San Jacinto College in Houston is poised to dramatically upgrade its old-style phone system of PBX boxes to voice-over IP (VoIP). The $5 million investment, part of which came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will enable the school to deploy interactive voice response (IVR) technology for frequently asked questions, phone trees for routing callers quickly, video conferencing and other upgrades.

San Jacinto College, a community college of 29,000 students, was having trouble managing its call volume, which typically reached 66,000 calls during the peak enrollment time in August.

“We get a lot of questions like, ‘When do applications close?’ ‘When am I getting my refund?’ That information is available on our website, but people still tend to phone in,” explained the college’s acting CIO Rob Stanicic.

Stanicic said a large portion of the calls were frequently asked questions that the new automated functionality could resolve quickly. This should reduce strain on the system and free up phone operators to spend more time handling specialized phone requests.

San Jacinto College staff also plan to make school information available elsewhere by entering the data in the same database that feeds the school’s website. If system vendor Verizon is successful, once employees enter information into that database, it will appear on the website as text and on the phone system as digitally constructed IVR.

The VoIP will also support video conferencing, which officials at the multicampus school hope will enable video conference staff meetings. With VoIP, college employees won’t need to drive between campuses for such meetings, Stanicic said. He said his staff was exploring ways the system can power distance learning too.

The school aims to deploy the basic headset functionality and some of the phone tree components by January 2011. The rest of the functionality will be implemented in stages after that.

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.