by Georgina Swan

A&G IT director talks business continuity

Nov 29, 2010
Financial Services IndustryIT ManagementProject Management

AG recently unified its call centres. Can you tell us about the project and its background?

MaltIt has really been a process that we have gone through over the last two or three years to take us from a traditional telephony environment through to where we are now. It has been a fairly long process but we have taken it fairly slowly and cautiously, making sure we could realise the benefits as we went along, rather than going with a big bang and hoping it worked.

When you implement this sort of project you really are changing a lot of things across the business – there is an impact on business processes, an impact on systems — and there’s an impact on our people. So we do have to take things at the right pace and make sure that everybody is tied into the process.

IT is very aligned with the business – it sounds buzzwordy but we tie in very closely with the business and we understand what they’re doing, we know where their pain is, and it really is a cooperative approach. I think that is one of the things that, as an organisation, we take a lot of pride in. It’s not ‘the business’ and ‘IT’ – it’s the business.

AG is probably best known for Budget Direct insurance, isn’t it?

It is our best known brand. We do provide insurance services for a number of partners as well. And that is an area we see a lot of growth in over the next few years — it is certainly an area in which we have seen a lot of growth overseas and we think that will continue.

What was the impetus for the move to full Avaya IP telephony?

We opened a second call centre on the northern side of Brisbane. Having two call centres was always part of our strategy from a disaster recovery and business continuity perspective. We had run the existing call centres almost as if it was two — it had two floors and each was survivable from one another — but we wanted to extend that to a second call centre and to apply the same sort of rules. Each floor needed to be able to run autonomously in the event of something going wrong.

[The solution] provided us a lot of benefits around handling that sort of disaster recovery situation — what would happen, how it would fail over and how resilient it was along the way — and from that perspective we were very happy with the outcome. We have had a couple of minor issues that have meant we have briefly gone into the failover situation and the good part is that often the business units don’t know that anything’s gone wrong. They don’t know that a network link has gone down — it just seamlessly transitions to another server and continues on.

We sell something that is quite intangible. It is only when somebody needs to make a claim that they realise the benefit from insurance, so we need to make sure that, regardless of what happens, we are there to give them that benefit at the end of the day.

We had done a little bit of IP but we weren’t doing a lot of call trunking across our own network. This project really enabled us to really move to that full virtualised environment — particularly virtualised around the contact centre — allowing the right person in the right place to take the call regardless of where it enters the network.

One of the things we were very proud of was our response to the Melbourne and Perth hail storms. The technology enabled us to get people on the ground, operational, with a full suite of telephony and technology services to start assessing people’s homes and cars and having them feel better about what is normally a fairly traumatic situation.

What else was significant about the implementation?

We have gone forward with a very tight integration into our back-end systems as well. For us, it is not a telephony system, as such. We really have gone they way of tying everything completely into our back-end systems and back into the business process. It’s not just a case of ‘here’s a telephone on your desk’.

How long did that process take? It can be quite a big chunk of the initial planning stage, can’t it?

It is, but often — and it’s a little bit daring — but sometimes you have to deal with it first because I don’t think you always know what you can use that type of integration for until you have a little bit of it, and then it snowballs along and you have people come to you saying ‘could we do this?’ For me, that’s when it is really exciting because you are starting to work in a really collaborative sense.

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