Remembrance Sunday may be over for another year, but Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI) continues to wage a year-round campaign on behalf of the UK armed services community and others.The charity was first established in 1919 to provide treatment, training and support to soldiers returning from the First World War.
Today, its remit is far wider: in addition to helping current and former members of the military and their families to access housing, employment and healthcare, RBLI also offers a range of services to people with disabilities or social-welfare needs.
One example is its role in delivering the UK government’s Work Programme, which aims to help long-term unemployed people into jobs. During its first two years of participation in the scheme, RBLI helped around 2,500 people in the UK South East to find work.
But until recently, RBLI staff working in the charity’s eight Work Programme offices across Kent and Sussex sometimes struggled to put jobseekers and local employers in touch with each other - or even to call their own colleagues, office-to-office.
The problem was the lack of an in-house telephony system. Instead, staff worked with mobile phones provided to them by the charity - but that situation was far from ideal, says Kate Porter, head of business systems at RBLI.
Mobile signals were often poor. Staff couldn’t transfer calls to colleagues or to other offices. Above all, it was an expensive way to work in an environment where most staff are desk-based and work only during normal business hours.
Initially, Porter was weighing up two ways to solve the problem - either finding a new mobile provider and negotiating a more favourable tariff, or installing a fixed-line telephony system.
Neither seemed ideal: the first option might only solve the cost part of the equation, but not the performance problems. The second option would likely involve serious capital expenditure for the charity - a risky proposition, since RBLI delivers the Work Programme on a fixed-term basis, under sub-contract to business services giant G4S.
With the programme’s bumpy track record to date, there’s no guarantee that it won’t be changed by the current UK Government or discontinued by one that succeeds it next year. The IT skills and costs involved in supporting a PBX were a big concern, too, says Porter.
Undecided on the best way forward, she turned for advice to a third party in the shape of Olive Communications, a UK-based business communications provider where she was was shown a hosted, voice-over-IP telephony system, which RBLI could pay for on a per handset, per month basis:
It was quite an eye-opener. We’d never even considered anything like that - but I could see straight away that it would save us a significant amount of money and solve our communications problems pretty easily, too.
The cloud-based system, based on the Horizon platform from communications provider Gamma, delivers full integration between RBLI’s desktop and mobile phones and includes calls to a wide range of UK numbers.
Comms in place
Now, every member of staff in RBLI’s Work Programme offices has their own desktop phone and their own direct-dial number, but they can also transfer calls to other colleagues, free of charge.
A freephone 0800 number has also been set up for Work Programme jobseekers to call, with an auto-attendant that enables them to reach their own local office on their first call.
And when they do visit the offices in person, they can use the system for phone interviews with potential employers.Porter’s IT team, meanwhile, are provided with an online management portal that helps them troubleshoot basic support issues, collect call stats and add new desk phones as and when they need to.
Alongside the Horizon platform, RBLI is also implementing a email-based texting service from another provider. This will allow staff to communicate with jobseekers (for example, to send them a reminder about an appointment) in a simple and cost-effective way.
This is important, Porter explains, because some clients, due to lack of funds, neglect to pick up voicemails or call in to the Work Programme office regularly. A simple SMS text is often their preferred option.
Mobile phones are still part of the picture at RBLI: they’re needed by managers who are frequently away from the office at meetings with local employers, for example, or making home visits to disabled jobseekers.
But for the majority of desk-bound staff, they’ll soon be phased out once the texting service is up and running - and Porter anticipates that she’ll start to see real savings in the next few months:
By mid-December, most mobiles will be gone. Come January, we’ll start to see the savings kick in.
But what’s most important to me is that we’ve now got a platform that can grow in ways that we need it to, without costing the earth.
Provided it delivers the cost savings I’m hoping for, I’ll look to roll it out elsewhere at RBLI - wherever the need arises, really.