Ottawa wants more from connectivity

Ottawa turned on its 311 call centre in the fall of 2005 and also operates a walk-in service centre that’s staffed by representatives from all three levels of government. After several years of planning, the national capital is ready to begin plans for upgrading to VoIP.

Like Calgary, Ottawa did not have an obvious business case that pointed to savings by a reduction of phone lines. “We really had to wait until we were approaching the lifecycle turnover on existing PBX equipment,” says Greg Geddes, the city’s chief corporate services officer.

The city operates 45 sites on a Cisco campus-area network, with telephony hardware and software from Mitel Networks Inc. supporting 10,000 unique extensions.

Geddes points out that as VoIP technology has matured, some of the features around application integration have started to become more desirable.

From a system management perspective and technical support, VoIP will be the way to go, he says. “It’s going to be a lot more cost-effective to go to an integrated technology that’s handling both voice and data. We’d like to tie the call tracking and other information to the applications we use to service the public and monitor that service.”

Geddes says 311 goes far beyond just having a common, single telephone number into the municipality. “You want to be able to do some connectivity.”

Having a unique identifying number associated with someone who’s calling about a pothole or a streetlight, for example, builds a call history that can be associated with a particular address. This information can be used to automatically alert the call centre if multiple complaints have been registered by the public.

“VoIP can simplify how these systems are tied together and provide additional value,” says Geddes. VoIP applications bring more information back to the customer and better information back to the city, both in a timelier manner, he adds.

“Sophisticated call transfer functions can tie a call into your application databases and quickly return information you can use to better resolve the resident’s issue.”

Ottawa’s Government Services Centre provides counter service from the federal, provincial and municipal governments. The initiative was led by the Ontario government, which contracted with Mitel to build an in-person call centre with queue management technology.

“With skills-based routing, we can see whether people are taking advantage of multi-jurisdictional service offerings, whether it’s a parking permit, health card renewal or a new passport,” says Philip Clarke, director of client service and public information.

The technology can track when the peaks and valleys are and what the average visit is, and also allows staff to adjust from a full-time complement to part-timers with specific skill sets.

The longer-term goal would be to have that same, single point of contact offering all government services, adds Geddes. “But it’s a really complicated inter-jurisdictional project.”

The change management issues can take years to resolve and requires strong political backing and agreements on shared funding, he says. It also becomes a political issue in terms of who the right person is to represent three levels of government. “That’s a sensitive issue for all three levels of government to deal with.”

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