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Interview: Glynis Morris, contact centre manger, Gloucestershire CC

7th Nov 2007
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This July saw flooding in Gloucester that caused the biggest peace-time evacuation that Britain has witnessed. It was down to the Gloucestershire City Council contact centre to provide key advice despite the evacuation - and Software as a Service was the key.

By Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor

Doctor Foster famously went to Gloucester in a shower of rain, but even he’d have balked at the torrential downpours that drowned the town earlier this year.

In July, Gloucestershire County Council suffered what Phil Wooles, Minister of State, Department for Environment, described as the biggest peace-time evacuation that Britain had seen. In order to keep local citizens informed at this critical time, Gloucestershire CC was expected to provide key advice and facts despite having to evacuate due to the floods – and it turned to Software as a Service (SaaS) to do so.

More than 40 contact centre agents were evacuated from one site to two others in neighbouring towns. Critical and up to date information was still given over the web to all citizens using RightNow’s SaaS technology. Gloucestershire CC was able to see what was on the citizens' minds as RightNow’s self-learning knowledge base was capturing top questions such as "When will the drinking water be turned back on?" as well as other more surprising questions, such as "Will I have to pay my library book fine as my book is now overdue due to the floods?"

"We want to roll SaaS out to other areas like social services because people saw how well it worked during the floods." Glynis Morris, contact centre manager, Gloucester County Council

“We had heavy rainfall on 20th July and that continued for some time,” recalls Glynis Morris, contact centre manager at Gloucester CC. “We went onto emergency measures on the Friday and on the Sunday we were told we had to evacuate. Our servers were in the basement and the entire city centre was in danger of flooding so we were told to stand down. The electricity power station was likely to go under the water so we were about to lose power and water as well.

“We ended up in a centre in Wiltshire. The main thing we had to do was keep the social care contact centre open so that we could offer emergency information to people. We had no phone systems at first so we had to transfer all the BT lines and the 0800 emergency number. We were up and running in Wiltshire by 10.30am on the Monday morning.

“Because our RightNow knowledgebase was hosted, we could access it and were able to use it to get to existing information. The general public could also access it via the web as we could. We were able to give out consistent answers to the public. We were also able to update the system every few minutes.”

Business continuity plan

Such was the success of this real world test of the system that SaaS and RightNow are now built into the wider council disaster recovery strategy. “We have now changed our business continuity plan,” says Morris. “We have virtual contact centre that we can run from mobile phones. We can work from anywhere we can get an internet link so we can have operators working from home or from a council site.”

The success of dealing with the crisis has also brought SaaS to the attention of other parts of the council. “We were the rebel department, but now we have lots of other departments coming to us and asking what we are using,” notes Morris. “People want to know what it was that we were doing that enabled us to keep operating. Our IT department had nothing to do with the introduction of SaaS in the beginning, but they are coming to us and asking if they can use it in other projects that are coming up.

“We want to roll SaaS out to other areas like social services because people saw how well it worked during the floods. Scalability is vital. We have 17,000 staff and we want to roll SaaS out to at least 6,500 of them.”

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