Monday, January 09, 2012

Should governments be using popular VOIP tools for customer enquiries?

In Australia about 10% of households don't have a landline phone any more.

In some other countries the figure is higher - and it is growing as people abandon the 'fixed to one location' phone for personal mobile phones.

When calling a government agency - even a 'free call' line - there's often additional charges for mobile phones, plus time-based charges that don't apply on landlines.

In other words, for 10% of households it has become more expensive to call government agencies, particularly if they get put on hold.

True, losing the landline is a choice, however there's a choice for government agencies as well which can cut the cost - using VOIP services.

VOIP stands for Voice Over IP. In essence it involves using the internet to make phone calls.

Many government agencies have already adopted VOIP or VOIP-like phone exchanges inside their workplaces. This means that while phone calls still arrive at an agency via a POTS (plain old telephone service) system, once they arrive at the agency's switch they are directed onto a digital network which is far more customisable, flexible and cost-effective.

This means that when agencies make internal calls between offices (often across the continent), their calls don't go via the POTS network - those wires we see hanging from the inappropriately named 'telegraph' poles. Instead they get sent via the internet or on dedicated digital cables at a much lower cost to the agency.

Citizens can also take advantage of VOIP - whether using dedicated services like Skype or Engin, or through ISPs who offer VOIP calls via landlines. This also helps them save significant money on long-distance calls.

However these agency VOIP systems and citizen VOIP systems rarely overlap. Many agencies can't call citizens via VOIP and while citizens might attempt to use VOIP to call agencies, few can take the call.

My question is why?

How difficult would it be for an agency to establish a Skype number, which would allow citizens to use their home Skype connection to call the agency for free?

How difficult would it be to establish agency VOIP numbers on major domestic VOIP services, which allowed free calls to the agency. TransACT, Canberra's fibre-optic network provider (now owned by Internode) has been offering free calls between its VOIP subscribers for years.

Sure there are likely to be a few technical issues to sort out. Resolving this one would re-establish a free call option for that 10% of Australian households without landlines. Surely that has significant value.

Given that it appears that even rural doctors, when receiving Commonwealth Government funds to implement costly VOIP services are often setting up a free Skype account instead, there's undoubtedly some appetite for being able to call the government via these VOIP tools.


  1. I'm currently involved in an admittedly tentative project in a state government department that is exploring providing a Skype contact for a specific initiative.

    One of the infrastructure concerns when putting a Skype contact in place is how it integrates into the established call handling systems in the contact centre. There is detailed reporting required, call handling and record keeping issues.

    However we do have an interim plan :)

    Basically providing a Skype contact that essential diverts to call slot. The call source can be identified and it sits within the queue.

    Obviously this means that there is a cost involved in maintaining the account which is worn by the department. The aim not so much being to save money but to provide another access point.

  2. Okay proof reading comments obviously not part of the plan.

    What I meant by call slot was that the incoming Skype call would divert to a phone slot in the inbound queue. It does also cut out extra Skype functionality but as I said it's really about another access point. The next phase would be integrating directly to take advantage of what the service has to offer.

  3. Although! most of the VoIP Phone Service Providers don't restrict their solutions for Government or public use but these solutions can be used by government only if these solutions can perform according to the requirements. Definitely, government would need to get customized hosted VoIP phone solutions because these are definitely going to be used on very large scale.


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