Wellesley College Streamlines Communications With New Voice Information Processing System

While Wellesley College has always earned high marks in education, the institution's voice communications system until recently barely deserved a passing grade. Those who dialed the main number for the small liberal-arts college near Boston, Mass., were often greeted with no answer or busy signals, or placed on hold for several minutes while the operator tried to transfer calls. In addition, there was no individual telephone coverage before 8:30 a.m. or after 5:30 p.m. Administrators recognized that the communications infrastructure needed to be overhauled. "Our communications facilities could not keep pace with the needs of our users," recalls Sandy Roberts, manager of the Information Systems and Telecommunications department at the all-women's college. Roberts and others worked with an outside consultant to search for a new voice information processing solution. "We wanted an enhanced communications capability for our faculty, students and staff members ... with a single, easy-to-use method for people to send and retrieve messages." Wellesley ultimately selected Octel, located in Milpitas, Calif., as the vendor of choice, purchasing their Maxum system. Its first test was to solve the after-hours coverage problem. Voice Menu Guides Callers Through the system's Enhanced Call Processing feature, callers now are greeted with a voice menu that lets them quickly connect to the person or information desired. One can also directly dial an extension for an individual or department, or be prompted to dial a person's name. Pre-recorded announcements provide directions to campus, hours of operation and more. Officials were impressed with the results. "It worked so well that when one of the two full-time operators retired, we decided to use Enhanced Call Processing to handle overflow calls during the day," Roberts notes. Unlike in the past, if an operator today is unable to answer a call within a certain period of time, it is routed to a menu, with listings such as the campus police, bursar's office, etc. At that time, one may dial an extension or last name using the keypad on a touch-tone phone. If callers still need assistance or are using a rotary phone, they are transferred back to the operator on a special priority line. Mailboxes Offer Information Another useful feature of the Maxum system for Wellesley is the Information Center Mailbox, which provides information on seminars, workshops and other special events at the Stone Center, a women's research facility. In addition, each library -- main, science, art, music and astronomy -- has its own mailbox that relays its hours of operation. Maxum supports over 3,700 voice mailboxes, two-thirds of which the college reserves for students. (Wellesley has about 2,200 students and 1,000 faculty and staff.) "We provide voice mail to all of our students, both resident and non-resident," Roberts says, noting that this facilitates communication between instructors and learners. Over 2,000 student mailboxes are deleted each spring, then added in the fall. This task is accomplished with Octel's Centralized Server Administration (CSA) program, which enables multiple administrators to manage individual or multiple information-processing systems. CSA also establishes security restriction levels so student assistants can only modify student mailboxes. Backup capabilities are provided as well. Productivity Climbs The Maxum system has helped Wellesley reduce staff and increase productivity. But there are even larger benefits, according to Roberts. "We've freed up a lot of people's time. Instead of handling the same questions over and over, our resources are now being used in better ways," she says. Roberts anticipates adding more applications, including programs for the personnel and admissions departments and the registrar's office. In fact, a major reason she likes the Maxum system is because it is flexible. Up to 15,000 mailboxes, 72 ports and 304 hours of voice storage are supported. "Octel develops its products to grow as an organization evolves," Roberts comments. "This flexibility will help us meet our future communications needs more effectively."

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.