In a bid to ensure every call to its crisis hotline is answered, not-for-profit organisation Lifeline Australia recently implemented a Cloud-based disaster recovery system which will keep the helpline running during a system outage.
Lifeline Australia employs 3500 telephone and online crisis volunteers who help callers with crisis support, mental health support and suicide prevention. It receives on average 1500 calls per day.
Lifeline CIO Sajid Hassan said the decision to implement a Cloud-based disaster recovery system arose following a review and upgrade of its telephony infrastructure in 2011. “During that process there was a requirement to establish a disaster recovery solution by which we could switch all of our calls to another system in the advent of an outage,” he said.
Following a review process, IPscape’s offering was selected as, according to Hassan, it was easy to implement and could be hosted by the vendor, thereby reducing costs for Lifeline’s IT department.
If a system outage occurs, Lifeline can now switch volunteer crisis supporters over to the IPscape Cloud platform within minutes. In addition, the Cloud platform has allowed volunteers to take calls from any location in Australia with a phone line and internet connection. This means support staff can work from home and answer calls in a quicker time frame, rather than travelling long distances to a Lifeline office.
It also means Lifeline can update its interactive voice response technology message. For example, the message may inform callers that the hotline is experiencing technical problems but their call would be answered as soon as possible. “My job is to make sure those lines are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Hassan said.
“We are in crisis support so every call we receive needs to be dealt with as soon as possible and the crisis averted.” As the service had only been in use for two months, he said it was “too early” to report a return on investment.
“The biggest benefit of the implementation has been service continuity assurances. While we have not had to use the disaster recovery plan yet, I am confident the crisis support team can be back answering calls within a matter of minutes.”
An added benefit of using the Cloud for Lifeline was that it did not have to maintain a back-up call centre office to handle calls. “Being a not-for-profit organisation, our IT budget is very tight and we have to deliver projects within a tight time frame,” he said. “Personally, my biggest challenge is delivering quality services on a shoe string budget.”
Hassan’s IT department is now in the process of teaching Lifeline’s diverse workforce, which operates in remote locations, about the system.
“The call handling process will be different and new for most of our volunteers, some of whom work on a part time basis,” he said.
In addition to the telephone support service which runs from 7pm Australian Eastern Standard Time to 2am, Lifeline offers a live chat service from 8pm until midnight AEST. “We are continually exploring our online crisis support modules. Lifeline has seen a steady increase in people trying to use the online support service and we would like to expand its hours in the future.”
However, Hassan concedes Lifeline’s biggest challenge is making sure it has enough volunteers around Australia to take calls. He does not want anyone who may be at risk of harming themselves or committing suicide faced with a busy signal.
Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.