Cistera: Managing VoIP in the Classroom

Cistera Networks recently announced the release of its new PresenceManager Presence Engine, upgraded to Version 1.6. Key to Cistera’s VoIP telephony offering is the ability to deliver, record, and play back voice calls, and to provide a complete view of an organization’s IP telephony activity in real time.

According to company CTO Greg Royal, Cistera started in the education market. One of its first implementations was in Katy Texas’s Independent School District (ISD). A major requirement for most schools, Royal says, is the ability to control presence from a central location—with a focus on when and how phones can ring in a classroom.

In the past, Royal says, that kind of control would be handled by simply turning the phone off or turning the ringer down. But Katy ISD wanted to control it on a scheduled basis—depending on when and where classes were scheduled—as well as by the source of the call itself: If it’s the principal calling, the call always goes through.

Granular control
Royal says Katy ISD is now able to control presence globally, across all 44 campuses in the school district, as well as locally, giving administrators at each school the ability to override district-wide settings. “We wanted to move towards a finer degree of granularity,” he says. “You can set the presence based on what type of campus it is, is it a short day, is it a long day, what part of the year it is, and so forth.”

Integrating telephony into a school’s IP network, Royal says, also simplifies administration. “You get benefits of administration reduction because you’ve got a centralized, clustered system with better control over the way the phones behave,” he says. “So there’s a lot of benefit around IP telephony in an environment like this.”

According to Royal, school districts have proved to be a perfect market for this type of solution. “Schools have adopted IP technology in a rather voracious way,” he says. “The market has just taken off—and a lot of that was because of the money that they could get through the E-Rate program that they could apply to these particular telephony systems.”

Educating the industry
Microsoft’s recent announcement of its unified communications plans, Royal says, has helped the industry to move towards application-driven telephony. “Today, the application telephony that we do is still largely PBX-centric,” he says. “But with Microsoft’s announcement, we’re getting a greater awareness as to what these sorts of things are capable of.”

Part of that process, Royal says, involving teaching customers what’s possible. “In order for customers to transition from traditional telephony to VoIP, we need to ensure the availability of features they have come to depend on,” he says. “What used to be called ‘Do-Not-Disturb’ or ‘Time-of-Day Restrictions’ are actually early implementations of what is now known in the industry as ‘presence.’ ”

Cistera also recently announced a partnership with Cepstral to integrate Cepstral’s Enterprise Text-to-Speech Engine into the Cistera ConvergenceServer. The aim is to convert text to voice for everything from emergency notification to voice-enabled directory assistance. An interactive demo of the solution is available on Cistera’s Web site

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