Vives scholengroep

In 2013, VIVES, the largest university college in Flanders, Belgium, was created with the merger of two higher education institutions. Shortly after the merger, the communication platform on one of the school campuses failed. Recognizing the need for fluent, state-of-the-art and above all affordable voice communications, VIVES’ management team turned to Unify’s Openscape Business solution, wich proved to be the ideal link between two of the VIVES campuses, with more to follow.

In 2013, two schools offering higher education, KATHO and KHBO, merged into VIVES, creating the largest university college in Flanders, Belgium. Offering competence-oriented education, VIVES University College is preparing approximately 13.000 students for careers in healthcare, biotechnology, business administration, industrial sciences and technology, education, and social work. Within these fields of expertise, VIVES also engages in research activities. The university college’s educational offer is completed with graduate courses and in-service training. More than 2.000 students opt for distance learning, but the majority attend school in-person. Campuses are located in six different municipalities, spread over the province of West Flanders: Bruges, Ostend, Kortrijk, Roeselare, Tielt and Torhout. The different sites house nearly 1.300 employees, ranging from administration stuff, full time college professors, professionals lecturing as a complementary activity, to researchers.

High lever of availability

At the time of the merger, campuses in Kortrijk, Roeselare, Tielt and Torhout were already interconnected, with their main server located at the Kortrijk campus. Bruges and Ostend, at that time, depended on two separate, on-premise, and clearly outdated telephony switches. The breakdown of the switch in Ostend underscored the need for a new solution. “An institution of this magnitude needs a high level of availability for our ‘customers’, the students”, says Hendrik Vantomme, facility manager, safety officer and environmental coordinator at VIVES University College. “Administration, finance, HR and other management-related departments rely heavily on internal voice communications as well.”

“Our 13.000 students as well as our nearly 1.300 employees rely heavily on voice communications, which is why we focus on user-friendly, self-explanatory desktop phones.”

Satisfying experience

“Although our in-house IT department provides us with a smooth digital highway and effective document sharing, we felt the need for a reliable partner who could assist us in our transformation to VoIP”, Hendrik Vantomme continues. “We follow the classic set-up, supplying a desktop phone with direct number to all employees who perform operational tasks, as well as to every lecturer with an on-campus office, who are typically the ones involved in management. Internal routing and direct numbers connect the employees and lecturers.” As the communication platform that was installed in Bruges at the time of the building’s construction in 2008 already featured the right brand name, updating to the newest Unify telephony concept proved to be the most straightforward and cost-friendly option. Based on previous satisfying experiences working with Fonitel on the campuses in Torhout and Ostend, VIVES turned again to Fonitel, which was able to address their needs comprehensively and quickly.

Cost reduction

“We proposed an update of the communication platform located in Bruges to an OpenScape Business solution,” explains ief Vancouillie, general manager at Fonitel. “This communication server now serves as the main platform, and all 260 desktop phones at the Bruges campus, as well as one of the Ostend campuses, are currently routed through this single server. Thanks to the scalability of the solution, the VLOC campus, housing the aviation-related programs, will soon follow. In proposing this solution, we mainly had our customer’s budget in mind. Multisite institutions, like VIVES, enjoy a huge cost reduction by centralizing all voice communications in a single communication platform, routing it through an IP network. They save on subscriptions for individual telephone lines, and also on management and maintenance.”

Smooth collaboration

Hendrik Vantomme confirms that the cost-effectiveness analysis played a decisive role in the partnership with Fonitel, which he describes as very smooth and efficient. “Once we were up to the technical stage, we put the Fonitel IT expert in direct contact with our own IT-staff,” he says. “Their feedback indicated that the Fonitel consultant clearly knew what he was talking about and managed to explain it to our people in a clear and open way. The implementation caused no interruption whatsoever in the voice communications availability. Our end users never even noticed the switchover, except for their new desktop phones, which proved self-explanatory, in line with our motto ‘the simpler, the better’.

“We have our customer’s budget in mind: a central OpenScape Business server saves on individual telephone line subscriptions, as well as on management and maintenance.”

Anticipate changes

Fonitel has already been presented with a new VIVES challenge. “Within a year, several learning programs currently located in Ostend, together with the employees involved, will move to Bruges,’ says Hendrik Vantomme. “As Fonitel was familiar with our main communication server and the background story of connecting the Bruges and Ostend campuses, they were the partner of choice to help us open up the range of telephone numbers. Thanks to Fonitel, they are already switched to a Bruges prefix, in anticipation of the pending relocation.”

Cover all campuses

Today, the connection between Bruges and Ostend is ensured by a VIVES-owned optical fiber cable. According to Hendrik Vantomme, the next step in the VIVES voice communications story will be to establish their own optical fiber connection, which is currently rented, with the Kortrijk Campus. Fonitel will then be asked for a proposal to integrate the Unify OpenScape Business solution with the main telephony server there. “That way, our own IP-based network will cover all of our campuses, eliminating all outside lines from our internal voice communications setup,” concludes Hendrik Vantomme.