Better billing benefits college

When Ottawa-based Algonquin College decided to install a voice over IP network to replace its overwhelmed traditional telephony system in 2000, the main reason for going with a converged network was cost. The VoIP network has since yielded other benefits though, including a vastly improved billing process for the college’s students and staff.

Algonquin’s old billing system required the college to get billing information from its carrier, have the school’s technical staff massage the billing data and then bill the students.

“The problem with that was we wouldn’t get information for weeks after the call had been made,” said Rod Martin, Algonquin’s manager of network infrastructure. “And it was all a manual process.” Now, with Algonquin’s Avotus Intelligent Communications Management billing system, students and staff can look at their long-distance bills immediately.

“Instead of it taking six weeks for them to get a bill, they can have the bill the next morning,” Martin said. One big benefit of the faster billing is that Algonquin no longer has to shut down its long-distance service several weeks before the end of the school term, as it did in the past. Students can now be billed right up until the time they leave the college. An added bonus is that Algonquin’s technical staff no longer has to administer the billing themselves, Martin noted. Instead, administrative staff at the college residences can deal with the bills.

Algonquin chose Avotus as its billing system, because when the college decided to install Cisco’s Call Mananger VoIP system, Avotus had the best integration with Cisco, Martin said.

When a user makes a call, Call Manager tracks the information and moves it to the Avotus system. The billing program then sorts the data and prepares the billing information.

Avotus ICM runs on a standalone server and includes a database and Web server. The Web server portion allows users to view their bills online. Users can also view their bills directly on the displays of Cisco IP phones. The Avotus implementation was problem-free, said Monica Balastik, a network system administrator with Algonquin. “We just gave them information, in an Excel spreadsheet, on who we want to have in the system and it’s mass loaded in,” she said. “Then we just administer it from that point on, on a person-by-person basis.”

The only problem Algonquin has encountered with the billing system is that it won’t work with the displays of the college’s lower-end IP phones. The school at first installed high-end Cisco 7960 IP phones in the student residences, but the phones were too much for the students, Martin said. If the phones got damaged, the repair bills were higher than the students wanted to pay. So Algonquin later transferred the 7960 phones to college staff and installed lower-end Cisco 7912 phones in the residences.

The smaller display on the 7912s doesn’t currently work with the Avotus system. But the next version of Call Manager is supposed to fix the problem, Martin said.

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