Flood relief tests Queensland shared services strategy

By Brett Winterford on Jan 11, 2011 8:58 AM
Filed under Communications

Call centre system crashes as Australians open their wallets.

The Queensland Government has apologised after its shared call centre systems were overloaded during a flood relief telethon on Sunday night, which by consequence delayed emergency SES calls from actual flood victims.

A Channel Nine telethon – which raised over $10 million for victims of Queensland's enormous flood damage - directed calls using the same communications infrastructure flood victims use to make emergency calls to the SES (State Emergency Service).

The State's Minister for Public Works Robert Schwarten explained that a combination of the telethon calls and calls to the SES crashed the Government's call routing infrastructure.

Calls directed to both services were handled by Queensland's three Smart Service call centres – a shared services initiative which handles or redirects calls for some 180 Queensland Government services.

The Smart Service call centre network usually handles 5,000 to 7,000 calls a day, experiencing rare peaks of 12,000 calls a day.

On Sunday night, the shared services organisation experienced that peak of 12,000 calls in a single minute as the telethon lines opened.

Schwarten said the State's SES Hotline – which uses the same infrastructure - has also taken some 14,500 calls since the flooding and rain began.

Queensland's Smart Services initiative uses a Genesys call routing system (maintained by integrator Dimension Data) and a services bus and network connectivity via Government-owned IT supplier CITEC, which in turn contracts Telstra to provide raw connectivity.

Schwarten said "the sheer volume of calls" coming in via the telethon and SES "caused a disruption to the link between Telstra and Smart Service Queensland telephony systems."

In a statement released yesterday, Schwarten said the Smart Service system was "not built to handle the huge volume of calls that the start of the Flood Relief telethon brought into the system.

"Such was the overload that Smart Services Queensland had to implement its backup system, meaning some SES calls were delayed," Schwarten explained.

"The back-up system was implemented in just over an hour from when the system was disrupted as thousands of donors clogged the system."

The Minister said that the systems that handle emergency calls and donations have now been technically de-coupled "so there will be no conflict between calls in the future."

He praised the work of technicians that managed to bring the services back online in time to raise $10 million from the telethon, and defended the shared services strategy.

"Everything was done at the time to fix the issue and our back-up systems were effective," he said. "Full planning occurred prior to the event with Telstra and other vendors ahead of the telethon and Smart Service Queensland apologises for any inconvenience."

 
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