Why it pays to let staff try the latest technology

Some organizations adopt technology to meet a vital need. Others just fall into it.

That’s what happened at London Health Sciences Centre, southwestern Ontario’s biggest hospital complex, when it decided to adopt Research In Motion’s Mobile Voice System (MVS) to expand voice coverage for some 500 staff using BlackBerrys.

There was a need – cellular coverage within a new building was lousy. MVS, a module for BlackBerry Enterprise Server, allows BlackBerry handsets to switch between a cellular network and a local Wi-Fi network for voice calls. 

But, Liam Walsh, a technical analyst at the hospital acknowledged the need wasn’t the real reason the voice and wireless network team decided to start a trial – the building had lots of cordless phones so communicating wasn’t a problem.

Nor was it looking for a way to save cellular minutes used by staff.

The reason the trial came about is the team just likes trying out new things.

In this case, when the team heard about MVS they wanted to give it a go.

“It’s kind of the way our team is,” Walsh said. “We like to try the latest technology out there, and this one seemed like it was some pretty cool technology that would have been fairly easy to integrate because we had all the major pieces.”

In the end, just trying something new led to a lot of satisfied staff.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

LHSC has three sites across the city, with a combined clinical and administrative staff of 15,000. The new building is part of the Victoria Hospital Campus, which opened in 2011.

Called the North Tower, it’s a 600,000 square-foot building. Unfortunately, there are many areas that suffer from weak or no cellular reception.

MVS is a fixed wireless solution that links IP-PBXs to BlackBerrys so users can make calls almost anywhere they can get either a cellular or Wi-Fi signal. The handoff is seamless, said Andrew Short, RIM’s manager of channel product marketing. MVS also gives users core desktop features on their BlackBerrys such as call hold, call transfer and the ability move calls from a desk phone to the handset.

MVS is currently certified for Cisco System Inc.’s Unified Communications Manager, Avaya Inc.’s Aura 6.1, CS1000 Communications Server, Mitel Communications Director and IP-PBXs’ from Siemens.

Walsh acknowledged that asking a carrier to set up cellular repeaters inside the North Tower was an alternative. In fact there was a test of a small cell receiver at another building, but using MVS was quicker and less expensive.

LHSC contacted its carrier, Rogers Communications Inc, and RIM [TSX: RIM] to run an MVS pilot with 20 users in the spring of 2011 on the hospital’s test BES environment.
The goals were not only to see if it worked well, but also if would require a lot of IT administration. It took only six weeks to determine the trial was “a great success.”

The biggest problem was setting up a way to deal with BlackBerry users, who weren’t used to dialing “9” for calls that now went through the Cisco call manager. The solution, Walsh said, was setting up a special pool for BlackBerrys that register to the Cisco software that connects to the MVS server.

With that and a few other small problems cleared away, approval was given last fall to move the MVS server into production and buy licences for 100 users.

Because the hospital has other priorities – including upgrading the Cisco wireless network for other wireless devices across all of LHSC’s buildings – it was decided not to expand the number of users beyond that. Right now there are about 60 MVS users between LHSC and St. Joseph’s Health Care of London, which shares the IT department with the bigger institution and the MVS deployment. 

Expansion has also meant training the hospital’s help desk and wireless technicians on dealing with BlackBerry users. RIM helped with that effort, Walsh said.

For the time being, because BlackBerrys are the only smart phone supported by the hospital, it is the only handheld staff can use for in-building calls over the Wi-Fi network.

“It’s a small deployment,” Walsh acknowledged, but it’s been very successful.

“It’s easy to deploy, easy to use, and the users have had no training … in some cases we walked a few users through steps over the phone.” A staff survey did show that users would like some help in figuring out advanced features. “But,” Walsh added, “if you know how to make a phone call on your BlackBerry you know how to use MVS.”

The lesson, it seems, is let the IT staff play with cool technology. Sometimes it pays.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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