The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), the organisation empowered by the Department for Communities and Local Government to arbitrate at the final stages of citizen complaints about local public services, has switched out a legacy PBX system for a cloud telephony service supplied by Foehn.
Until a few years ago, the LGO was relatively static in terms of its communications needs, with not much having changed in a long time, according to IT manager Adrian Beaumont. A traditional fixed-line service and call centre was really all the organisation needed, and there seemed little need to change.
However, outside forces were about to disrupt the LGO’s stable communications environment. The organisation was restructured and its headcount cut during the coalition government’s cost-cutting drive, says Beaumont.
It also had to move into publicly-owned buildings, and so started sharing space with the Home Office in London, the Department for Education in Coventry, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in York.
“This presented challenges in that we no longer had the same flexibility,” says Beaumont. “We were sharing server rooms, we were sharing facilities, and we were hot-desking. This all led us towards a more flexible phone system.
“Our IT network had not really come with us on the journey. It was still very set and fixed. It didn’t fully support the features we needed from it and clearly we needed to do something different.”
Matters came to a head as the LGO was rapidly approaching the last year of its existing contract and was keen to avoid signing up to extend the service, says Beaumont. Also, the LGO’s old supplier had been responsible for installing its wide area network (WAN) infrastructure, so it was also important to find a replacement that could take on both jobs at once.
Given the tight timescale, the LGO decided to use the G-Cloud framework to procure the replacement service.
“If it’s on G-Cloud, then I have the confidence that it has gone through due diligence, is at the right price point and has proved its value,” says Beaumont. “The legwork has already been done.”
Beaumont initially used the G-Cloud service to seek out suppliers that could best provide the phone system before drawing up a longlist and final shortlist.
“Some of the things we look for in suppliers are those who can meet with us regularly, communicate with us effectively and offer the support that an organisation of our size needs,” he says. “One of the things that struck me about Foehn was their ability to meet these criteria.”
One of the LGO’s key criteria for its new system was a desire to avoid getting locked in to a new supplier’s proprietary technology, says Beaumont.
“If we needed to change our phone system supplier in the future, we didn’t want to be left with a system that was unsupportable,” he says. “It was key for us that Foehn were strong advocates of using open source technology and had massive experience in this area.
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“They also had a good response to our request for a replacement WAN, and in terms of the technology solution, we felt it fit our needs quite well.”
Foehn installed the WAN first – as the ability to route calls over a reliable and resilient backbone system was the critical element of the upgrade.
The main transition process to the new hosted cloud PBX began in the LGO’s London office, which as a tenant of the Home Office was using its phone system, something the LGO’s staff were struggling to get to grips with.
Foehn rolled out 40 new handsets at the London location before moving onto York, where 30 sets were deployed, and finishing up in Coventry, where the inbound call centre needed extra work to set up a full interactive voice response (IVR) system, call recording and a call management and queuing system.
With the Foehn solution costing 30% less than the previous supplier’s on an ongoing basis, and delivering a 50% lift in connectivity speeds, Beaumont says the most immediate impact has been a marked increase in reliability and a reduction in downtime.
Secondly, the LGO has now implemented softphones, so staff working from home can use the same telephone number no matter where they are located.
According to Beaumont, this has enabled more communication among staff, but has also meant home workers can now deal with outward-facing calls, as the service user notices no difference.
“Not only are we saving with the lower cost of the system and the connections, but also in day-to-day things like provisioning new handsets for new members of staff, making changes quickly,” he says. “We can undertake some of these ourselves, giving us far more autonomy, yet we’ve still got the Foehn helpdesk to rely on if the matter is more complex or something outside of our control.
“Our network is far more resilient than we’ve ever had, plus it’s a lot more flexible. It’s certainly cost-effective, but most importantly it underpins the changes we have made to the organisation and will continue to help us improve going forward with the critical services that we provide.”
Steps into the cloud
For Beaumont, the upgraded networking facility will help his organisation take another step into the cloud, having previously moved to a cloud-based backup solution.
“It is fairly clear that, like most organisations, we need to, but because we are publicly funded, we are obliged to save money, too,” he says.
The LGO is now exploring the idea of adopting Office 365 and remote hosting to streamline its day-to-day practices still further.
“Having made the first steps with the WAN and telephony, it has given us that confidence,” says Beaumont.