Mobile UC Scores a Win in N. Mexico Court System

If ever there was a workforce in need of feature-rich communications mobility, Albuquerque’s Thirteenth Judicial District Court is it.

Court system employees are always on the move. Judges, attorneys, probation officers, and others circulate daily between four courthouse locations in three counties. Cell phone connections are expensive—where there’s coverage—and of little help when judges and others are in court (i.e., indoors).

Two months ago the court system went live with what planners hope will be a cost-effective solution, a converged Wi-Fi/cellular mobile unified communications system from Silicon Valley-based DiVitas Networks.

“We could keep paying the cell bills and keep issuing the new phones, but this product fits into our existing wireless systems, and so we are already seeing our cell bills going down considerably,” said Greg Ireland, CEO of the Thirteenth Judicial District Court.

The DiVitas 2.0 Client has a wide range of features and ease of use in addition to basic telephony capabilities over both cellular and Wi-Fi networks. The system supports e-mail, instant messaging, presence, and organizational contact directory, as well as single number reach. That is, a mobile device operating within the system will carry the same number as the user’s desk phone, thus ensuring users are equally reachable whether in the office or on the road.

(See our coverage for additional details.)

Ireland predicts the presence capability will be among the system’s most used within the court. “To be in a meeting and be able to set the feature to say ‘text only,’ or ‘in meeting,’ I think that is going to be popular, but it takes some time to learn how that works.”

That learning curve may not be awfully steep. In fact, the possibility of easy adoption among mobility-savvy users was a significant factor in helping the court system make the leap to UC. “A lot of our newer employees have not even bought land lines at home, and they are comfortable with that. So I keep thinking, why do I need to keep buying these desk phones?” Ireland said. “I see this as a cultural shift.”

In addition to its multiple communications features—and the dramatically lower cost of calls over Wi-Fi— DiVitas Mobile Unified Communications will help the court save money on infrastructure. Desk phones have been costing the department $800 to $900 per unit, Ireland said. That’s significantly more than the Nokia E71 devices his department has adopted for use with the DiVitas system.

While Ireland won’t disclose cost, he did say he expects to see a full return on investment on DiVitas within 18 months.

The system already is delivering improvements beyond just the monetary. In particular, the number of “reopened” cases has dropped from 40 percent to 8 percent since the system was implemented.

“If you don’t get your paperwork completely correct in the district court, you case is going to have to be reopened at some point to be corrected. To us that means valuable time spent back in the courtroom,” Ireland said. With lawyers and others more readily available now, the likelihood of error has dropped considerably.

Ireland also sees the DiVitas system as helping court personnel to make better use of their time.

Judges are typically on call 24/7 to sign off on warrants. This has them pulled out of bed in the middle of the night to receive officers at their front doors. With the new way of doing business, “we are going to try to have the officer fax it directly to the mobile phone, and the judge could review the fax and approve it over the phone.”

Ireland said the choice of DiVitas was relatively easy, as that vendor could leverage the court’s existing IT relationships. Specifically, the court’s wireless network infrastructure is from Trapeze Networks, and DiVitas was developed in close cooperation with Trapeze. It seemed a natural choice.

On the cellular side, the choice is less clear. The court uses AT&T right now but Ireland is looking at other providers, in hopes of getting more favorable pricing. His early explorations show just one or two other players willing to enter the fray. “As yet not all of the cell providers are cooperating,” he said.

That’s a potential red flag. “We are trying to save taxpayer dollars all the time, so it is real routine for us to always be looking for a better deal,” he said. “I would like to be able to talk to all the cell providers to see who can give us the best deal.

“I think it will be resolved over time; I think some of these cell companies still want to have these contracts, maybe through a pay-as-you-go plan. But right now it is still a bottleneck.”

In the meantime, Ireland’s biggest problem seems to be the too-rapid success of the program.

“From a management perspective, I would have liked to introduce these features slowly, but the word of mouth is moving faster than that. Every day I get calls from someone else saying they have to have one of those DiVitas phones.”

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