New network cuts Pa. county's costs

Montgomery County, the third largest county in Pennsylvania, expects a new fiber-optic system to save close to $4 million during the next five years and help move it to the leading edge of government communications.

The network, which provides a common infrastructure for combined data and voice communications, officially replaced the county's old government network April 1.

County officials started the one-year project because some services for the old network were no longer being offered by the telecommunications companies they worked with, said Jack Pond, Montgomery County's CIO. Given that the county is spreading the cost of installing the new network over five years, plus the immediate savings from not having to pay standard line and service charges, Pond believes savings will initially be around $125,000 a month. At that rate, the network will pay for itself by July 2005, he said.

But the new network does more than save money and replace existing capabilities.

"With the old analog Centrex system, the best phones we had were simple 12-button phones," Pond said. With the new all-digital system, "we are already halfway to having a phone system that includes such things as conferencing and voice mail, as well as the capability for voice over IP."

The new network connects to local intermediate units such as schools, Pond said, so the county can now engage in on-demand video training for its staff, for example. The new telephony capabilities will also allow for automated voice response and interactive voice response systems that will let people get information or enter it into a database via a telephone.

Pond says the biggest immediate impact on the county will be the ability to establish call forwarding and prioritize calls in emergency situations.

"We've gone from the 1970s to the 2000s in a single bound," Pond said.

With the network, which uses Gigabit Ethernet technology, the county can modernize its infrastructure through moves such as centralizing data centers and establishing redundant hot sites in emergencies.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

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Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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