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Tue 2 Jun 2009 04:00 AM

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Laying new paths

Dubai's RTA means to set new standards in a unified customer experience with its unique programme and its state-of-the-art contact centre. Sathya Mithra Ashok investigates.

Laying new paths
We looked at the scalability and the support available in the region. Abdulla Ghuloom Al-Bastaki, IT director.
Laying new paths
The customer service department developed a plan called the customer excellence programme.” Laila Ali Saif Bin Hareb, director of customer services at the RTA.

Dubai's RTA means to set new standards in a unified customer experience with its unique programme and its state-of-the-art contact centre. Sathya Mithra Ashok investigates.The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is a relatively young department in the Dubai government. Formed with members from different units initially, the RTA has grown as a force in the city-state and has worked to transform it into an area that boasts the best in global transport infrastructure.

Throughout its development, addressing customer needs has been a key consideration for the team at the RTA. Recently, the organisation started on a new initiative to increase their knowledge of customers as well as to improve the overall customer or user experience.

We had a different concept when we called these companies. We wanted them to develop the contact centre as a turnkey project – to establish it technology-wise.

"The customer service department developed a customer relationship management strategic plan, which is an integrated portfolio made up of 25 initiatives, collectively called the ‘customer excellence programme'. These initiatives guide and direct the RTA for service progress and achievement whilst making a positive contribution in reducing congestion and improving levels of road safety.

The success of the strategy is measured by how much it can change behaviour using initiatives such as dynamic ticketing, increasing the levels of public transport usage, and by building service relationships between the RTA and the customer by collecting regular customer feedback," says Laila Ali Saif Bin Hareb, director of customer services at the RTA.

As part of the strategy, the implementation of which was started during the end months of 2007, the RTA decided that it was time to move from its old call centre to a new contact centre.

"The original call centre, which was set up in 2006, was outsourced to a local service provider in the Emirates. They were providing us with all the services connected with a call centre. With the new strategy though, we wanted to increase customer satisfaction and provide customers with a single experience when interacting with the RTA.

Keeping this in mind, we evaluated the performance of the call centre and realised that it was not up to the levels that we were trying to achieve. People had a lot of complaints about the current call centre, they either wait a long time for someone, or they don't get the line, or they don't get updated information from the agent," explains Bin Hareb.

She continues, "To rectify these problems we decided to insource the call centre and to turn it from a simple call centre to a complete contact centre. This meant it needed to cover more than just the single voice channel and include everything from e-mail to faxes and other contact methodologies. We also wanted to turn it into a transactional contact centre where customers can ask for certain services without being physically present in a branch. All of this would work to enhance the customer's experience."

Finding the right partner

Based on the strategy and their specific requirements, the RTA started the project and prepared a detailed request for proposal (RFP).

"We had a different concept when we called these companies. We wanted them to develop the contact centre as a turnkey project - to establish it technology-wise, enable the facility, provide us with outsourced staff as well as consultancy services, set up the management framework, and all the processes (quality and otherwise) associated with the contact centre," says Bin Hareb.

Several companies, along with supporting partners responded to the RFP sent out by the RTA. Out of these, the consortium that was led by Nortel was selected by the organisation, based on several important criteria.

"There were a lot of different factors that we took into consideration for selecting the company, including the quality of the technology and the cost involved. Then there was their share in the contact centre market, their relative experience and the number of references that they held from major clients.

One other factor was given much more evaluation weight than others, which was the company's methodology of developing a contact centre. Most vendors are used to developing a contact centre just technology-wise, and not managing the whole project from A to Z. So this was a relatively new experience even for the vendors concerned," points out Bin Hareb.

After a two month evaluation period, the RTA team decided on the consortium led by Nortel for the project.

"One of the other criteria that helped Nortel win the deal was the maturity of the voice technology and the vendor itself. We also looked at the scalability of the solution and the support available in the region. Nortel scored high on all of these requirements," says Abdulla Ghuloom Al-Bastaki, the IT director of the RTA.

Though different system components were brought in from various vendors, the actual solution set was built around Nortel's Communication Server.

