Sometimes losing needed resources leads to finding something better, officials at the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) discovered. The agency is midway through a project to upgrade their analog phone systems to a statewide unified digital system through AT&T. The agency, composed of 58 institutions of varying sizes, plus two central offices with about 800 employees, is saving money while upgrading to a hosted system.

The project began before CIO Doug Smith arrived more than three years ago, he said. “Traditionally, our state agency, the Department of Corrections, we have different phone services offerings depending where you are in the state of Florida,” he said. “And we were using more conventional telephone offerings. The goal was, let’s move forward with something that will provide that single platform no matter where you are in the state of Florida and also derive some of the benefits from doing that.”

Moving to a hosted system was identified as a good investment before he arrived, Smith explained, but frequent management changes delayed the project while each new manager was educated on the benefits of the switch.

Finally, the Department of Management Services signed the contract with AT&T after budget cuts forced the DOC into a different building with a shared resource center. “In addition to losing my building, I also lost my data center, so I didn’t really have a place to put that kind of equipment anymore,” he said. “So it made it a very, very natural solution for us to look at having someone else deal with the mechanics of hosting a phone infrastructure for us.”

Despite the initial administrative stagnation, the state is now realizing the benefits of the system. “To buy a premise-based system, you essentially have to predict what your entire build-out is going to be up front, and commit to that and start paying for that day one,” Smith said. “The beauty of the hosted systems is I don’t take on the liability. That’s the responsibility of the provider.”

Using a hosted solution, Smith said, meant only paying for the scale they needed. But beyond that, the agency was getting additional cost savings over their existing system. Where in many facilities the agency was paying $21 per month per phone for an analog system, they are now paying about $15 a month for each digital handset. And in facilities that had PBX systems, he said, there’s also a cost savings from not having to maintain, repair or replace that equipment.

The project has not rolled out across the entire state yet, but Smith hopes it will be completed within two years. The phased process started with the facilities that would give the state the biggest cost savings first, he said.

There were some technical hurdles through the development process, he reports, but nothing that isn’t seen in any normal buildout. Despite the small hiccups, the system works well, he said. “These are digital telephones so there’s no such thing as static, although you do sometimes get digital artifacting on rare occasions if you don’t have enough bandwidth," he said, adding that most of those issues have been resolved.

Smith cites a lack of complaints as evidence of the rollout's success so far. The phones are working well and delivering good call quality. "...Certainly the budget people enjoy the cost savings it affords,” he added.

Photo from Shutterstock

Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog.