Monday, February 26, 2007

How Do You Go From Centrex To PBX For A Hospital Application?

You have a hosptital with 1000+ Centrex Lines, looking at moving to your own PBX. Its the same old story, new management, fired the telecom manager, handed the phone system to IT, no additional bodies, and now you are suppose to replace it. So what do you do?

Whoever you get the machine from make sure they have the knowledge and experience to do the entire job for you, not just install the PBX and then walk out the door leaving you to cut over.

What you will need to provide is a complete floorplan showing where every phone is located, what the number is on each phone, where every wiring closet is located, the jack numbers will be nice to know (otherwise each one will have to be identified manually by the installation team), the circuit IDs for every line coming into the hospital and where it terminates, there could be more but that is the minimum for a good cut. Be prepared to spend time discussing floor space, power requirements, and telephone features with the vendor.

The vendor should have several people at your site, one or more installing the PBX and one or more cruising through the hospital figuring a plan of attack for the actual cutover. There will be a person doing all the programming, you will talk to that person a lot.

Expect to have a service interruption when the cutover starts so plan for some phones to be in for emergency use, probably using some lines you already have. Coordinate this with your vendor. None of the hospitals I cut over could be done in the daytime always had to start in the evening, expect to still be working when the sun comes up the next day.

If special clearance is needed for certain areas get that arranged ahead of time, don't forget that operating rooms are sometimes considered special areas.

When selecting a system and vendor get them to give you some former customers phone numbers so you can call and find out how good a job they did. Select a vendor that has done larger jobs than yours, you don't want to get a vendor that has never done large jobs before.

Now.....there are two major issues in a hospital enviornment.

1-Wireless mobile stations and WiFi communications then

2 - The seperate video costs of the ISDN lines that are sure to be eating up huge chunks of money each month.

With that I will tell you that replacing Centrex and putting in your own system will save you money even if you totally get taken by a contractor. The costs of Centrex are just out-of-bounds with regards to new IP Tel systems.

Go look at a product by Vocera Communications. You can use it in conjunction with an IP Tel system from Cisco. The Vocera product offers a tone of functionality from login, to paging, to messaging all voice activated and using the same AP's that the mobile workstations were using. Encryption is very high and everything can flow right into a metadirectory project in IT.

The project will be huge no matter what you do, but if you spend your money on traditional PBX infrastructure this late in the life cycle, then you might as well keep the centrex for another year and wait until something else convinces you to go IP. Although I like Cisco.....I would rather have you put in Avaya IP Tel or even Mitel (though I would say they are not fitted for large size installs.....say 500-1000 lines) before seeing you handcuff the hospital with a traditional PBX for the next decade.

And the guy who wants to sell you Centrex IP........yeah, don't you think broadband VoIP is a bit of a stretch for 1000 hospital users with communication needs that require adherence to HIPPA regulations? Asking them to allow any network access to an IP Centrex provider will cause more security headaches than can be saved in administrative headaches of a hosted solution. IP Centrex is not mature enough to handle a project of this magnitude. Once the comm system is on the network the hospital will see all of the added benefits of network integration, data hooks, xml services, mobility, and quite uniquely, E911 ability of a system that can manage itself.

In general....take a step back and don't rush into anything. It's best to take a deep breath and proceed slowly....and smartly.

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