The department's Consumer Direct service is a one-stop shop for all customer complaints about salespeople and their products. Although the DTI has launched an online service for consumers to report bad practice, most cases will be handled by the new call centres. By launching centres in four new regions, the DTI has increased the proportion of the population with access to Consumer Direct to more than 70%.
Consumer Direct distributes all its cases to the relevant local authorities using a browser-based messaging system. The authorities decide who has access to it. The browser is a managed service provided by US-based company Certified Mail. The datacentre is hosted in New Jersey. Call-centre staff can identify the local authority employee who is working on any case and can even chase up messages that are deleted.
Over 400,000 calls have been handled by Consumer Direct since it went live last year. Other parts of the UK - the West Midlands, the North-East and the North-West - will get their own call centres early next year. Call-centre specialist TCS manages all the regional call centres.
The 30m project's three pilot areas - the South-West, Yorkshire and Wales - all send case information to the central database. Scotland's equivalent of Consumer Direct has recently upgraded its systems so they will work with the messaging system.
The messages are transferred in XML using private network connections between each contact centre and the datacentre.
A second database is hosted on behalf of the DTI by Cardiff County Council. The UK-based database maintains all the cases handled by Consumer Direct. It is an SQL-server database running Microsoft reporting services.
Two websites are also run by the DTI. One is a private site for call-centre advisers and Trading Standards staff, operated by the Office of the E-Envoy. The other is for the public to e-mail Consumer Direct with worries about retailers or to seek advice.
Anthony Golledge, technical architect of Detica, who has been advising the DTI on Consumer Direct's technical architecture, said, "The public website is hosted by the DTI: that's just an Apache webserver, but we are in the process of upgrading it to a content management system." The CMS is scheduled for launch in 2006.
The DTI's marketing and communications manager, Phil Bastable, said Consumer Direct was launched because existing government services failed to answer the public's queries about consumer problems.
"It addresses the unmet demand for consumer advice. The existing services could not cope with consumer demand."