Wednesday, 29 February 2012

End of an era

Our last remaining switchboard operator retired this week, and with her leaving she brings to a close an era in our university's telephony as we move towards an automated system. It will begin with a live test for the technical staff which will then be rolled out to the whole university and also for incoming calls. When you dial 0 or call the main university number, instead of getting through to a person operating the switchboard, you will get an automated voice asking who you want to speak to. The system looks at names, departments and preferred names in our staff records system.

The university telephone system has changed considerably in her 40 years here.

The telephone operators, as they were then, had a PMBX system with 10 lines. All calls went through the operators and also functioned as directory enquiries, their room having shelves with every phone book and Yellow pages in the country on them. They manned the switchboard until 10.30pm and even worked on Saturdays.

When the university moved over to an IBM system this took up the whole top floor of what is now the Maths building and included a generator on the roof. This system was manned by 5 operators and provided 1197 extensions and 22 lines. This is in comparison to now, where the switchboard sits on a small drive and can be run from anywhere with a laptop. The computerised system was introduced in 1996 and has led to the increase of over 10,000 extensions and 6,000 voicemail accounts.

Another big change is currently in progress, where we are moving away from digital lines to IPT (IP Telephony) and even analogue lines for faxes and card readers are often going through an ATA. The switches we are putting out now are PoE and we are halving the costs of cabling new buildings and refurbishments by running voice and data over the same cable. The IP phones also have the added bonus of being able to login and out of any handset as required, taking your settings, number and contacts with you, and working with mobile apps so you can turn features on and off, and also make calls, through your smartphone.

Big changes indeed. As a result the job of GPO telephonist or operator ceases to exist, but during their time here they have done a wonderful job for the university and staff. In her time at university she is estimated to have answered 3,200,000 calls and during clearing, before we had direct lines, answered 4,500 calls per day. A very well done and a big goodbye and good luck from me.

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