Fraser Health rolls out unified messaging, voice apps

With a year-long major network overhaul now complete, British Columbia’s largest health authority is starting to roll-out the “value-added” features to make things easier for staff and residents, not to mention its IT support staff.

Fraser Health is looking to generate savings by standardizing on a common solution across the organization and has selected unified messaging and voice recognition solutions from NEC Unified Solutions, according to Jim Taylor, manager of network services.

When the organization was created by the amalgamation of five different health authorities, Taylor said, it inherited a mixed environment of five different voice processing systems from NEC and Nortel.

“Our long-term strategic plan was to evaluate merging our voice processing platform and unified messaging and see what we could do to make it easier for staff, as well as people calling us,” said Taylor.

The first step was to build-out a new network IT infrastructure, and after nearly 14 months the new backbone now links Fraser Health’s 13 hospitals and 104 other health sites.

“What we have here is basically a giant jig-saw puzzle,” said Taylor. “We’ve been looking at all the different pieces and are starting to put them together, layering them on top of each other.”

With the new network in place, Fraser Health selected NEC’s NEAXMail AD-120 unified messaging product to consolidate its existing messaging system. The system will also deliver voice, e-mail and fax messages directly to one in-box.

A voice recognition product from NEC partner ScanSoft, meanwhile, will work with the messaging system, helping to direct callers to Fraser Health to the right person within the organization.

“You may be thinking listening to it that it’s a warm person, but it’s fully automated,” said Taylor.

If a caller asks for Jim Taylor, for instance, the voice recognition system will tie into the unified messaging system to see if he’s on the phone, on his cell or in his office and redirect the call to where he is, depending on the instructions he has given the system.

“We did a lot of research into these systems,” said Taylor. “It’s being used extensively at the Toronto Children’s Hospital and they’re quite happy with it.”

The new NEC solutions are just being installed now, with two major data centres in place to provide a redundant backup. Installation and training should take four months, and then Taylor said the switch will be thrown on the new system.

Besides the increased functionalities for residents and staff, the new system should make life much easier for his IT staff, Taylor said.

“It will be a standard platform, rather then five disparate systems, so we won’t have to carry five types of spare equipment and do training on five different systems,” said Taylor.

Lance Mehaffey, NEC’s manager of product marketing, said with NEC’s solution, users can call in and access voice and e-mail messages and redirect faxed documents to nearest fax machine for printing, all over the phone.

The primary e-mail exchange server contains the application, and the server is integrated to the private branch exchange or voice communication platform. Software facilities and port allocation on port cards within the voice platform communicate with the application server.

The system also seamlessly ties into the voice recognition and auto attendant solution, making printed facility directories, which can quickly become out of date, obsolete. Mehaffey said eliminating a facility directory could save an organization up to $35,000 annually.

“You have the potential for thousands of calls to be managed throughout the region on a daily basis, and there’s potential for lost or abandoned calls when they can’t be routed to the right place in a timely fashion,” said Mehaffey.

The system recognizes over a million proper nouns and can assign different access points, like an extension, voicemail, cell phone, or a local or long distance number. The system is also multilingual, an important feature for a multicultural area like BC’s Lower Mainland.

“For provisioning call traffic, it can scale from 100 to 50,000 ports,” said Mehaffey. “Within the server hardware, its built with a fault tolerant and redundant architecture, because of the critical nature of communications in health care.”


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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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