UC boosts service and savings for councils
Local councils are finding more and more reasons to adopt unified communications and voice over IP.
While many early unified communications (UC) implementations in the local government sector were largely driven by cost savings, for recent projects the reasons are a lot more complex. That said, councils remain under pressure to reduce operational expenditure, so cost is a core driver in the move from legacy PABX telephony to UC based on voice over IP (VoIP).
Councils often operate from at least 10 separate facilities — and double that number if they’ve been part of an amalgamation. Under a legacy environment, each site requires expensive leased lines and, as the PABX reaches its end of life, maintenance and administration services become increasingly expensive and hard to source.
With UC and VoIP, councils can immediately save significant costs by cutting off their leased lines. Ongoing operational costs are also likely to be slashed. A number of UC solutions in the market today are simple enough for in-house teams to manage most of the support and administration themselves.
More recently, improving the quality and level of services provided to the local community has become a key objective. Basic voice services are no longer considered sufficient to meet community expectations, with councils looking for UC to increase the depth of customer service and provide better connections with internal systems and subject matter experts. Examples are giving staff visibility on their colleagues’ availability, instant messaging, calendar integration, click-to-call and access to voicemail via email. Workgroups, call routing and escalation, call recording and more complex contact centre functionality are also featuring in requests for UC solutions.
The community is also expecting to be able to engage with their council via multiple channels — web, email and voice — so local government organisations are moving quickly to build that capability through UC deployments.
Councils have also realised that basic telephony functionality is a risk to their operations, with the periodic restructuring that is prevalent in local government. Both Western Australian and NSW governments are currently pushing for more council amalgamations, while in Queensland there have been a number of recent de-amalgamations. Victoria underwent an extensive council amalgamation program under the Jeff Kennett-led state government in the 1990s, more than halving the number of local government areas.
A flexible UC environment is also gaining importance for local government as councils introduce new working practices. UC is enabling teams to work efficiently and communicate from different council locations, from home, travelling or out in the field.
We are also seeing the extension of rich UC functionality to mobile devices. At the same time, an increasing number of councils are deploying or investigating the feasibility of public Wi-Fi networks. By using Wi-Fi and avoiding expensive 3G and 4G services, councils have an opportunity to embrace enterprise mobility, especially to capitalise on the benefits for staff in the field or working in different office locations.
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