Ringing out the old: New phone solutions coming

The new year is bringing new phone solutions to Texas Woman’s campuses, with IT Solutions implementing a major upgrade this spring.

The Unified Communications (also known as RingCentral) project will move the university’s current phone system to a cloud-based solution that will allow faculty and staff to access their TWU phone number from any computer or mobile device, as well as a traditional desk phone. The transition is expected to be completed on the Dallas campus by late January, the Houston campus in February, and the Denton campus in March.

Nelson Lee, director of enterprise services and information security for ITS, said the current 20-year-old phone system is in dire need of replacement. The system is prone to failure, he said, adding that it’s increasingly difficult to find replacement parts. The current system also does not have the features and functionality necessary to support a flexible and remote workforce.

With RingCentral, employees will log in using their TWU email address and password to gain access to both traditional and advanced call features. Lee said the desk phone will handle traditional telephone needs such as voice dialing, three-way calling, answering voicemails and holding or transferring calls. Advanced features such as SMS texting, direct message chatting with coworkers, and video calling are available through the RingCentral desktop and mobile applications. Calls also can be “flipped” between the desk phone and the app, in case a faculty or staff member needs to leave their office for another meeting and wants to “walk and talk” on their smartphone, he said.

Approximately 300 TWU employees are already using the system.

“At the onset of the pandemic last year, there was a need for the university to maintain critical services while the campus shifted to working remotely,” Lee said. “Due to limitation at the time, we couldn’t onboard as many people as we wanted, which left some of these initial departments only partially deployed.”

Some departments in the initial onboarding were Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Student Health Services, Student Life, Advising, Admissions, the College of Professional Education, Bursar, and Financial Aid. Lee said the feedback from these departments has been largely positive and constructive in aiding the planning for the upcoming campus-wide deployments.

So what can TWU faculty and staff expect with the transition?

  • ITS plans to deploy the desktop application to all TWU desktops and laptops in order to give employees the most flexibility to use RingCentral. You also can download and install the mobile app on your smartphone, if you choose to do so.
  • Everyone who has an existing desk phone will receive a new Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) phone that works with RingCentral. Lee said the disruption from the transition should be minimal for most people, with a one- to two-hour period of service interruption as telephone numbers are transferred from TWU’s current phone provider to RingCentral. The disruption will be planned ahead of time, and ITS staff will be onsite to minimize the impact during the transfer. The block of phone numbers for each campus will be transferred separately, beginning with the Dallas campus. The old desk phones will be recycled.
  • Long distance codes will no longer be needed. Long distance calling is included with RingCentral, so you won’t need to use your seven-digit code once the system has been implemented on your campus. The RingCentral platform will provide TWU with more in-depth reporting, analytics and troubleshooting when it comes to usage and calling, so long distance personal calls are discouraged.
  • Employees can use the built-in directory to find colleagues or direct dial their extension. Whether from a desk phone or using either the desktop or mobile app, you will be able to look up a colleague in the directory and more easily place a call. Lee said this experience would be similar to finding someone in your smartphone’s address book and calling them that way. Due to the overlap in the range of the last four digits for TWU extensions in Dallas, Houston and Denton, however, a site code will still be needed for direct dialing an extension between campuses, i.e., from the Denton campus to the Houston campus. (Site codes are 82 for Dallas, 84 for Houston, and 81 for Denton.) Direct dialing using the full 10-digit phone number will always work to reach the other party.

A RingCentral video shows what’s available through the communications platform. More information about the transition is available at twu.edu/ringcentral. As the transition dates for each campus draw closer, the ITS Outreach and Engagement Team will host training sessions to help users acclimate to the new system, ask questions and understand how to use the new platform going forward.