Schools are among the earliest adopters of IP telephony, and this sector continues to raise the bar in terms of business-impacting applications. Although this might be a bit surprising, it makes sense considering the type of organization a school actually is:
• A school district is a safe haven where parents send their children for up to eight hours a day during the business week. Of course, children receive an education, but they also are supposed to be in a secure environment. A high emphasis is placed on security. Events in recent years have only heightened this as a priority.
• A school district is a public transportation system. It provides a scheduled pick up and delivery of "customers"; in this case, children.
• A school district is a multifranchised restaurant. Each school in the district has a cafeteria that provides two meals a day for its students.
• Finally, schools must hire and retain excellent college-educated professionals to educate children, and do all this based on taxes raised and diminishing government budgets.
Thinking of a school in this context, it is an organization with a number of challenges most people have never considered. A transportation company has its own challenges. A restaurant has its own issues to deal with. Combine these two into a single entity, add the need for a high level of security, the education factor and diminishing budgets, and you have an organization with significant challenges.
As a result of these challenges, a wealth of new applications exists that are geared toward helping schools navigate through the daily issues presented to them. New applications can provide better ways to do the following:
® Notify parents and teachers if buses are running late
® Ensure that progress reports end up in the possession of parents
® Help parents and teachers communicate
® Control student loitering in the halls
IP telephony can address all these issues, and is doing so in many schools today. It begins with those schools seeing IPT as more than just a phone system.
The electronic hall pass, which was detailed in Chapter 4, "If This Isn't a PBX, What Is It?," helps address the issue of student loitering. However, security is increasingly becoming a major initiative for public schools, and they are looking at IP telephony solutions as a means of enhancing security. One example of school security concerns is the bomb threat.
The bomb threat is a definite reality for public schools today. Two years ago, a fairly affluent school district in north Texas closed two weeks early for the summer because of the number of bomb threats they were receiving. School officials suspect that many of these threats were ruses from students to force the school to close. Yet, because of recent tragic events involving students, schools can no longer assume that these calls were merely student pranks.
How can IP telephony help schools deal with this issue? Let's take the example of Mrs. Wright, a high-school history teacher in a suburban school district. The district recently rolled out IP telephony to the classrooms, either in the form of new IP phones on the teachers' desks, or in the form of IP SoftPhone software running on their desktop PC. The teachers are excited because they finally have the ability to make and place calls from the classroom. In reality, they have much more.
A call comes in during Mrs. Wright's free period. During regular teaching hours, the blocking application would not let any calls come through except from the main office, unless an emergency occurs in another classroom. In that case, the teacher calling Mrs. Wright could enter an emergency override that would supercede the traditional time-of-day blocking feature available for most classroom environments.
Mrs. Wright answers the phone. It immediately becomes clear that the call is of a threatening nature. She presses a button on the phone (or an icon on her PC SoftPhone application), and the following occurs:
® The call is recorded. The call is stored as a .wav file on a server, and automatically filed in a security folder.
® The application grabs the ANI/calling party information. If this information was passed from the central office, this number is now captured and available.
® The application also grabs the DNIS/called number information, which captures whom was called.
® Both of these pieces of information are attached to an alert, which immediately goes to the IP phones and PC applications running in the school office, and to the administration building.
® If the school district has chosen to do so, a dedicated VPN link into the local police station is in place. The application immediately sends an alert, with the called party and calling party information sent to the police desk.
® Now, the police have an audio and visual notification of a security situation at the school. If the school has extended even a single IP phone from its network into the police department, the police can, at the touch of a button, conference in on the conversation while it is still taking place.
® Because the police, via an IP phone, are listening in, they can, from their desktop or IP phone, send an instant message to Mrs. Wright at the school, coaching her through the call and requesting she keep the caller on the phone.
® The police can use their public databases to determine the location of the telephone placing the call and immediately route a patrol car to the location, again, while the call is still taking place.
Notice that all this is occurring simply because Mrs. Wright has been trained during summer security workshops to press a single button/icon on the phone in the event of an emergency, and within seconds, all the previous activities are in place, taking action.
Because of the security issues facing schools today and the expectations of parents that their children will be safe, this type of application is not just interesting, but could become commonplace in schools in the coming years. This takes advantage of the IP nature of an IPT solution, extending devices across networks, interconnecting networks using VPN capabilities, saving voice recordings on the network, and it is available to any client on the network. These types of capabilities are now being comprehended by school officials.
Additional potential for this technology exists when intelligent IP clients—whether phones or workstations—are deployed in classrooms with voice/telephony capabilities. Consider a bus that has broken down in the transportation garage. The school is scrambling for another bus, and a means of notifying parents that the bus will be late. A straightforward application can be developed that allows school officials to look up a bus number, and at the press of a button, the application does the following:
® Asks the school official to record a voice message explaining the situation
® Captures the names of every student on the bus that has broken down
® Captures the students' home phone numbers from their profiles
® Creates an autodial list containing these phone numbers
® Begins calling each student's home, and delivers the message recorded by the school official
With this application, families are immediately alerted that the bus is running late and have the option of making alternate plans for getting their children to school. Further, when contact is made with the parent, the application can ask the parent to press 1 if they are bringing their child, or to press 2 if the child will still wait for the bus. In this way, the school is immediately notified if certain children do not need to be picked up, which could enable the bus to regain some of the time that has been lost.
Because the school is a transportation company as well as an education facility, this type of application is now extremely appealing to them. Consider schools in the Midwest or on the East Coast, where winter weather could play havoc with schedules. This becomes a tool at their disposal to help them manage through situations like this.
Other applications take advantage of the alerting features of IP telephony. Not only can applications provide alerts based on activities or logical events, but physical events as well. Schools are now placing nondescript, wireless smoke detectors in restrooms. These devices send a message to a wireless receiver when smoke is detected. The wireless receiver transmits a subsequent message to an IPT application that sends a visual and audible alarm to the IP phones in either room adjacent to the restroom, notifying the teachers in those rooms that a student is likely smoking in the restroom.
Another example of an IPT application in schools is one geared toward special schools that are established for students with behavior issues. In some of these schools, teachers wear a necklace with a panic button that can be depressed when they are faced with a dangerous or challenging situation. The depressed panic button sends a signal to a wireless receiver, which subsequently transmits a message to an IPT application that visually and audibly alerts security or office personnel of the situation.
A key point to remember, however, is that many of these business-impacting applications are not currently sitting on the shelf somewhere, waiting for a buyer. These applications are the product of application workshops with school officials, where they discuss their specific requirements with a developer who understands the convergence model. The developer then creates and deploys these applications, customized to the school's requirements. Some applications might be pre-existing, but many could be developed in conjunction with school officials.
These are just a few of the examples of business-impacting applications that are being used and/or discussed by school officials. Figure 5-4 shows a sample screen from Sentinel, a developer that has successfully deployed IP telephony applications in the Kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) market.
Figure 5-4. K-12 Applications from Sentinel
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