A public sector for all seasons: how to plan for peaks in demand

Turkeys at Christmas. Strawberries at Wimbledon. Any organisation that’s affected by huge peaks in demand needs to have plans in place to scale up staff, hardware and infrastructure capacity at the right time to the right levels. Similarly for the public sector, cyclical peaks can be predicted and planned for: HMRC the day before the self-assessment deadline, Saturday night at A&E, or universities on A-level results day. You know they’re coming, you know when and you can estimate volumes fairly accurately.

However, some big traffic peaks come right out of the blue. All it takes is a political event, major security incident, public health scare, freak weather conditions or even a seemingly benign product launch. Add in a media-fuelled frenzy and the public can quickly overload official helplines, government websites or physical premises such as hospital departments and passport offices. Unexpected demand can cause a serious system breakdown unless there’s a robust coping strategy in place.

Cost-effective contingency preparation

Government purse strings are continuously being tightened. There’s always a need to do more with less. But scaling services down is not always the best way to save money, particularly if cutbacks mean unprecedented demand and contingency is compromised. Government IT and communications leaders can take a look at how they manage traffic peaks and troughs and find alternatives for cost savings that won’t curtail their ability to cope in an emergency.

Cloud solutions, such as SIP trunking, can create huge cost savings, especially when voice traffic levels fluctuate significantly. SIP trunking allows for the easy management of line capacity – meaning there’s no longer a need to pay rental for redundant lines. Lines can be added and removed at short notice and, by adding extra capacity during peak times, call forwarding costs can be eliminated.

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Maintain service levels through peaks

An inbound call management platform can also help to effectively route inbound calls, even if there is heavy load. The system can queue calls and play pre-recorded messages, meaning no calls are missed and call abandonment rates reduced. Because SIP trunking is cloud-hosted, it’s simple to achieve scale. And with no large capital outlay required, an organisation’s telephony system remains flexible and adjustable, according to needs, and can easily handle expected and unexpected peaks.

SIP trunking has already proved its worth for many public sector organisations. A noticeable case is one of the UK’s top research institutions, De Montfort University. In 2011, they faced major problems when the UCAS website went down. With no information available online, the university received an unexpected flood of calls from school leavers looking for university places. This resulted in De Montfort’s legacy telephone system crashing under the pressure, leaving thousands of worried callers unable to get through.

After this experience, De Montfort decided to upgrade their ISDN-based system to SIP trunking and saved over £3,000 per quarter. At clearing the following year, they were able to take 8,000 calls in the first day, with not one missed.

Regardless of the nature of demand, a modern telephony system can help public sector organisations avoid straining internal resources and maintain high service levels. Adaptable and scalable, SIP offers reliable extra capacity when demand peaks, and for the rest of the year a cost-effective infrastructure with no redundant hardware leftover during troughs.

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5 April 2017 | Sam Winterbottom

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The views in this article are the personal views of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Gamma.