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Muskegon Area Intermediate School District Implements MeritVoice Solution to Cut Costs Countywide

In Spring of 2009, the Technology Services team of Muskegon Area Intermediate School District (MAISD) began to consider a transition from their existing telephone system. They wanted to leverage the Shoreline Fiber Network, a joint project between MAISD, Muskegon County, and Muskegon Central Dispatch 9-1-1, that created infrastructure connecting every local school district in Muskegon County to the ISD.

Tim Brown, network systems manager for MAISD, saw the Shoreline Fiber Network infrastructure as having laid the foundation for a transition to a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone service. He and Randy Lindquist, director of instructional and technology services for MAISD, formulated a plan.

“Our vision was a unified phone system connecting the entire school system in Muskegon County,” Brown explained. “We looked at phone bills and identified that this was an area with a lot of potential for cost savings. Additionally, we knew that a VoIP system could equip the schools with superior capabilities.”

At the time, Muskegon Area ISD and many other neighboring school districts, operated their individual phone systems using PRI (Primary Rate Interface) circuits. By nature a PRI system does not scale well. PRIs are provisioned using a one-size-fits all approach. A single PRI supports far more capacity than a small school district needs.

MAISD supported two PRI lines for redundancy purposes, though rarely used the capacity of either PRI line. Other neighboring districts could only afford to support one PRI line, opting to risk prolonged downtimes.

“Our PRI system translated to high costs and an inefficient use of resources,” said Brown. “We wanted a scalable solution that could easily be built out to our districts. We also wanted a solution in which there was no need to replicate and purchase new hardware at each and every site.”

After examining many options, Brown and Lindquist ultimately decided on MeritVoice SIP Trunking service over a new MAISD PBX platform. MeritVoice SIP Trunking offered MAISD the scalability they desired. SIP (Session Initiated Protocol) Trunks can be “right sized” and accommodate growth better than PRIs. The MeritVoice service has helped cut telephone costs and improved flexibility with an array of phone features.

“MeritVoice service offers a range of options from SIP Trunks to Hosted PBX,” said Jim Moran, services manager for Merit Network. “Both utilize Merit-managed service to the IP telephony gateways and benefit from Merit’s On-Net service.”

“Muskegon Area ISD’s MeritVoice service is a great example of the way SIP Trunks can be utilized over an existing PBX system to create significant cost savings and improve telephone service,” Moran said. “We think that Muskegon Area ISD’s experience is one that can serve as a model for other school districts across the state.”

“The cost of Merit’s SIP Trunking is significantly lower than PRI,” said Brown. “It has proven to be half the price of our PRI. A school system like Muskegon Area ISD can save approximately $10,000 annually in telco costs.”

One reason for the cost savings is there is no incremental cost. Billing is based on an annual flat fee, and there are no variables over a long timeframe. Local and long distance calling is included, as well as centralized cloud voicemail. And the cost savings accompanies a wealth of rich telephony features that add value to an already desirable service.

MAISD staff can now access their call history and voicemail via a web interface and organize and facilitate large teleconferences. There is a single directory that stores all the contact information for the district, which has been a boon to internal communication.

“The easy-digit dialing means that our staff do not need to keep track of highly detailed contact information. They can call without having to think,” Brown said.

The MeritVoice SIP Trunking solution helped Brown and MAISD team achieve the ease in implementation they desired from a network and component standpoint as well, without having to replicate or replace hardware at each location.

“The MeritVoice solution made the build-out simple,” he explained. “It was easy to draw out and easy for our staff to understand. It was like adding on Lego blocks.”

Changing phone systems can be a nightmare for any organization, so Brown expected to encounter hiccups along the way. However, for Muskegon Area ISD, the transition went smoother than expected. Once the voicemail system, web client and desktop collaboration suite were up and running, Brown and his staff achieved the ultimate measure of success for an IT team: no one even knew the switch happened.

“Once we completed the Muskegon Area ISD transition, it didn’t take too much imagination to make the connection between here and neighboring school districts possible,” Brown added.

Emphasizing the benefits of a scalable, cost-saving solution Brown began to engage neighboring school districts that were operating legacy PRI systems. The response was positive, and over time Brown and Muskegon Area ISD have been able to integrate four other school districts with the MeritVoice SIP Trunking telephony service, consolidating their phone service into one manageable system that saves on service and staffing costs.

The schools of Ravenna, North Muskegon, and most recently Holton are currently utilizing the Muskegon Area ISD MeritVoice SIP Trunking system, with Montague schools set to come online this coming Summer 2011.

Brown would like to bring the remaining districts still operating legacy phone systems on board in the near future.

He also has plans to integrate the other schools in Muskegon county that have VoIP platforms into the MeritVoice SIP Trunking service.

About Muskegon Area Intermediate School District

Muskegon Area Intermediate School District is a strong regional education service agency serving the public schools of Muskegon and parts of Oceana, Ottawa and Newaygo counties. MAISD’s primary mission is to provide leadership and services that enhance the delivery of instruction for the 12 constituent school districts and assisting other public and parochial schools.

Muskegon Area Intermediate School District belongs to Regional Education Media Center 4 (REMC4). REMC4 is connected to Merit’s network via a fiber-optic connection. REMC4 and Muskegon Area ISD have been Merit Members since 1998.