Making the Move to Unified Communications in K-12 Schools and Libraries

by Jennifer Head
September 11, 2019

While the business world has welcomed cloud migration with open arms (and generous budgets), many K-12 school districts find themselves unable to support the latest cloud learning and administrative applications with their antiquated equipment and legacy communication services. The conclusion of the FCC’s phase down of E-Rate support for voice services is forcing schools to maximize their return on every dollar spent to update their communications infrastructure and meet the increasing demands for cloud-based learning environments.

Playing catch up

The reevaluation of  IT needs is causing many schools and libraries to transition from legacy services like POTS (plain old telephone service), Centrex or PRI lines to robust, versatile unified communications as a service (UCaaS) solutions. These services provide all core voice functions as well as enable them to realize additional benefits for their unique environments.

Moreover, schools and libraries are free to make buying decisions that best fit their needs – and timelines – rather than adhering to the strict bidding structure and schedule of the E-Rate program. That freedom, however, comes the added responsibility to ‘study up’ on the various options to determine which new communications platform best serves their needs today—as well as providing flexibility for future changes.

Making the grade

Several features should ensure that that the school’s communication service excels in the following key areas:

  • Emergency 911 monitoring. Even more than test scores or the newest innovations in classroom technology, a school’s first priority should always be safety. Modern VoIP systems, such as UCaaS, can carry built-in emergency monitoring, and when paired with DID (direct inward dialing), alerts the administrative office when a 911 call is made, pinpointing the origin of the call for emergency workers—right down to the building, floor and room number.
  • Flexible extension dial plan. The best phone systems associate up to six-digit extensions with physical locations. For example, extension 040319 could represent building (04), floor (03), room (19). Smart, carefully-considered features like these can save precious minutes for first responders in an emergency.
  • Efficiency. POTS and the legacy phone systems they run on are often “one-trick ponies”—they are primarily suited for placing and receiving voice communications, and much like any piece of outdated technology, service and support is increasingly expensive and difficult to obtain. Switching from POTS to UCaaS not only improves the user experience and expands features, it’s often far more economical. The net financial impact for new technology and greater functionality may be neutral or even positive on the monthly bill.
  • Mobility. UCaaS platforms include mobility functions which enable users to use their desk phone functions on their mobile device. Users can place and receive calls or participate in conference calls, as well as make intercom or building-wide paging announcements from anywhere. Plus, educators and administrators alike can remain accessible to parents and colleagues when they are away from their desks—without disclosing personal cell phone numbers.
  • Ease of use. Gone are the days of surfboard-sized desk phones in the main office with rows of buttons for each extension. Today’s UCaaS systems can be controlled via intuitive online portals from any web-enabled device. It’s important to look for a system that has an easy-to-use online portal that enables any user to make changes independently without the need for IT support.
  • Video conferencing. Meetings – and many classrooms – have gone virtual. The best UCaaS solutions include services like audio, video and web conferencing with capabilities like chat, screen sharing and real-time annotation which enable collaborative, expanded classrooms with real-time video communications across various devices.

Move to the front of the class

While the elimination of voice funding from the E-Rate program has created financial hardships for many districts, it also presents an opportunity for reevaluation of the existing communications infrastructure— which is often severely outdated. Making the move from legacy services and equipment to UCaaS systems can help districts realize budgetary efficiencies and maximize ROI while gaining robust features and practical benefits for learning and library environments.