Phone upgrade allows city to boost services
City phones are getting upgraded to VoIP
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When calling someone in city government, you might get a disconnected telephone number because the worker has moved to a new one. Or you won't get the worker's voice mail.
The city is upgrading its aging and costly phone systems that angered callers who could not get through or whose messages went to the voice-mail graveyard.
Under a new system called Voice over Internet Protocol, all city employees will eventually get new numbers, while some have the option of turning off their voice mail.
So far, the city has replaced 3,500 of the 9,000 phone lines, according to chief information officer Gordon Bruce.
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The city is about one-third complete on a major upgrade of its aging phone system to make it easier for the public get through to a person rather than a message.
Some useful numbers for city services, many of which have changed under the city's new phone system.
Pothole Hotline: 768-7777
Drive Akamai, traffic advisory hot line: 768-3777
Abandoned/Derelict Vehicles: 733-2530
Environmental concern line, including recycling, bulky-item pickup and illegal dumping: 768-3300
The city's chief information officer, Gordon Bruce, said the new phone system, called Voice over Internet Protocol, allows the city to provide more services, including caller ID and the most basic of them all: picking up the public's phone calls.
"During tax time the Real Property Tax Office was flooded with phone calls," Bruce said. "People were totally frustrated because they couldn't get through. Now, with Voice over IP, they can."
In 2005 there were five prefixes for city government telephones operating under 11 poorly maintained phone systems, some of which were 30 years old, Bruce said. Under the old phone systems, there were unused telephone numbers, voice mails that went unanswered or unnoticed, and costly maintenance expenses.
That year, the city began its project to upgrade the phone system so there would only be one phone system and two prefixes, the main one being 768.
So far, the city has upgraded 3,500 of the 9,000 phones, starting with the Frank Fasi Municipal Building, the Honolulu Fire Department and police substations. By the end of this year, they expect to be more than halfway complete with 5,000, and should finish the overhaul by the end of 2009.
"Voice over IP is definitely the technology of the present," Bruce said. "It's where the whole telephone industry is going toward. It's more efficient. It's more robust."
Bruce said the cost to upgrade the phone system, which is provided by Hawaiian Telcom, did not require any significant budget increases. The city stopped paying for maintenance costs on its old lines, allowing it to use that money for the upgrades. Under the old system, maintenance costs about $600,000, Bruce said, compared with the $200,000 annually the city spends now.
Under this phone system, many city offices eliminated voice mail, an option that Mayor Mufi Hannemann dislikes.
"The mayor's not a real proponent of voice mail," Bruce said. "He would prefer a live person to come to the phone."
In cases where voice mail is permitted -- a decision left up to department directors -- it will be recorded and stored in an e-mail file. Jeff Coelho, director of the city Customer Services Department, said this makes it easier and more efficient for complaint officers to follow up on callers' requests.
Bruce said the biggest challenge for upgrading the phone systems is the confusion the new numbers could cause for callers. For three months a city employee will have two phone numbers -- the old number and the new one -- to transition into the new number.
"We still have situations where people will call the old number," Bruce said. "That's not unique to us. But the biggest challenge is that the three-month transition is sometimes not long enough. We've done this in such a quiet and unassuming way that ... for the most part there have been little complaints."