Australian federal police build on VoIP, eye video

After consolidating its voice and data teams to deploy and manage its new IP communications infrastructure, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has started developing applications to streamline its business processes and increase staff productivity.

AFP information services network engineer, Mark Barrett, said after going from standard analogue phones to IP phones with high-function screens, staff were initially concerned, but quickly discovered the benefits of unified communications.

“We haven’t tried to force-feed people the capabilities, [but] have a whole bunch of really easy wins on the board like dialling from (Microsoft Corp.’s) Outlook contacts,” Barrett said at this year’s Avaya Inc.’s Avaya Connect conference on Thursday in Sydney.

Another benefit is Outlook journaling, which gives Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Police (governed by the AFP) an easy way to keep records of interactions with the public.

“ACT Police love the new system because, when they make phone call it’s logged into Outlook journal,” he said. Since not all AFP staff have PCs, Barrett – who has also worked for tech giants Cisco Systems and IBM Corp. – also talked up the benefit of corporate directory access from the handset, because “everyone has a phone” and “we give the same phone to everyone”.

“When someone rings in, our corporate directory has a section name and will correlate to people registered – this is all dynamic,” he said. “Our people are on call and if someone is phoned at 2am they now have a fully functional phone at home and can have a decent conversation, because it is difficult to use mobile phone while on the computer.

“It has changed the way we work and increased people’s satisfaction.”

Having developed a “fair amount” of its own applications on top of the new infrastructure, Barrett said the best one is a phone locator, which uses information from a phone to locate a person on the network.

The AFP has completed 10 sites in six months which Barrett described as “pretty aggressive”, and will deploy the infrastructure to another 10 to 12 before the end on the year.

“We’re taking a very cookie-cutter approach and have a system from go to whoa in one day [because] configuring the gear is real easy,” he said. “Stuff gets ordered for small and large sites and we know how much a 150-user site will cost.”

The other main benefit with VoIP is reach because unlike many other organizations, the AFP’s data network reaches more places than the traditional phone network – including staff in some 40 countries overseas.

“The biggest issue is for people to be in touch with family, so it’s a cheap way to contact them and their satisfaction rises dramatically,” he said.

Regarding processes, Barrett said VoIP has all but eliminated time-wasting moves, adds, and changes (MACs) which used to require four or five “people interactions” from the helpdesk. Now end users simply log off and log on again.

With the “easy wins” complete, Barrett is now looking to do more “deeper” application integration, including videoconferencing.

“The whole call center space will be big for us,” he said. “We have four databases which describe people in the organization and their telephone number. We want to get this down to one and use it for central provisioning.”

Even with a previous videoconference implementation under its belt, the AFP will IP-enable it allowing end users to initiate videoconferences without needing to consult the helpdesk.

“For some reason the videoconference interfaces are hard,” Barrett said. “We see some enormous capabilities with Avaya as you just dial a telephone number and if the person is video-enabled you [initiate] a videoconference.”

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