Hingham is a town 15 miles south of Boston in an area known as the South Shore. At the 2010 census, the population was 22,157. In 2014, Steven Becker, Manager of Information Systems for the Town, and his team were charged with upgrading the town’s municipal telephone network.
Managing IT for Hingham means tying together many disparate departments, some located in Town Hall and others scattered around town. Becker’s team is responsible for IT in not only Town Hall, but also the Department of Public Works, the community planning departments, the finance departments, the fire stations, and the police department.
Additionally, much of the Hingham school system also falls under Becker’s purview. “We handle the phone system in the schools but not the data,” he says. “However, we do handle school administration because they are located within the Town Hall.”
Becker’s challenge was to upgrade an out-of-date phone system with a more reliable – and supported – infrastructure. “In 2001, we installed a voice over IP solution from a different vendor,” recalls Becker. “It was a 3Com NBX system and up until last year, we had the phones located in only 11 out of our 15 municipal buildings.”
“We have fiber in between each building which was installed in 1999,” explains Becker. “In our case, the system actually worked well, but it was no longer supported by the manufacturer and it was time to replace the antiquated hardware. We wanted a more robust feature set for everyone in our organization.”
“Simultaneously we needed to completely replace the phone system at South Elementary School. Their existing telephone system was from another vendor. It was aging and they were experiencing quite a few problems.”
The Due Diligence
Because of the many installations in metropolitan Boston, Becker came across Harbor Networks and ShoreTel early in his research process.
“About five years ago I reached out to several vendors about replacing the existing system and at that time I met up with Harbor Networks,” says Becker. “And it was funny because over the next several years as the town was going through the research for a new system, my rep was always checking in to see where we were in the process. So we developed a relationship over those few years and anytime I had any questions, he was very responsive.”
“So when I knew ShoreTel was going to be one of the three vendors I was going to consider, I decided to ask many of my peers in State and local government. Do they own ShoreTel? How do they like it? Which vendor do they use? Are they satisfied with them? Everyone who had a ShoreTel system loved it and most of them were installed by Harbor Networks. They couldn’t say enough about Harbor Networks and their quality of service.”
In the final analysis, the Town decided it needed a phone system that would be extremely reliable and installed and maintained by a third party. Although the Town was looking for a voice-only system, a key requirement was that it should integrate with the fiber-based network.
“In our existing telephone system, there was no redundancy in the remote locations,” says Becker. “And I love the architecture of the ShoreTel system where it has a distributed switching system which provides the redundancy for each building, but you can still manage it from a single pane of glass. The people here just need a fairly consistent, solid system to work with. So it’s just been great.”
Becker reports that the biggest difference between the old system and the new ShoreTel system is usability.
“Looking at it from an IT manager’s standpoint, I can sleep a little bit better at night because I know that redundancy is there where it wasn’t before,” explains Becker. “And that goes out to all staff members as well because they don’t see any system downtime. Knock on wood, it’s been great so far. With the previous system, I actually had to take the system down to perform a backup. It would actually be inoperable for approximately a half hour, so I couldn’t do that during the day. That’s challenging any time, but especially when you’re dealing with police and fire departments. It’s critical that they have their phone system operational.”
During the bake-off, each of the three vendors were invited to demonstrate their solutions for Becker’s team. “Right away we saw what we needed and what we didn’t need,” recalls Becker. “Obviously from a municipal standpoint, cost becomes a factor. I think ShoreTel was definitely the best value for the money. It had everything we needed and more and at a very reasonable price point.”
The redundancy and the distributed switch architecture were the top selling points for Becker. But other features were appealing as well and factored into the decision.
“Definitely features like auto attendants, scheduling and conferencing,” he explains. “The conferencing abilities are definitely more robust than what we had before. And voicemail — the ability for users to have the ShoreTel Communicator application, to be able to see the presence of other users on the network, to be able to check their voicemail from their desktop application, see their call history and make notes. We didn’t have anything like that before. Communicator has been a great feature for us.”
Harbor Networks was called back to demonstrate the ShoreTel system on three occasions. The second and third time, Becker and his team invited people from different departments, including stake holders.
“They showed us several different model phones,” remembers Becker. “From the administration side, they demonstrated configuration changes. We saw other vendors who might use several different applications to administer different portions of their system, but for our Systems Analyst, Kate Richardsson, and me, the key was to have one application that managed the entire system.”
The Town’s transition roadmap included eight municipal buildings and four of the Town’s six schools – and a short time window. “If we went with ShoreTel, we knew that the transition was going to be fairly easy – and it was,” says Becker. “Fortunately there was minimal change to our network. We had just a couple of schools which needed to upgrade their cabling.”
“Because it was using the data network, we used existing data connections which were connecting each building. We had to put the ShoreTel network on to a different vLAN for each location and Harbor Networks helped us through that. Once we completed the testing and configuration, we had a couple issues which we had to get through. Once we worked through them, it worked great.”
“The Harbor Networks team was very diligent in staying with us and making sure we provided them with all the information they needed because we were on a tight time schedule. Schools were going to open in September 2014, and the teachers were arriving in August.”
“The installation into the schools was the first phase. Once the schools were operational, we moved on to the municipal buildings. We had about a three-week time frame to get it operational in the schools and to test it out. Actually, it was pretty non-eventful.”
Training and Support
All told, the Town purchased around 400 ShoreTel phones.
“It was straightforward,” says Becker. “Enough of the features were similar to our existing system that the employees adapted to it pretty quickly. Prior to the staff receiving their phones, we gave them ShoreTel’s quick reference sheets and Harbor Network provided training classes for all the staff. So they were well prepared and it was an easy transition.”
“We have an ongoing support contract with Harbor Networks. By far most of the support calls are to make configuration changes. We haven’t had any hardware issues to date. Everyone from the engineering team to the install team were outstanding. They would bend over backwards for us and we appreciated it. Whatever we needed, they helped us out with it.”
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the whole transition,” says Becker. “Not often, do you find a vendor to provide that kind of service. This is the smoothest transition that I could have hoped for.”