As the province’s professional organization of teachers, the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) promotes and advances public education, safeguards standards of professional practice, and serves as the advocate for its 47,000 members. This case study describes how ThinkTel enables the ATA to accomplish its mission: to assist teaching professionals to achieve educational excellence in classrooms and communities across Alberta.
The original ATA was established 100 years ago, towards the end of the First World War in 1918. With thousands of young Albertans serving abroad and no professional teaching standards or teachers’ association in place back home, the state of education in the province was disconnected. Alberta’s teachers took action, unifying professionally into the ATA, or Alberta Teacher’s Alliance, which in 1936 became the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
While the ATA has evolved considerably over the past century, the Association stays true to its bold and progressive vision to respond to and represent members across the entire, enormous province of Alberta. From offices in Edmonton and Calgary, an innovative team of 170 professionals supports over 47,000 teachers and substitute teachers working in 55 ATA Locals province-wide.
“While we may not function as a traditional call centre, our members call in at any time, from across the province. Depending on what’s going on, we can field dozens—even hundreds—of calls in a single day.”
—Chris Stogowski, Enterprise Infrastructure Architect, Team Lead
While the ATA does hold in-person meetings, the efficiency of modern technology allows its employees to communicate and collaborate with ATA members on a more regular and frequent basis. Most day-to-day member services are delivered by phone and through email. The ATA relies on both to tackle diverse tasks such as fielding inquiries, resolving issues, and managing teacher qualification and development programs.
“People don’t think a lot about telephony. But we rely on phones and email every day to communicate. Our members notice if our lines go down. That’s why we try to engineer things to ensure minimal down time.”
With communications at its core, the ATA’s technology team continually invests in modern solutions to provide its members and employees with the best possible experience. A conversation about the opportunity to improve ATA’s telephony led to a meeting with telecom provider and Microsoft partner ThinkTel . ThinkTel provides Internet-based voice, video, and data service to businesses across Canada.
“Unlike the big telcos, ThinkTel is smaller, more agile and responsive. When we need something, they’re there. They are different and a better fit when it comes to working with them.”
The ATA recognized how the ThinkTel solution eliminated the single points of failure in the old system while providing its technical team with greater visibility and improved control over their technical environment. Once the technical team piloted the new platform and saw how well it functioned, they confidently rolled it out to the entire organization.
“We took our time getting familiar with the technology and started testing it ourselves, on conference calls and whatnot. Everything worked perfectly and over time we felt confident of the benefits we could realize.”
With ThinkTel’s assistance, the ATA replaced its outdated PRI system with ThinkTel’s SIP trunking solution, which allowed for the introduction of modern collaboration tools, specifically Skype for Business. By embracing a “pure SIP solution,” the technical team eliminated the headaches of managing technically complex media gateway hardware, which the old system relied on to translate voice over IP.
“Our largest annoyance was the media gateway hardware. It took a technical specialist to go in there and figure out these rules, which typical IT pros do not know. We were happy to let go of that stress and anxiety.”
With Think Access, the ATA gained a dedicated private access circuit from ThinkTel that the SIP Trunk can run on. This private connection keeps the ATA’s traffic off the internet, heightening security and other essential benefits such as: dedicated and guaranteed bandwidth; robust service level agreement and monitoring; and “multiple services, one circuit.”
The ATA’s employees adjusted nicely to using Skype for Business. Some use it just for calls, while others embrace advanced features like video conferencing and instant messaging chat. The ATA tech team provides each employee with Skype for Business orientation and encourages them to explore the features as they see fit.
“Instead of worrying about tying up a quarter of our phone lines to do conference calls, we use Skype for Business instead. Staff can have as many people on the call as they need or want.”
While reducing costs was not a primary motivator for modernizing, the ATA realized significant savings with ThinkTel, primarily in long distance charges. In a province covering an area of 660,000 square kilometres, these savings add up quickly! The ATA estimates that their long-distance charges are down to approximately 25 percent of the former amount.
“With ThinkTel, we stopped thinking about single points of failure and the potential for busy signals. Today our phone system is more robust and flexible, with the added benefit of saving over 40% than with our previous provider.”
For an organization with a growing membership, like the ATA, a scalable solution eliminates potential barriers to growth instantly. Instead of future investing in IT infrastructure, like another PRI or new media gateways to replace those that fail, they can simply get the service they need, when they need it.
“Other vendors said they offered SIP, but it wasn’t true SIP. ThinkTel was able to reduce the single point of failure.”
With ThinkTel, the ATA also enjoys peace of mind, thanks to more disaster recovery and redundancy measures. If something should happen at either office and/or their private line should ever go down, calls will travel over the Internet instead—giving the tech team the time they need to identify and remediate the problem.
“Security is always important, especially with cyberattacks going on everywhere. Our members expect us to safeguard their privacy and data, and we do. We take cybersecurity very seriously.”
—Chris Stogowski, Enterprise Infrastructure Architect, Team Lead
For any organization looking to reduce costs, improve security, and/or scale their operations quickly, the ATA story offers some insights:
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