Watershed Decision

Verteks helps St. Johns River Water Management District gain state-ofthe-art communications features and save $150,000 a year with the ShoreTel Unified Communications solution.

St. Johns River Water Management District is one of five water management districts dedicated to preserving and managing Florida’s groundwater and surface water resources. The District encompasses 7.8 million acres, including all or part of 18 counties in northeast and east–central Florida. About 600 employees work from service centers in Palatka, Jacksonville, Maitland and Palm Bay.

The District’s core missions include ensuring a sufficient water supply, protecting and improving water quality, flood protection and protection of natural systems. As a government agency, the District continually evaluates the most efficient way to allocate its financial resources.

Until recently, the District utilized a Centrex phone service that had only the most basic features — staff could make and receive calls and retrieve voice mail. The agency decided it was time to update its communications system and issued an invitation to negotiate. Verteks Consulting and ShoreTel were awarded the District’s contract.

“We were looking for a provider with at least five years of experience that had completed similar projects where they installed at least 600 phones. All bidders were ranked based upon cost-effectiveness, technical merit, project management, personnel, background qualifications and other criteria,” said Alan Weaver, a contracts administrator for the District. “Verteks was one of the higher ranked firms and had the best price for us based upon their ranking.”

Thanks to Verteks, the District now has a ShoreTel Unified Communications system with all the latest features and functionality. Feedback from District staff shows they like the system’s features — and taxpayers will be glad to know the system is saving the District a significant amount of money.

“Our users are very happy. We’ve received more unsolicited positive feedback about the phone system than any other thing we’ve done in the last five or six years,” said Kevin Brown, chief of the District’s Bureau of Information Technology Services. “Based upon my estimates, we will save $150,000 a year through a $287,000 investment. That’s a return on investment in two years.”

“[Verteks was] fabulous. There wasn’t any issue they couldn’t handle.”

Taking the Plunge

Centrex is essentially a “PBX-less” phone service owned and operated by a telecommunications carrier. Years ago, Centrex enabled government agencies to avoid capital investment in PBX equipment and responsibility for managing the system. Of course, the carrier passes those costs on to the customer in the form of hefty per-line usage fees in addition to long-distance and local-connect charges. That adds up — not to mention the fact that Centrex is a decades-old analog technology that offers only basic features.

“We had looked at voice over IP a few years ago but it was too expensive for us at that time,” said Weaver.

The District looked at several solutions but ShoreTel was unbeatable in terms of price. And because the phone system utilizes the data network, it also simplifies administration and management. For the most part, the District was able to use its existing network cabling and switches, and users can plug their phones into any available network jack.

“Before, we had standard telephone wire running out of multiplexers to every desk. If somebody moved we had to manually disconnect and reconnect lines in the telephone room,” Brown said. “Now when users move they can take their phone with them or we can use the management interface to reassign the phone that’s in another office. As long as the network is there you’re good to go.”

Great Resource

Verteks handled the project from beginning to end, installing and configuring the ShoreTel equipment and providing training at each facility. Brown says the project went very smoothly from a technical perspective, and Verteks was very flexible as the District worked through challenges with its telco carriers.

“They were fabulous,” he said. “There wasn’t any issue they couldn’t handle. And I have received good feedback from users who were active in the training or got help the first day. Getting to that point took longer than we expected but Verteks was very patient through it all.”

Verteks was able to provide the agency with a state-of-theart phone system that is easy to administer and provides end-users with productivity-enhancing features. The ShoreTel Communicator software is highly intuitive, making it easy to use ShoreTel’s unified communications functionality.

“People love the integration with the Outlook calendar. You can have up to five different messages depending upon whether you’re away or in a meeting or have some other status,” Brown said. “They also love the fact that you can call someone using an app on the computer. You can just look up somebody by name and hit ‘enter’ and the system places the call.

“The system has a web-based administration interface, so you can manage it from anywhere on the network. It is very intuitive and we haven’t had any problems, even with more complex features.”

All of that in a system that’s expected to save the District $150,000 a year. Thanks to Verteks and ShoreTel, the District is able to manage its communications costs as carefully as it does Florida’s precious water resources