WaTech telephone team completes major upgrade of system serving state agency call centers

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While the thousands of people who phone into DSHS for assistance with their benefits each day may not know it, a little help from WaTech is the reason their calls not only continue to ring through, but are maybe even a little better than ever. 

WaTech’s phone team just finished a major upgrade of the campus telephone system that serves that agency’s major call center, along with the call centers of other state agencies like the Department of Licensing and the Health Care Authority.Man giving thumbs up signal at call center desk 

The software upgrade of what is known as the “Oly 2” Private Branch Exchange (PBX) system covered about 9,000 phone lines serving numerous state agency call centers as well as individual desktop phones.  The system, the largest on campus, also serves office phone systems in Aberdeen, Vancouver and Tumwater.  Oly 2 also works with special purpose software to provide service to a number of home-based and remote call center agents across the state.

WaTech’s telephony team handled the major software upgrade, which was required by phone vendor Avaya. Planning for the update began in late 2016 and was completed in December.

Call center systems vary in volume and complexity by state agency. For instance, the largest system handles benefit system calls by DSHS’s Economic Services Administration related to child support collections, food assistance, eligibility for medical aid and assistance for the homeless.  That system takes more than a quarter million calls a month. The Health Care Authority covers medical plan and benefit services for public employees.  Another customer – the Department of Licensing - takes calls related to driver licensing, vehicle and boat registrations and business licensing.  

The PBX serving those agencies includes Interactive Voice Response (IVR) capabilities that allow callers to use their keypads or voice to make menu choices or even complete online payments.

Eric Talberg, manager of telephony at WaTech, said with increasingly sophisticated IVR systems the upgrade schedule has changed from once every three to five years to once every two years. The latest upgrade accommodates better patches for security updates, better integration with the Wide Area Networks (WAN), “firmware” updates on the phones themselves and the server technologies that supports the phone system.

It also allows for marching forward with updates in the latest available phone technologies, such as the voice over Internet (VoIP) protocol that is now commonly used by most state agencies.

To accommodate the upgrade teams needed to visit 18 sites to upgrade phone processors, handle customer communications and make updates in overall system architecture.  While the planning was detailed and involved numerous WaTech and state agency staff, when the new system cut over on Dec. 13 no calls of complaint were made.

“While this was a typical activity for us, it had a higher potential for disaster,” said Talberg. “Call centers are all high visibility and if something breaks in any part of it, then the governor’s office becomes our tech support.”

“But it was well done, well received and has a higher version of software and capability, setting the stage for the future,” he said.