Category: About Empirix
Success Story: NSPCC
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children invested in Empirix Testing Solutions in order to assure its investment in a major new communications technology implementation would deliver the benefits and functionality expected – while remaining within budget.
Empirix helps put NSPCC’S new childrens’ contact strategy through its paces
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), exists to end cruelty to children in the UK by fighting for their rights, listening to them, helping them when they need help and making them safe.
They provide national services such as ChildLine and Helplines for concerned adults, providing support for all children. NSPCC local services focus on the most acute forms of abuse and the most vulnerable, highest risk children so that they can bring help, advice and treatment to children at risk or those who have been abused. Through these services the NSPCC demonstrate the most innovative and effective solutions and then campaign for these services to be adopted UK wide. Through their work children and young people are better informed, better cared for and better protected.
Systems need to meet a critical need
In 2008-09 across both ChildLine (the NSPCC’s helpline for children) and the adult helpline (for adults who are concerned about a child), the charity received more than 2 million calls, but a significant number of those calls were not getting through. Also, research showed that children wanted to use alternative communication channels such as the internet. Says Phil Reed, the NSPCC’s Chief Information Officer: “We had a number of problems certainly we did not have enough counsellors, but as we also realised, our technology systems couldn’t deliver the capacity or the additional channels. Children today want to communicate in a wide range of ways, and we need to be able to facilitate all of these. We’re very passionate about what we do, but we were not up-to-date.”
The NSPCC resolved to embark upon a major development programme, designed to enhance significantly its capacity to handle not only telephone calls, but also contact through other media such as e-mails and website chat sessions.
Increased capacity and more communication channels
The NSPCC acknowledged that the implementation of a new technology platform and telephony system was a major strategic project, as it involved the building and co-ordination of 14 ChildLine call centre sites and five adult helplines centres around the UK. Reed observes, “We were totally rebuilding from scratch, the whole of the structure around our helplines for both children and adults.”
Seeking to give children much greater access to channels that they understand, the new system massively increased the NSPCC’s capability to handle live one-to-one interactions. In addition, the new service includes a website through which children can communicate online via messaging, e-mails, one-to-one chat, and even pictures which both child and counsellor can annotate, and in future by SMS text, too. This will meet the needs of a significant proportion of children who, for various reasons, are unable or unwilling to verbally articulate their problem. Children will also have their own message board where they can chat and support one another.
A demanding environment demands sophisticated testing
Charities are always concerned that their income should be spent appropriately and effectively and the NSPCC is no different. IT projects are carefully scrutinised to ensure they deliver from both a value and quality perspective. But when it comes to child safety and protection, there is even more at stake.
Being able to connect with a counsellor via ChildLine can be vital to a child’s safety and well being. Many ChildLine contacts concern sexual or physical abuse and, of these, around one in five children have spoken to nobody else about their situation. With a system on which children in danger depend, there is no margin for error or failure.
The organisation therefore demanded clear and definite assurances that its investment in this major new project would deliver a service fully fit-forpurpose, from the moment it was launched.
Clearly, this complex and unique system had to be put thoroughly through its paces. Taking up the story, Tony Simms, the NSPCC’s Helplines Development Programme Test and Assurance Manager observed: “We had to be able to test a complicated and varied set of business processes, which are far more unstructured than they would be in a traditional call centre, because of the nature and content of the calls.”
The testing budget for this project was tightly controlled. The IS team had to find creative approaches for their testing programme and sought extra support and commitment from its suppliers. When it came to resource/load testing of the telephone system, two suppliers already working on the project separately recommended Empirix.
Says Simms: “With two independent recommendations from suppliers whose opinions we valued, we didn’t feel the need to look any further.”
Unclear about the options for voice testing, the NSPCC consulted Empirix. Simms observes: “We received good advice from the Empirix specialists, who then scoped out and priced the project. They also identified several areas where we needed the involvement of Genesys, and they were effective in securing Genesys’ technical tools and resources for us.”
Genesys contributed the Virtual Agent Softphone (VAS) as well as support during testing. The VAS was developed to work with Empirix and sends the data generated by the test calls back to Empirix for correlation with performance measurements Genesys collected. All of the information is available in near real time on a secure website. The key parties view the results as they are posted and make changes to the environment accordingly. “It was a significant engagement,” notes Simms.
Testing highlighted need for fine tuning
The telephony testing phase, including all planning and scheduling, took around three weeks and involved two periods of testing, each taking two days. A total of three test scenarios were run against the system. The first was an average call volume test to verify the functionality and performance of the system under normal working conditions. The second was a ramp test to determine the system’s breaking point, which gradually increased the call rate to fully occupy all ports. The third test put full volume into the system and ran for an extended period of time to check for any resource shortage within the system.
Having uncovered some anomalies, Empirix liaised with suppliers Protocall One and Freedom Telecom to suggest some investigations. These identified that some fine tuning of the agent settings was necessary, and this fine tuning improved the performance of the counsellors taking calls. Testing also uncovered a flaw in the automatic routing failover system that would have resulted in lost calls had the main system failed.
Simms considers the testing programme to have been very successful. It resulted in a detailed report which in turn fulfilled the objective of convincing the NSPCC that the IS team had evolved an effective and robust system. Telephony performance testing is now complete, but Simms expects further testing of maintenance releases going forward.
Simms is highly satisfied with the work carried out and the results it delivered. “Apart from the effectiveness of the testing systems, the thing that impressed me most was the sense of ownership that Empirix brought to the project,” says Simms. “Once they had agreed to undertake the work, they took ownership. They were proactively driving the project to a successful conclusion.”