Looking for a new phone system for your school or school district? Read this check list first.
While many schools have upgraded their phone systems to the latest and greatest, Five-Star personnel encounter many K12 schools that are still using a decades-old analog phone system that takes up an entire room. The problem with these old phone systems is that in the long run, it ends up costing more to maintain it than to buy a new one. For example, a simple task like adding or moving a phone requires manual wiring by a technician, and finding replacement system components becomes a treasure hunt.
If this sounds a lot like the phone system at your school, it’s definitely time to consider a phone system upgrade. Newer VoIP (voice over IP) phone systems are far richer in features, more flexible, easier to maintain, and surprisingly affordable. More importantly, the new state-of-the-art functions that a VoIP phone system offers can help keep your students, teachers, and administrative staff safer and better informed.
As a technology solution provider that specializes in K12 schools, we’ve worked with more than 29 schools to implement new phone systems and submitted an even higher number of RFPs (request for Information). While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are seven must-haves if you’re considering a new phone system for your K12 school district:
1. EMERGENCY 911 MONITORING. It’s an unfortunate reality that schools must be much more vigilant about student and staff safety these days. Any phone system that you might consider for a K12 environment needs to have a robust, built-in emergency monitoring feature. The newer VoIP phone systems can notify assigned school administrators and staff via email and their desk phones when a 911 call is made, and include information about where that emergency call was initiated, down to the exact building and room number. We typically recommend assigning a different DID (direct inward dialing) for each building so that the emergency dispatcher receiving the 911 emergency call can immediately recognize the exact building and room number where the call originated as well. This level of preplanning can be crucial for getting emergency assistance to the right location in the fastest way possible. Which leads us to #2…
2. FLEXIBLE EXTENSION DIAL PLAN. Benefit #1 is largely dependent on this second feature. For schools, it’s very important to select a VoIP phone system that offers up to six-digit extension dialing. This flexibility allows schools to build a well thought-out dial plan. School extensions can be set up such that the extension pattern reflects a specific school building, as well as the floor and room within that building. Here’s an example: extension #42235, where the first two digits (42) specify the building, the third-digit (2) represents the floor, and the last two digits (35) represent the room number. You should be able to set up the extension dial plan in whatever way makes the most sense for how your school is set up.
3. COST. We know this is a huge part of the purchase consideration, but when you’re thinking about the cost of the new VoIP phone system, remember that it’s not just about the cost of purchasing and installing a new system. First, you can find significant telecom cost savings simply by moving from POTS (plain old telephone service) lines on the old analog phone system to PRI, T1, or SIP trunks on the newer VoIP phone system because these newer voice services are much more cost effective than POTS.
Second, a system that has a lower initial outlay may end up costing more down the road in maintenance, tech support, and more. Some phone system manufacturers charge upwards of 20% of the original purchase cost annually just for ongoing system upgrades and tech support. A VoIP phone system you can afford to buy but can’t afford to service is not a practical solution.
Lastly, another aspect of cost management is the ability to roll out the new VoIP phone system incrementally. If you can’t afford to do a full institution-wide replacement as one large project, your technology provider should be able to work with you to prioritize the rollout by building and tackle it as your budget and time allow.
4. EASE OF USE. Once you have a new VoIP phone system in place, it shouldn’t require an advanced technical degree to use and manage it. A well-designed VoIP phone system should offer an intuitive administrative interface, accessible securely via the web, where nontechnical users can easily do simple adds, moves, and changes. These types of simple changes shouldn’t require calling in an expert.
5. MOBILITY. With an analog phone system, you aren’t going to hear an incoming call unless you’re sitting in front of the desk phone. Today’s VoIP phone systems offers much greater flexibility by replicating the rich functionality of your desk phone on mobile devices or tablets. Think of it as having your desk phone in your back pocket. In our experience, about half of the schools we service opt to add the mobility solution, but we recommend it to all the schools we work with. Being able to reach teachers and staff, even when they are not at their desks; hold, park, conference, or intercom calls from anywhere; and make a building-wide paging announcement from a remote location are all tremendous value-adds to the staff productivity and efficiency. Many teachers love this feature as well because it allows parents to contact them outside of the school day without having to give out their personal phone number.
6. PC-BASED INTERFACE FOR POWER USERS. In the old days, power users like department assistants or front-desk staff would have their desks overtaken with a large phone that listed all the individual extensions or, worse, had to manually look up extensions on a printout list. With a VoIP phone system, a PC-based companion application allows power users to see all the system users and extensions with their real-time status (e.g., on an active call, Do Not Disturb) and presence (e.g., on vacation, in a meeting, at a conference). With one-click call handling, these power users can operate much more efficiently and quickly, while freeing up their valuable desk real estate.
7. USER TRAINING. Not surprisingly, you’ll find that many of your staff members are used to the old phone system and don’t want to change their long-held work habits. Therefore, a well-planned product training is essential to help your staff adopt the new VoIP phone system and take full advantage of its innovative features with minimal disruption to their day-to-day work. A good technology partner will provide you with a variety of resources and informational materials, and provide ongoing support to help your staff become comfortable with the new VoIP phone system.
Choosing a new phone system for your school or district is not a light undertaking. However, upgrading to a new VoIP communication infrastructure will save schools telecom costs, improve staff and student safety, and boost staff productivity.