Looking up a UI employee’s phone number could be an obsolete task by June 2012, the estimated completion date for a major overhaul of campus communications.
“Phone numbers are associated with phones now,” said Charley Kline, information technology architect for Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services. “Soon, they’ll be associated with people.”
Phone numbers will only be needed for those calling university numbers from outside campus, he said.
Just as a phone number is programmed into a cell phone once and users now select names in order to make calls, so will future on-campus communications become more person-to-person – and less person-to-device – through the integration of several communications technology components: e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging, telephone and voicemail.
The first part of the campus’s new Unified Communications system will be ready this fall with the introduction of the new e-mail and calendaring system. The new system will be run on Microsoft’s Exchange Server and Communication Server.
The way people consider their various communications will change with the new system, said Tony Rimovsky, an associate director at CITES. Each feature will be part of the same system and that system is accessed through the Internet and can be used from anywhere the Web is accessible.
One password will let users access all their communication and calendar programs at once, Rimovsky said.
Two key changes:
The entire campus will use one calendar program. Now, the campus uses Oracle, Microsoft Outlook and iCal. The new program also will make scheduling meetings much easier.
Also, landline phones will be largely extinct, replaced with phone service that is provided through the Internet. Instead of dialing a phone, users will use a mouse click to speak to someone through a headset (or speakers) in order to use what is called the Communicator Client.
Want to know whether someone is at her desk or is available?
One of the main conveniences of the Unified Communications program will be the concept of “presence,” which will show a user’s availability (which will be set by the user). Users can choose to show their schedules and whether they are available for an instant chat in the same way that current instant messaging programs are now used.
“The system can be programmed to show someone is busy for phone, voicemail and instant messaging features,” Kline said.
One misconception that has arisen about the new UC concept is that privacy issues could be a concern because employees could be “followed” without their permission on campus.
Kline said that couldn’t happen because users have the ability to program their own availability to any program. If they choose to, he said, they can be seen as “unavailable” at all times. The availability options are simply available if an individual or unit chooses to use them.
One way the feature could help streamline e-mail conversations is by allowing two or more parties to easily start face-to-face conversations through conferencing software instead of a lengthy series of e-mails.
Unified Messaging will combine e-mail and voicemail into one program. Users will be able to access voicemail through their inbox. One optional feature can create a transcript for the voicemail, if the user chooses – but the feature isn’t automatically on.
The switch to the new UC system will provide a more streamlined, cost-effective way to maintain campus communications and move them out of outdated technologies.
The existing e-mail program and phone lines are at the end of their technological viability, and the current phone contract with AT&T expires June 30, 2012.
The campus will save an estimated $3 million annually after the new system is in place in 2012. The campus will spend $2 million in fiscal year 2011 on infrastructure, equipment and software, and will see a 700 percent return on investment over five years, Kline said.
The most difficult part of the new system will be getting users to change the way they think about telephone and computing services, Rimovsky said. “Instead of using several different products – and having telephony on a separate device – the new program will create an integration that should let people communicate quickly and more easily.“
Some 500 volunteers on campus tested the new programs this summer. Many of them didn’t want to change back to their old telephones, Rimovsky said.
Unified Communications estimated timeline
- July 2010:Completion of UC trial
- October 2010:Exchange 2010 e-mail and calendaring installation and training for employees and graduate and professional students
- January 2011:UC user beta testing
- May 2011:Telephone and voicemail begins the transition to UC
- July 2012:UC implementation complete
Undergraduate student e-mail changes
Starting this week, CITES is notifying undergraduate students about new options for how they can receive their @illinois.edu e-mail.
In a phased roll-out, groups of undergraduate students are being notified of the option to create Google Apps @ Illinois accounts and to indicate where they want their @illinois.edu e-mail sent. They have the option to direct their @illinois.edu e-mail to either their Google Apps @ Illinois account or a personal e-mail account. These same students are being asked to migrate themselves from CITES Express E-mail by Nov. 15.
These choices are based on the recommendations of the Campus E-mail and Calendaring Committee. At this time, faculty and staff members, and graduate and professional students will continue to use CITES Express E-mail.
“The most important thing for everyone to understand is that the official e-mail address for Urbana is and will continue to be firstname.lastname@example.org,” said Tracy Tolliver, manager and technical lead for CITES.