How Government Agencies Put Unified Communications to Work

    Government agencies are complex organizations, often home to hundreds of employees and operations that span numerous locations. That means efforts to improve their productivity and deliver better customer service are often difficult.   

    But unified communications can help. Features such as integrated phone directories, contact centers, collaboration, application integration and mobility can streamline processes and cut costs significantly.

    How? Let’s look at how four agencies are reaping UC’s benefits.

    Streamlining Labor-Intensive Tasks

    For the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, streamlining labor-intensive processes was a compelling reason to switch to a UC system. And after deploying ShoreTel Unified Communications, the organization saw a significant improvement in the way it handled applications for subsidized housing.

    As the public housing authority for the City and County of Sacramento, Calif., the agency processes new applications and annually certifies current residents of subsidized homes. A number of topics must be covered, including changes to jobs or income. Performed for 11,000 voucher holders and residents of 3,500 public housing units, it’s a time-consuming process.

    Rather than collect this data on paper and scan it into a database, SHRA is piloting a process where the information is faxed into a single Microsoft Outlook folder and immediately transferred to the County’s FileNet document imaging system. It can then be accessed through a property management application.

    “ShoreTel will enable us to have seamless fax integration, so we eliminate the paper trail in favor of an electric one,” explains Ann Roland, the agency’s IT manager. “Data is captured into our document management system, which eliminates staff from handling the documents and paper document storage. And, we have a manageable method for retaining these types of records.”

    Emergency Notifications

    Another housing agency, the Seattle Housing Authority, used ShoreTel’s UC to improve its emergency communications.

    ShoreTel’s reliability and E-911 applications allow the agency’s employees to easily connect with each other, with residents and with the city. In the event of an earthquake or other emergency, they can use the system to quickly dispatch maintenance employees to locations around Seattle so that they can check the stability of its buildings.


    Then there’s the Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District covers 45,000 square miles and 49 remote locations in West Virginia. Almost half of its 1,000 employees work remotely, making efficient communications a top priority.

    By deploying a unified communications across all of its location – as well as its mobile repair fleet – the Corps was able to boost productivity. For example, although fleet engineers are based in the district office, they spend much of their time working on repairs in the field. With ShoreTel, they can log into the network from wherever they happened to be occupied that day. And because phone numbers are associated with individuals, calls automatically follow each user as they move around.

    “The overall economics and manageability of this system are unbelievable,” says Anthony Estep, Huntington District Computer Specialist, Army Corps of Engineers. “When you hear someone describe this technology, you say, ‘Show me. It can’t be this good.’ But it is.”

    Contact Center

    Morristown Utility Systems operates as an enterprise fund of the city of Morristown, Tenn., providing entertainment, Internet and communications products and services to local residents.

    Not surprisingly, when its services were introduced call volume skyrocketed as users reached out with questions. “The volume of calls tripled, plus the length of calls went from an average of two minutes to more than 20 minutes, due to the complexity of the fiber-to-the-home business,” explains Mike Fawbush, information systems manager.

    However, once the utility deployed ShoreTel’s Unified Communications system with the Enterprise Contact Center application, the utility was able to respond more quickly to changing customer needs.

    “The previous call center wasn’t really a call center, but simply a group of about seven people responsible for answering the phones,” says Fawbush. “We had no advanced call features, and no way of knowing why people were calling.”

    Call center features such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR), intelligent routing, outbound and media handling enabled the agency to respond to calls more quickly, reducing the chance of long wait times and frustrated customers.

    In addition to improving communications capabilities and boosting staff productivity, many agencies also find that unified communications lowers their costs and simplifies maintenance and support. But perhaps the greatest benefit is how UC makes it easier for agencies to keep their customers happy. In a complex organization, that’s a benefit that stands out.

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