The Scottish SPCA, Scotland's animal welfare charity, runs a nationally advertised helpline available to the public for 16 hours a day. They take almost 250,000 calls a year, over 80,000 of which are escalated to about 200 inspectors and animal rescue officers working shifts in the field. Their existing system to handle these calls was adapted from a system to manage service engineers and didn’t fit the charity’s unique needs. Horisk were commissioned to develop a new system to lead call handlers through a process to enter the call, then dispatch the call to an appropriate inspector, recording their response and tracking the call to completion. Many calls are routine, but some are urgent and/or highly sensitive in nature. And of course, all of these staff rely on the system for their job and as they are a major part of the charity's public face any significant system downtime is unacceptable.
The system needed to
Record all the varying types of call, with forms which would allow staff to deal efficiently with members of the public who may be in distress
Allocate these calls to inspectors in the field, communicating by email or SMS appropriately
Record a complex rota system to ensure calls were sent to the correct people – time is often of the essence
Importing millions of records from a legacy system
Developing a communication system for Blackberries which would enable staff to respond quickly to jobs - either accepting or rejecting them, or re-allocating to a different inspector.
All this and more was successfully developed and the switch to the new system was achieved overnight with no downtime.
The Helpline project required
an extensive discovery phase working with users at all levels in the organisation, in team workshops and one-to-one meetings, to develop personas and user stories
an Agile development methodology was used to get early feedback and ensure that significant functionality such as the call entry form could be iterated continuously with the input of the end users from user experience testing
a wide range of user roles with differing access to specific functionality
significant mapping of data required from a legacy system to the new system. Scripts were developed so that data migration could be repeated regularly during the testing phase
Extensive use of unit testing and browser testing was used to ensure integrity through the life of the project and during subsequent development.
This shows our experience of
developing a major, business critical application for a well known organisation which has a potentially huge impact on its public profile
listening to and working with all types of end user from animal rescue officers and call-centre operators to the CEO
working with complex data sets and developing robust solutions to both organise and manage the data and interact with other systems
working with third-party APIs (in this case for maps and communications)
developing complete test suites to ensure requirements are met and system integrity over the longer term
In an earlier, similar-sized project, we developed and have since maintained the Scottish SPCA's membership database on which a significant part of the charity's income stream depends – the system generates many thousands of direct debit instructions per month. This demonstrates our ability to successfully maintain and upgrade a business critical application in the long term.
The Helpline project was featured in PC Pro magazine in an article about the importance of engagement with users.
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