NPTC Group of Colleges is one of the largest providers of Further and Higher education in Wales, covering a third of the county across two colleges and nine campuses, from Newtown in the North to Port Talbot in the South. Formed following a merger in 2013, NPTC Group offers a wide range of further education courses including A levels, BTECs and other vocational courses, right up to BSc and BA level.
As the group became larger, its old legacy phone systems were no longer fit for purpose, and indeed the merger had left the group with two competing systems (Cisco and Avaya) which left NPTC to fill the service gaps. There were no spare lines, so lines needed to be reallocated, and making holiday alterations was a challenge. When one of the systems hit a hardware failure, it was time for change.
Therefore, the brief was to replace them with a single telephony system, bringing everybody onto one platform for all their communications, saving time and creating efficiencies, as well as future-proofing the Group’s communications.
Many education providers use JISC systems, but with the Group’s need to connect so many sites and integrate voice with the benefits of Teams – calendar functions, video conferencing, chat, file storage, data sharing and even teaching – they felt this would be too restrictive.
As the NPTC Group had already bought into other Microsoft solutions (Windows 10, Office, Outlook, OneDrive, SharePoint) and was using Teams for video conferencing, a ‘Teams Plus’ solution made sense. The pandemic had changed everything, leading to the Group being ready to take the plunge and move everything into a single, integrated Teams-based platform, which previously they hadn’t considered.
When we had the legacy phone system, the focus was purely on office use; staff communicating with staff. As we moved to Teams to facilitate online classes due to Covid, we started to realise that the same system could reach our students, and bring everything under one roof, as it were, on the same platform.
Colin Bevan, Head of Information and Learning Technologies
The new system, under Teams, could also be used as an online classroom, in addition to the ongoing internal call and information sharing purposes. This was particularly useful, as we might have a teacher isolating, or, as we come out of Covid, a teacher based in one campus able to teach a class in another online
The Group was already an experienced Moodle user, which facilitates learning programmes but cannot provide an online classroom, and so Microsoft Teams and Office 365 became the main methods of communications within the organisation for both staff and students. Physical phones and handsets were being used less and less, and this in itself became an enabling factor for change.
After an extensive tender and procurement process, involving 19 tenders and 6 firms chosen for presentation, the two highest scoring bidders were both Microsoft Teams based solution providers, and Conversant was awarded the contract in June 2021.
Colin stated: The thing that set Conversant apart was the personal service; they really went the extra mile. They were the only firm to arrange a visit to talk to our users and understand the requirements from the horse’s mouth, visiting all the areas that needed to be connected, from the restaurants and theatre to IT and HR departments, and understanding their needs and concerns. The larger bidders didn’t bother.
We felt no amount of advice and training was too much to ask, and the assistance we received during the implementation phase meant that when it went live, the process really was smooth and seamless.
Champions were identified with the Group campuses to support staff during the implementation, and following extensive testing, the new system went live in December 2021.
Provided a resilient, secure and future-proofed communication platform
Reduced support staff overhead and improved efficiencies
Increased user mobility
Enabled agile working habits
Introduced free internal calling as standard
Integrated Office 365 with Teams – everything in one place