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The Argument for a Virtual Office or Call Centre...A More Efficient Way of Working?

The concept of commuting daily to your place of work, being caught up in endless traffic jams or fighting your way unto congested trains has been part of the western world’s culture for decades. It has, for many people, become a way of life…… but does it have to be this way?

With increasing emphasis being placed on flexible working practices and greater reliance on self-motivation and “management by results”, the adoption of conventional office practice no longer seems appropriate. This change of emphasis effectively removes the need for responsible, knowledge-based workers to be physically overseen and monitored by management. Furthermore, with advances in Information Technology, workers no longer have to sit at the same desk in the same office each and every day. Managers and their teams can work effectively, in different locations, and still achieve their objectives.

This change in philosophy has given rise to the concept of the Teleworker - a person defined as working “off-site, at a distance from his/her colleagues or “customers” either full or part-time.” This might mean working from home, a local satellite office or local networking centre, travelling to the main office only when required or circumstances dictate – and then sharing a ”Hot Desk” position.

The Telework, Telecottage and Telecentre Association (TCA) maintain that teleworking can increase productivity by anything from 15-60%. By way of example, a study undertaken by The Home Office Partnership for the Department of the Environment Transport and Regions analysed the work patterns of 2367 Cambridge County Council Staff. They found that by incorporating a range of teleworking opportunities staff could reduce their commuting time by 70,000 hours a year and their work time travel by 900,000 miles.

Putting this into context, a massive 80% of UK travel is by car with 40% of that travelled by commuters. A British Telecom report entitled the “Economies of Teleworking”, estimates that if full time teleworkers increased to 15% of the work force, fuel consumption would decrease by a dramatic 2.7 million gallons - every workday.

So who is taking advantage of this culture change? The answer is an ever-growing number of Corporates and Local Authorities alike.

Historically, BT has provided remote access capabilities to some 15,000 staff including 2000 home based Teleworkers and planned to increase this number substantially during the course of last year. In 1998, IBM supplied 13,000 UK staff with PC’s, printers etc, to enable them to work from home.

During the latter part of last year The Automobile Association undertook a major expansion of its home based “virtual call centre” programme. Their stated intention was to increase their successful trial unit comprising a 25 strong homeworker team, through rapid growth, to 150 by the end of the year. This increase was intended to provide the flexibility for staff shift times and also have “back-up” staff available for temporary working at short notice (bad weather dramatically increases breakdown call-outs!).

According to the TCA some 20 or more Local Authorities began operating Teleworking schemes in 1998. These include Birmingham, Cambridgeshire and Kent County Councils and the London Boroughs of Brent, Enfield and Luton.

With the present Government’s commitment to “Modernising Government” through the fullest use of Information Technology and (Tele) Communications, the quest for “Better Government” also requires the continuous improvement of public services. Conversely, the demand for more and better services by the General Public creates a number of new challenges and considerable pressure for change and greater efficiency.

The “Modernising Government” white paper promises 24-hour customer facing Government services. Understandably, the general public expects to be treated as customers, able to contact Government services when they need to. For all of this to happen seamlessly and efficiently, call centres and/or the application of call centre technology is a crucial first step in providing ‘on line’ services in real time.

When considering the adoption of “teleworking” both Corporates and Local Authorities alike need to carefully evaluate and identify the various procedures and operations that could just as easily be implemented using teleworking techniques. In essence, any task that is capable of being undertaken over the telephone, with or without live access to a database could be successfully undertaken by teleworkers utilising Call Centre Technology.

However, “virtual” call centre network technologies allow “centres” to be grouped in small distributed networks whilst incoming calls are routed seamlessly between them to the employees (or “Agents” in Call Centre language) best able to deal with the specific enquiry, wherever they are working from. This could include home working for part time staff or out-of-hours support.

By far and away the most obvious examples of how applications for this type of technology could be used by Councils or Local Government is answering queries or providing information and dealing with complaints raised by the general public. This can be extended to revenue collection, arrears recovery or even fraud detection.

Specifically designed to deliver Virtual Call Centre functionality, GemaTech’s Remote Service Manager (RSM) is probably the only fully integrated “one-stop-shop” solution available that can provide a seamless delivery of both telephone and live data calls to remote workers. This functionality, coupled with a comprehensive monitoring and management system, can provide the “remote” manager with all the information he/she requires to ensure that all tasks allocated are being handled and dealt with timeously and efficiently. GemaTech’s RSM can also be extended to seamlessly link (to the caller) conventional office departments together (which may be located at different sites) with remote (home?) based workers.

The RSM was initially developed for a Manchester based Travel Agent, and launched in December 1997. Travel Councellors Ltd. became the 4th fastest growing company in the UK in 1998 (as featured in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100) and won the Sunday Times/Virgin Atlantic Customer Care Award.

Utilising state-of-the-art Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) techniques, GemaTech has developed a system which provides a fully scalable (2-30,500 simultaneous telephone calls) “switch”. The unit is simple to set up and use, insofar as all of the management information screens are based on “drag and click” Windows techniques.

What is particularly relevant is the ability for managers to monitor what is happening to all incoming telephone calls on a real time basis. Comprehensive “real time” call statistics, can be captured and re-presented on any statistical reporting package, such as Crystal Reports, Excel etc. providing additional functionality.

The current release of GemaTech’s RSM can accommodate up to 10,000 employees and handle up to 120 simultaneous telephone calls per unit. This call capacity can be increased by simply linking additional units together.

New “services” such as “help-lines” (in the case of a storm or flood alert) can be set up literally in a matter of minutes by anybody who is familiar with the system and has a knowledge of Microsoft Windows. It also incorporates the seamless (to the caller) transfer of both telephone and data calls from remote Agent to remote Agent.

Future releases planned during 2002 include the full integration of Auto Attendant, Voice Mail, Call Logging, Call Recording, Automatic Call Distribution and Disaster Recovery/ Business Continuity capability within one, very powerful, unit.

GemaTech’s core technology forming the basis of both the RSM and Business Continuity Manager, (BCM) designed to provide full Disaster Recovery capabilities for any Telecom switch is being hailed by leading UK telecommunications consultants as a ground breaking, state-of-the-art solution which provides a seamless transfer of telephone based traffic in a cost effective manner.