One of the largest public K-12 school systems was faced with a dilemma when the COVID-19 pandemic forced students, teachers, and administrators to go remote. How would one of the largest midwestern school districts communicate with parents and guardians without staff to answer phones at empty school buildings?
This school system, which operates 150 schools with more than 100,000 students, needed a reliable solution that would enable staff members to manage outbound and inbound calls, while maintaining their privacy. The district was running a legacy, on-premises system and had been resistant to running a cloud service due to concerns around reliability and availability if the network were to go down.
Cloud communications is now as reliable as on-premises
The fact is, with the right network design, cloud communication systems can achieve near the reliability of on-prem solutions. The pandemic acted as a forcing function for the school district, and it reached out to Converged Technology Partners (CTP) for advice on which service to use.
CTP represents several UCaaS (Unified Communication as a Service) companies but felt RingCentral’s products best met the needs of the school system. Based on CTP’s advice, the school system contracted with RingCentral to enable teachers to make calls from a cloud-based platform. This gave them the capability to communicate with parents on personal devices via RingCentral’s mobile application. The benefit of this is the parents can call the teacher using the school’s number and the cell phone number remains private.
The cloud solution also keeps each school’s phones operational during office hours. When COVID-19 first emerged last spring, those calling the main office got no answer when the buildings shut down. RingCentral calling uses VoIP (voice over internet protocol), so it’s not tied to a specific location. This lets the district manage communications via the internet on a computer or a mobile device from any location. Many businesses consider it risky to move communications to the cloud, but this feature shows how the cloud delivers capabilities that on-premises systems do not have.
K-12 school district uses RingCentral in a hybrid architecture
The school system took a hybrid approach with RingCentral. The district wanted to have more administrative control and keep its on-premise, wired network as a backup in case the wide area network (WAN) suddenly went dark, according to Joe Rittenhouse, President of Business Development at Converged Technology Professionals, an integrator that helped implement the solution for the school system.
It’s highly unlikely but, as a school system, it must plan for worst case scenario and this hybrid architecture essentially gave the school system a “belt and suspenders” in case of an emergency.
The implementation involved putting in a session border controller (SBC)—which acts as a router or firewall between the school network and the service provider’s network—then connecting SIP trunks to a gateway. SIP trunks are the IP world’s equivalent of a traditional PSTN trunk line but uses the session initial protocol for connectivity. SIP trunks are considerably more agile than PSTN trunks as they connect the same way Internet connections do. The SIP trunks tie back to the RingCentral data center and provide seven-digit dialing for users on the RingCentral platform. This architecture creates a hybrid approach where traditional phones can be used as well as cloud ones.
“Private branch exchange (PBX) systems were not designed at mass scale to have you working from home. That was a major challenge,” said Rittenhouse. “When you have thousands of remote users, PBXs cannot provide reliable communications like a cloud platform can.”
RingCentral delivered a complete communications solution, including contact center
The large school system opted in for full-feature licensing of other RingCentral tools, including video and messaging. Schools can run virtual classes using RingCentral’s one-click HD video meetings and share instant updates via SMS using the messaging tool. Communication is protected by seven layers of security and encryption between all endpoints—a big selling point for the district, which had concerns about security when moving to the cloud, per Rittenhouse.
With UCaaS adoption taking off across the school system, implementing an omni-channel contact center is next on the list. This might seem strange as schools rarely adopt contact centers, but times are changing, and it was thinking about the post pandemic realities of having rapid outbound communications or high volumes of inbound calls over multiple channels. Contact centers are ideally suited for cases like this.
From a deployment model perspective, a single centralized contact center can serve every school in the district and give parents the flexibility to contact schools via communication channels of their choice. Juxtapose this with the complexity of parents having to call individual schools and the district having to ensure each school has the right information and it’s easy to see how a contact center could benefit a school system.
Although modernized contact centers have numerous channels, including voice, the school system is aiming to have chat as the primary form of communication to limit the number inbound calls schools get. This is a trend we are likely to see, and I fully expect to see other districts jumping on the contact center bandwagon to reduce overhead costs and improve the overall customer experience in schools.