Meridian call centre credits Genesys following quakes

Flexibility of centre's configuration meant it could be shifted quickly after February earthquake

Meridian Energy’s contact centre operation was “fortunate” that its technology, based on Genesys software, was flexible enough to allow the operation to be moved when Meridian’s building collapsed in the February Christchurch earthquake, says Tony Sumner, who heads the contact centre.

An emergency backup centre had been set up in Wellington after the September 2010 quake, Sumner told Computerworld in an interview at the G-Force conference in Melbourne last month, where he made a presentation. The company’s original backup centre had been set up in another part of Christchurch and was destroyed in the earlier quake, when the main building was only damaged.

Computerworld asked why Meridian would locate its main centre and a disaster recovery centre in the same city.

“We focussed on the kind of disaster that would block access to the building, or fire in the building, or someone digging up cabling,” Sumner replied. “We really hadn’t taken into consideration the full spectrum of disaster events. We learned that lesson the hard way.”

The “wake-up call” in September and subsequent arrangements in Wellington, “meant in February it was a fairly seamless transfer,” Sumner says. “We’d planned a dress-rehearsal with Wellington; unfortunately, the February quake came the week before the scheduled rehearsal, when half our kit had already been shipped to Wellington.”

After the February earthquake, the equipment proved relatively easy to start up from Wellington, where 25 staff were relocated, and from Twizel, where ten staff were sent. “All you need is a broadband connection and a power plug,” Sumner says. The biggest problem was transporting people and finding them accommodation in Wellington, he adds.

Meridian secured new premises in Christchurch and had them fitted out by June so the Wellington team could move back.

Some enhancement was needed to the Genesys software to make the move possible, “but it wasn’t a big issue”, Sumner says. The servers were still in Christchurch, so Meridian couldn’t have full call recording in Twizel and Wellington. Wellington is now set up with that capability.

Staff were given access to the Christchurch building and managed to salvage 25 laptops, which were loaded with the contact centre image so they could be supplied to the backup staff. Other staff, for whom computers weren’t essential, gave them up to keep the call centre running – an essential resource when power supply to much of Christchurch was fraught with problems.

Now the call centre can look forward to the future and improvements to its service.

Contact centres in the cloud

Contact centre software will be delivered almost entirely from the cloud in five years’ time, says Michael MacBrien, senior vice-president of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, which sells contact centre products under the Genesys brand.

Necessary changes in the Genesys operation are already underway, he told a gathering of media and industry analysts at the Genesys G-Force conference in Melbourne last month.

Genesys is working in the Asia-Pacific region with Australian partner Engage on cloud contact centre offerings and is joining Engage in Singapore to offer cloud processing to the medium-sized enterprise market – companies with 150 or fewer seats.

More announcements can be expected on the mid-market incentive in October or November, he says.

“I see the balance of power shifting more towards the cloud,” MacBrien says. “I think in five year’s time you will not buy a software licence from a company like Genesys. You’ll be buying a lot of our services but you won’t be buying software; you’ll be buying [services] as you need them,” he says.

Asked whether power will shift to telcos in a cloud-dominated market, MacBrien says he still sees the need for an application-savvy intermediary such as Engage.

“Telcos have always had a hard time articulating the business value of a solution,” he says.

“They’re really good at pipes and bandwidth,” but they’ve always had a hard time selling applications, particularly in complex areas like contact centre management and related areas like customer relationship management and workflow management, he says.

• Stephen Bell travelled to G-Force as a guest of Genesys

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