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May 25, 2017

Technology Corner


The Next Generation of Telephone Service is Coming to Pitt

In July 1973, a University press release announced a new telephone service that would allow “calls to be placed directly to University departments and individuals without going through a central switchboard.” The new system gave the University its familiar 624-4141 main number and improved upon a system that until that point permitted only 65 simultaneous incoming calls and 75 simultaneous outgoing calls.

Since that time, the telephone system has been replaced and has undergone numerous significant upgrades to keep pace with changing technologies. Our options for communication have also changed and include cell phones, email, instant messaging, web conferencing and video chat, to name a few.

To understand current and future communication needs, we solicited input from faculty and staff through meetings and online surveys. The overwhelming response was that our telephone environment required major enhancements to better serve the needs of faculty and staff.

We then set out to select a new technology that would meet the needs expressed and bring together the varied communication tools into a single communications platform that significantly enhances the University’s telephone service.

Next Generation Telephone Service

After reviewing various options, we selected Skype for Business as our unified communications platform. Skype for Business combines voice, video, web conferencing, instant messaging, desktop sharing, real-time presence and more into one powerful communications tool. In addition to providing more features and functionality, Skype for Business will also leverage the University’s existing data network, allowing us to reduce costs and streamline maintenance of the telephone environment.

Real-time presence is a key feature that enables you to see your contacts’ availability, which helps you quickly determine the most efficient way to contact someone. If they’re available (green), you can send an instant message or call them and get an answer immediately. If they’re busy (red) or away (yellow), you can send an email so they can respond later. You can also tag your contacts to be notified when they become available.

Skype for Business can be used to schedule online meetings through Outlook, or start an instant virtual meeting with anyone just by selecting them from the Skype for Business client. You can add video and voice to your meeting, share your desktop, collaborate on a virtual whiteboard and more. Invitees outside Pitt can join your meeting using local numbers in more than 60 countries.

Your New Skype for Business Phone

To take advantage of all the capabilities that Skype for Business provides, your current desk phone will be replaced with a Polycom handset or a Plantronics wireless headset. The wireless headset keeps your hands free while you talk, allows you to stream audio, actively cancels background noise and pairs with your laptop or other device so that you can take it anywhere. The handset has a color touch-screen display that allows you to see your contacts and their presence, view your calendar and join online meetings.

You’ll find that it’s easier than ever before to contact people. You can look up someone in the Skype for Business client and click their name to call them. You can also call someone by tapping their name on your phone’s touch screen display. If you prefer to dial their five-digit extension, that option is still available, too.

Your phone also integrates with your My Pitt Email to help keep you connected. Missed calls and voicemail messages will now be delivered right to your My Pitt Email inbox, and voicemail messages will include a text transcription. When you receive an email, you’ll be able to see the presence of recipients in your Outlook email client or the Outlook Web App, and you’ll be able to call them right from the email message.

You’ll have more options to manage your calls, too. You can forward your work calls to your cell phone (or other numbers) so you can be reached on the go. Or you can have calls simultaneously ring both your desk phone and your cell phone. You can choose how many times a call will ring before it is sent to your voicemail or forwarded to another number. You can also set call forwarding to turn on and off automatically on a schedule that you specify.

You can get started with the Skype for Business client today at and explore the features of Skype for Business phones at

We are working with departments to bring the next generation of telephone service to the Pittsburgh campus by the end of 2017, and we will be meeting with your department soon. If your department is ready to begin the process now, please contact me at

 David Dudgeon is a service owner in Computing Services and Systems Development, helping to assess and address the Pitt community’s telephone service needs. 

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