certification by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

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