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King County Housing Authority

Communications Revamp

King County Housing Authority (KCHA) deploys Microsoft Skype for Business.

The King County Housing Authority (KCHA) is a national leader in providing innovative and effective housing solutions so that people and communities can prosper. Their vision is that all residents of King County, Washington have quality affordable housing. KCHA owns and manages almost 3,300 units of subsidized housing for families and individuals who are disabled or elderly. More than 4,500 units of other rental housing are financed through tax credits or tax-exempt bonds. Section 8 vouchers also help more than 11,000 households rent affordable private-market housing. Combined with supportive services, each year KCHA reaches more than 48,000 people who earn less than the County’s median income.

Partners

Solutions Provided

  • Cerium deployed Skype for Business, Exchange Unified Messaging, and Enghouse Interactive Communications Center (EICC) with call recording in KCHA’s newly-centralized campus and nineteen other remote offices with a mobile workforce.
  • Cerium temporarily integrated the Skype for Business voice environment to each of the legacy 3Com IP-PBXs to minimize disruption to existing call flows throughout the migration.
  • The Cerium Learning Center (CLC) consulted with KCHA to prepare a training room outfitted with a subset of qualified devices and Skype for Business clients, running via XenApp. The classes were conducted by a CLC instructor with tight alignment between training and implementation scheduling.

I was apprehensive about the new phone system being implemented at that time due to several other major changes within KCHA. I was pleasantly surprised with the smooth transition and found the training we received prior to installation very helpful and easy to follow… This has been one of the easiest transitions I have experienced, and I am very grateful for that. — Diana Sandusky Property Manager, KCHA

History of Technology Adoption

About three years ago, KCHA purchased a new building and centralized the workforce that had previously been spread across four leased/owned buildings. During this effort, it became apparent that the 14-year-old 3COM NBX phone systems, an early adoption of VoIP for its time, had reached end-of-life. This was increasingly becoming a liability to the organization. It was clear a new telephony solution was needed.

The need for a new communication system was also triggered by a more prominent change within KCHA—a migration to a new core housing management system. This led Gary Leaf, Chief Information Officer for KCHA, and his team to revisit the communication and collaboration needs of the work flows associated with this new system. KCHA had 250 knowledge workers, most of whom would be using the new management system, called Tenmast, which retains information about clients and creates the forms necessary for HUD.

The Search for the New Solution

As a Gartner member, KCHA received extensive, independent consultation about options for the new telephony system. That effort led to a desire to invest in a UC solution that would balance the need for enterprise-grade telephony with the opportunity to introduce new collaboration standards, like instant messaging, presence, and online meetings. “We realized we would do well to go with Microsoft because of existing licensing, and we were further convinced after a demonstration conducted by the City of Bellevue,” said Gary.

Cerium was also the key deployment partner for the Lync Enterprise Voice system at the City of Bellevue, which meets the needs of over 1,600 users in 29 locations. The deployment also included the creation of an inter-local purchasing agreement that streamlined KCHA’s procurement process for the project. Gary explained that factors contributing to the selection for Cerium included our partner status with the contract and our Gold status with Microsoft.

 
I love the fact that we can search for staff and call them from the Skype window. Each person’s information, such as title and department, is also listed for easy identification of the person.

—Lilian Dang, Applications Development Coordinator

Solution

For KCHA, Cerium deployed Skype for Business, Exchange Unified Messaging, and Enghouse Interactive Communications Center (EICC) with call recording. In addition, Cerium was tasked with complementing KCHA’s commitment to virtual application delivery through Citrix XenApp. Because Microsoft and Citrix had varying levels of qualification for this delivery method, Cerium and KCHA dedicated a phase of the project to testing and validating Skype for Business performance via XenApp. This was one of several phases utilized by Cerium and KCHA to effectively transition staff to Skype for Business.

The project team had to formulate an implementation strategy that accommodated not only the newly-centralized campus, but also nineteen remote offices with a mobile workforce.

“Our property managers oversee and work at residential properties, and are fairly mobile. They take their laptop and headset and have a MiFi, and they have Skype for Business on their phones, so they can remain connected to their office,” explained Gary.

Adding to the complexity of the Skype for Business deployment was the need to temporarily integrate the Skype for Business voice environment to each of the legacy 3Com IP-PBXs. Fortunately, Cerium’s voice expertise and experience resulted in an integrated approach that minimized disruption to existing call flows throughout the migration. This allowed the combined Cerium and KCHA project teams to focus on one of Gary’s critical success factors: user adoption.

End-User Adoption

Cerium’s end-user training introduced users to the features KCHA felt were needed and desired for user adoption. “We exposed users to the possibilities. Then they could choose, or review how-to guides if they forgot, or we could offer an internal training,” said Gary. “Our goal was to have the staff member walk into the training, then when they got back to their desk, their new system was in place. That wasn’t always possible, but by and large, it worked.”

The Cerium Learning Center (CLC) consulted with KCHA to prepare a training room outfitted with a subset of qualified devices and Skype for Business clients, running via XenApp. The classes were conducted by a CLC instructor over a period of months, with tight alignment between training and implementation scheduling.

“From a more global sense, in our world, no news is good news,” said Gary, when asked about end-user satisfaction. He went on to relay that Diana Sandusky, one of the property managers with a remote office location, had initially voiced concerns about implementing a new phone system at the same time as the new management system. At a recent brown bag session between executives and staff from different regions, Diana stood up unsolicitedly and spoke about how much she loved Skype for Business.

“I was apprehensive about the new phone system being implemented at that time due to several other major changes within KCHA. I was pleasantly surprised with the smooth transition and found the training we received prior to installation very helpful and easy to follow. The things I appreciate most about our new phone system is the ability to attend Skype meetings and share screens with other departments. This has been a huge time saver for me and a great tool for learning and problem solving for me and our agency as a whole. I love being able to put a face with the name, and I found the system to be very easy to use and have had no real issues with my equipment,” said Diana. “This has been one of the easiest transitions I have experienced, and I am very grateful for that.”

Adopting Skype for Business was a major transition for KCHA; however, thanks in part to Cerium’s thoughtful design and deployment approach, the process was not debilitating, nor did it take away the end user desired features. In fact, most end users have relayed that the adoption of the new system was easy and intuitive.

Features — The Biggest Impact

For KCHA, desktop sharing is the most impactful feature of Skype for Business, according to Gary. “We were on the verge of rolling out this new software. With our 19 remote offices, having the ability for our SMEs to do desktop sharing, or to take over someone else’s desktop when they are running this new software. It’s a tremendous change. It has created “super help desk” folks in the business unit. We planned it this way, and really thought through the process, because we knew this functionality would make a big difference.”

Gary went on to say that presence is tremendously undersold as a valuable tool. “I can be sitting in a meeting, and a topic comes up which goes to a deeper dive than I can answer. I re-up Skype for Business on my smartphone, and I use presence to see which of three people can answer me in real time. Without presence, I’d be dialing for dollars to find someone available.”

IT Department Impacts

The impact on the IT staff for the new Skype for Business system was negligible once remapping of phone trees was complete. KCHA did not increase nor decrease the expertise or number of staff for their IT department. Gary estimates that administering Skype for Business takes only 5% of personnel time. “They are IT staff for networking. Skype for Business is just another virtual server. At first, the phone tree work was intense, but there have been no changes needed beyond that. So the administration has been minimally invasive for us.”

Administration training was web-based. “It was neither exhaustive nor did it need to be. We had already administered a phone system, and it was fairly easy to transition. We mostly had to learn about phone trees, and this was done remotely with help from Cerium,” said Gary.

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