Foster Parents Plan Canada pushes out IP telephony functionality

Foster Parents Plan Canada intends to build on the IP telephony-based call centre technology it deployed internally by connecting it through Web services to the external call centres it uses on a contract basis.

The Toronto-based non-profit set up its system, which is based on Cisco products such as Call Manager, in partnership with IBM Canada, which provided project management expertise. Foster Parents Plan Canada also works with Jolera, a networking systems integrator, to support its IP phones and related infrastructure.

Foster Parents Plan Canada’s call centre employs about 10 people. But Gerry Wong, its CIO, said his team will use asynchronous Java and XML (AJAX) programming techniques to create a “screen pop” that will appear on the screens of call centre agents at outside firms which the organization uses, particularly during times of crisis such as a natural disaster in a developing country.

“We need to be able to push information to them. The strategy is to move the IP out to our vendors,” he said. “A lot of organizations are still stuck in the notion of saving money with VoIP. We’re more interested in how do you enable this technology to help expand the business and increase value for our donors.”

The ability to integrate with outside parties is critical, Wong added, because emergency response procedures could happen outside of normal business hours or on the weekend. That’s when the third-party call centres become a vital resource, but they need the same agent scripts and other data as its down call centre.

“We wanted them to tie into our technology, but without actually changing their technology,” he said. “You know that what they use is not always state of the art — some are still running VAC or old switches. To communicate with their switches normally takes a lot of effort.”

Foster Parents Plan was dealing with its own legacy issues before its partnership with IBM began. Its call centre was based on Mitel switches running in an IBM’s OS/2 operating system environment. IBM officially discontinued OS/2 development last year, which added to the sense of urgency, Wong said, but more important was the need for scaleable infrastructure that could be more flexible.

Jon Arnold, an indepdent IP telephony analyst based in Toronto, said users are only beginning to scratch the surface with what the technology can offer them.

“The magic of this is how it enhances productivity – more sales calls in a day, cutting down turnaround time for call centres to handle requests, gaining back sick days from people who can’t get in because of the weather,” he said. “People are going to discover that in my business, in my industry, I need this for X, Y and Z. We’re seeing the emergence of vertical applications in banking or public sector or health care and construction. It’s happening in every segment – even (the) legal (profession) has specific applications.”

Wong said Foster Parents Plan is looking forward to being able to get a better sense of its call volumes and fine-tune its approach.

“We never kept really good metrics because with the Mitel switch, we didn’t really know how to use it,” he said. “Now we’re using it and can see the calls and do a lot of monitoring — quality monitoring.”

Besides its headquarters on St. Clair Ave. West in Toronto, Foster Parents Plan Canada also has a collocation centre downtown on Richmond Ave., and Wong said the organization has set up a wireless link between the two sites, where Call Manager and Unity Voice Mail have been replicated.

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