Emory Report
February 16, 2009
Volume 61, Number 20



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February 16
, 2009
Streamlined communications speak to savings

Rich Mendola is vice president for information technology and chief information officer.

In our very challenging fiscal climate, I thought it would be helpful to outline the cost-saving activities that my Office of Information Technology has been focused on. I’d like to talk about what has been happening with e-mail and phones, and how the foundation we’ve been laying should enable more efficient and cost-effective communications in the near future.

You only need to go back a few years in Emory history to observe the plethora of systems that were used for basic communications. We had two major phone systems, more than 50 e-mail systems, and multiple high-level organizational units involved in communications-related activities.

Fast forward to February 2009 and the landscape has changed considerably. We have moved more than 20,000 faculty and staff at Emory University and Emory Healthcare to common voice and e-mail systems and now have an organizational structure in my University Technology Services division that no longer separates data, voice or communication services into multiple siloed units.

Reducing the number of communications systems that we support and streamlining our organizational structure has resulted in significant cost savings. Overall, the latest organizational changes we made in UTS resulted in more than $700,000 in recurring annual cost savings. These changes, among others, are allowing us to absorb more than $1.5 million in mandatory new recurring expenses in FY10, such as those associated with vendor maintenance increases and bringing new systems like PeopleSoft financials on line.

Although not all of the noted savings can be attributed to our efforts to streamline communications, the changes do account for a significant portion. As we decommission additional pieces of our legacy systems we expect we will be able to continue reducing expenses, so these resources can be invested back into Emory.

New communication options

In addition to lower costs, a simplified voice and e-mail infrastructure will ultimately provide additional Emory-focused communication services. Down the road, we expect this will also allow us to support innovative, low-cost technologies like Skype.

I’m often asked why I think it is more cost effective for us to offer central e-mail, or why we don’t adopt free offerings from Google or Microsoft. My first response is usually to reframe the question since I don’t believe it makes sense to talk about e-mail any more as a standalone offering.

Our communications vision is to tie e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging, fax and video into one seamless environment. In the technology industry, this is usually referred to as “unified communications.” Those of you who have moved to our new systems can already get your e-mail, voice mail and faxes in one common inbox. The feedback we’ve received on this capability has been very positive.

For some members of our community, cost is going to be more important than features. In line with that thinking, we are assessing the degree to which we can use products like Skype to reduce our communications costs, while preserving adequate levels of security and network performance. If you do a Google search on “Skype and universities,” you’ll see that some have outright banned it, some tolerate it, and some facilitate its use and have taken steps to make it more secure.

We intend to do everything we can to support an optimal configuration of Skype, and are even exploring third-party products that may allow us to tie it into our new Voice Over IP-based phone system, so calls could be forwarded from conventional Emory phones. By early this summer, we expect to have final recommendations on how to optimize the use of Skype at Emory. Please note that our scope for this project is limited to Emory University, and will not include Emory Healthcare workstations.

Please feel free to e-mail me your reactions to our new communications directions: rich.mendola@emory.edu.