Implementation of the contact centre was started in August 2008. One team was involved in hiring and training the agents, another was responsible for setting up the offices and the contact centre location and one more was responsible for the actual infrastructure of the centre. The entire contact centre solution is integrated heavily with the existing systems of the RTA and they all work on the same network.

"We set up a project management office here in the RTA. A project manager was identified for the contact centre and a programme structure was put in place. A steering committee was set up with representatives from different departments, including IT.

All strategy related to the centre, updates to the project and management were looked into by this steering committee. The committee, which I head, also ensures that all the departments of the RTA, which need to be involved in the centre are appropriately involved and informed," says Bin Hareb.

The team from Nortel was involved in custom design of the facility as well as implementation in keeping with the approved design. This involved installation, integration and testing of all technical infrastructure involved in the centre.The Nortel team was also involved in understanding the current processes, and to streamline new processes and business practices to produce an efficient, state-of-the-art contact centre. Apart from this, they were also engaged in the recruitment and training of the approximately 140 agents, supervisors and team leaders necessary to staff and operate the contact centre.

Bastaki states that as with any new solution there were certain challenges involved in the implementation of the solution.

"No solution can be implemented without obstacles. Integration with the different applications and the contact centre was a challenge at the beginning. But there was a key interaction between IT and customer services, and knowing their requirements ahead of time, we were able to manage this in a manner that did not affect the contact centre. We had a soft launch of the centre to overcome the majority of these problems, and this we managed to do efficiently and effectively."

The key thing to remember for any project is that there will be major challenges when IT is involved at the last minute. In fact, the project might not even work. But since we were involved from the very beginning, we were able to overcome our challenges.

He continues; "The key thing to remember for any project is that there will be major challenges when IT is involved at the last minute. In fact, the project might not even work. But since we were involved from the very beginning, working closely with the customer services department, with the business and knowing which applications need to be integrated, we had the time to overcome our challenges."

"I have to emphasise the role of communication in this project. It was very crucial due to the scale of this project. This includes communication internally, with the service provider Nortel, and communication among the other players involved in the consortium.

Proper communication plans were set and this helped in overcoming challenges. You needed preparation to understand the challenges we would have to face, and there needed to be a proper risk mitigation plan in place, and that was done. I think it was a successful contact centre because of the time invested in preparation and mitigation of the risk," explains the RTA's Bin Hareb.

With challenges overcome, the contact centre went live in December 2008.

Past and present

With the contact centre in operation, the RTA and Nortel came to a unique deal with regards to management where both organisations are involved in the centre.

"The RTA has management and operational control over the contact centre and it works with Nortel on day-to-day operations. All areas of governance of the contact center are set by the RTA. Nortel is responsible for ensuring that the team follows the procedures and processes as set by the RTA. The RTA is responsible for setting requirements related to service levels, reporting requirements, operational requirements and staffing levels, quality standards and governance, as well as processes and procedures," says Bin Hareb.

"Nortel provides the first level of staff that interact with the RTA customer, including agents and supervisors. They manage all staffing related issues. Nortel also feeds into the RTA's centre management team to advice and assist on projects and operations delivery," adds Bin Hareb.

Successful as the contact centre is, it is just one of the projects that were undertaken by the RTA in the last year.

"RTA has had huge deployments in 2008. We had huge projects as part of our core business. Our core business is traffic control and public transport services. So we had major projects and eventually the contact centre was also affected by such projects," says Bin Hareb.

Some of these include the toll gate system in Dubai, called Salik, the deployment of Microsoft's CRM package and introduction of more buses into the public transport network.

In keeping with its rapid growth and aims for the future, the RTA has more ambitious projects planned for this year as well.

"For 2009 we are working on enterprise project management for the IT department, an enterprise asset management solution, a new datacentre based on green IT standards as well as an enterprise inspection management system," says Bastaki.

With an experienced IT team, well honed in the ways of integrating with business and incorporating requirements, there is no doubt that the organisation will continue to taste success in these projects as well.

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