Some City Governments Shifting to VoIP Phone Systems Experience Severe Growing Pains
Many city governments are finding that there are a lot of advantages to VoIP phone systems, primarily cost savings. In tough times such as these, with so many cities declaring bankruptcy, that's a particularly salient point in favor of civil government adopting VoIP PBX systems.
However, not all civic transitions to VoIP phone systems go smoothly. We wrote recently about how the city of Baltimore is struggling to adopt VoIP (although the problem may be caused by bureaucracy rather than meaningful criticism).
City of Round Rock Experiences Devastating VoIP Failures
Now it's time for the the City of Round Rock in Texas to declare its frustration over the failures of its government VoIP phone system, and the company it hired to implement and maintain the PBX.
Round Rock hired Mercury Communications Services of Austin (the company is headquartered in Dallas with offices in Austin and San Antonio) in late 2010 to switch the city's phone system to VoIP. The city was looking for an IP PBX that could support:
- Multiple locations over a wide area network (WAN)
- 4-digit dialing
- After-hours attendant
- Contingency plans
- Unified communications (UC)
- Contact center
- Remote workers
Round Rock elected to hire Mercury after accepting RFPs from AT&T, NACR, and others, including local companies such as Westron Communications.
After what I would presume was six months of assessments, optimization, planning, and installation (although it could be just 6 months of red tape), the VoIP system installed by Mercury began operating in July of 2011.
All told, in 2011, Red Rock paid Mercury almost $500,000. The city issued a check to Mercury for over $107,000 in February, followed by another for almost $372,000 later that month. In August, the city paid another $11,000, followed by $2,000 in September.
Apparently, however, there were problems with the government VoIP phone system from the get-go. Now Round Rock is suing Mercury for breach of contract over a host of issues, such as:
- Dropped calls
- Computer crashes
- Syncing failures
- Hardware/software failures
- Voicemail issues
Logistical issues aside, Round Rock also claims that Mercury was unable to provide the necessary support, because the company didn't have:
- Adequate staff levels
- Sufficiently trained staff
All of this is laid out in a suit that claims declaratory and injunctive relief, but I don't presume to know what really happened between Round Rock and Mercury. I'm not privy to the contracts, the conversations, or anything other than what Round Rock alleges in the suit that also seeks damages.
Round Rock also claims Mercury technicians have admitted they were unfamiliar with and untrained on the PBX system installed, and were learning on the fly.
I can see from their website that Mercury has been in the telecommunications business for 30 years, but VoIP is a new beast. It's possible they aren't as well-versed in VoIP as they are in POTS. I really just don't know.
VoIP Professionals: Choosing the Right VoIP Company Is Critical
What I do know is that the whole Round Rock episode underscores the importance of selecting a VoIP consultant and provider, especially if training and maintenance are part of the picture.
Education and upkeep are especially important when implementing a premise-based IP PBX, which is also when it's most likely that you'll choose a local VoIP service provider. Or at least choose a local VoIP consultant to manage the process, recommend vendors, and likely provide ongoing training and maintenance.
What you should take from this lesson in municipal misadventure is that with critical infrastructure decisions such as transitioning to a VoIP PBX, you need to be exhaustively thorough. Choosing the wrong company can have devastating and long-lasting — not to mention costly — ramifications. VoIP phone systems offer many advantages in efficiency, cost, scalability, and flexibility, but choosing the wrong provider or package can negate those advantages and create a hornet's nest of problems it can be difficult to resolve, logistically as well as legally.
It's too late for Round Rock, but if you're in Texas and looking for a local VoIP provider, try checking our city-specific lists of VoIP professionals. You'll find a list of providers for Dallas, San Antonio, and other cities. Try using the search function for other municipal lists of local providers.