When it came time to update its Microsoft Exchange system, the District Municipality of Muskoka, Ont. didn’t. Instead, it opted for something entirely different: the Oracle Collaboration

Suite.

“Initially we were just going to upgrade our current system, which was Microsoft Exchange,” says Geoff Plummer, director of IT systems at the district. “It was getting kind of long in the tooth and it was time to upgrade it.”

According to Plummer, the district, which is comprised of six area municipalities, decided to go with the Oracle suite because allows staff members travelling to other municipalities and remote locations in the district to remotely retrieve and manage their communications, whether voice or e-mail, through a single point of access on any device, he says.

“The search and retrieval of information was better with Oracle than with the Exchange database,” says Plummer. “We’ve had some troubles with that. And along with the services they offer some very good file storage capability and retrieval, which we weren’t getting in the Exchange server.”

A single sign-on feature provides a single point of entry into the system, Plummer says. “And the other big issue is we could expand it cost-effectively and offer it to the other areas of the municipalities, which seems to me a very big bonus because they could not afford a high-end product like that.”

At the moment, the district has licences for 210 users. It can be scaled up to about 1,000 users. The Oracle suite is running on a Linux operating system.

“We went with the Linux OS because we felt we could get better security and better antivirus because it’s not as common,” says Plummer. “So that’s what got us going on it. Then we looked at the licensing issues and compared it to Exchange and the licensing and the client access licences that were required (for Exchange), installation costs and support over a six-year period.

“I made it six years because I retire then — and it’s going to save about $12,000. It’s not a huge amount of money, but once you add it to the features we’re getting, like integrated fax, integrated voice mail and the file management systems, we thought that was probably a better fit for us.”

Henk Dkyhuizen, vice-president, public sector, at Oracle Corp. Canada, says Collaboration Suite focuses on the back end environment.

“One of the beauties of our proposals is we can actually help our customers by making their whole environment much more manageable, scalable and available and so on without changing anything on the desktop,” says Dkyhuizen. “So the client works in the same environment they are comfortable with, and if they don’t happen to use Outlook for their main e-mail, if they use Netscape or a product from Novell or Lotus or whatever, all those are supported as well.”

Dkyhuizen says the suite, which includes e-mail, calendar, Oracle Files, Web conferencing and voicemail with wireless and voice access, is built on an open platform and based on Oracle’s core competency, which is managing data.

With Collaboration Suite, files, whether a voice mail or e-mail or whatever, can be stored in the database, which makes it easier to search for them and retrieve them, he adds. For example, he says, if someone leaves him a voice mail at his office, it’s stored in the Oracle unified messaging system. He can pick it up wherever he is as a voice mail or as an e-mail, which he can then forward to whomever he needs to.

The open platform also ensures voice mail files can be accessed on any machine.

“That takes it to a whole other level, because if you look at all the voice mail systems out there now, none of them are compatible. They are separate to any of the other systems in the office and you have no capability of doing anything with it other than storing it forever in that particular proprietary environment,” he says. “We’ve put it into a very open environment. It can be listened to on any desktop or machine.”

One of the features of Collaboration Suite Dkyhuizen sees as particularly interesting to the public sector is its UltraSearch capability, which allows users to search content across the entire organization using a portal-style interface. Just as the private sector increasingly needs to be able to access all e-mail, faxes, voice mail and other documents for legal purposes, governments also need to be able to call up all related information for purposes such as inquiries or privacy protection issues, he says.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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