Northumbria University
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Of the suppliers we looked at Gamma gave us the best feeling about their professionalism. They were flexible, allocated a dedicated project manager and handled all of the porting from ISDN. During clearing on the first day the phone lines lit up at 8.30 in the morning and stayed that way well into the afternoon. But we answered more calls than ever before and Gamma’s Inbound platform let us handle things much more intelligently with IVR and different queues for different types of call.

Dave Laing, IT services, Northumbria University

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Successful clearing day for Northumbria University thanks to Gamma’s temporary hosted solution

The largest higher education institution in the north east of England, Northumbria University in Newcastle, has some 32,000 students and 3,000 staff teaching all of the UK’s 30 most popular subjects. Its faculties embrace arts, design and social sciences; engineering and environment; business and law; and health and life sciences. It has a thriving international student body and 90% of its graduates are either in work or further study within six months of graduation.

The challenge

As with most universities in the UK, Northumbria is faced with a huge surge in telephone calls over two or three days every August. Known as clearing, this period sees students who are without current placements chasing whatever course vacancies remain.

Competition for places is intense and it is in every university’s interest to fill as many slots as it can. Northumbria knew that calls were being lost during this period due to their outdated ISDN telephone system having queue handling, IVR and voicemail issues.

With demand for places on the increase the university wanted to do better. This meant installing extra call capacity and implementing more flexible and more intelligent call handling.

It also wanted to keep costs down by using its fibre JANET (Joint Academic NETwork) connection to transport calls as well as data traffic and sought a supplier that could offer a
direct JANET interconnect with its next generation network.

The solution

We had previously replaced Northumbria’s out of date ISDN system with our resilient SIP trunks in two locations, which reduced costs and enabled channels to be easily increased in the short term to meet traffic peaks encountered during clearing.

Our Inbound platform allows Northumbria University to separate calls by type, either confirmation or clearing, using an IVR and then routes them into two streams for processing, allocating resources appropriately.

Using a geographic Inbound number enables Northumbria to manage complex call routing and disaster recovery.

In preparation for an expected bumper clearing day, Gamma backed up the SIP-based solution with our ‘Hosted for Clearing’ solution. Our Horizon cloud-hosted telephony platform is installed on a temporary basis and is instantly scalable so it can be enabled during busy periods such as clearing, or as required. As it is only charged on a per-usage basis, Northumbria is not spending money on rental charges during quieter periods.

After discussing with Northumbria the number of calls expected and how they would be managed, the system was set up to handle an anticipated 12,000 calls during clearing, with Horizon providing back-up resilience. This also included having two temporary 100-seat call centre agents available.

No on-site hardware was required beyond handsets and soft clients on a PC.

Timeline of events

January
Gamma initiated conference call to discuss clearing plans

February
Existing solution identified and discussed

May
Discussion on solution design, clearing plans
and network topology

June
Forecast call stats, load testing and call queues reviewed. Disaster Recovery plan established

July
Inbound solution testing. Full contingency testing. Confirmation solution is ready

August
Ongoing communication to support time leading up to clearing

Clearing day
Successful event with no major issues