Headlines: April 25th, 2005

Dacorum Borough in west Hertfordshire has become the first district council to improve its communications using speech recognition technology. The system, supplied by Telephonetics, gives the council a virtual operator, answering calls 24 hours a day and bringing benefits to council staff as well as local people.The ContactPortalR system has just been installed in the council’s offices in Hemel Hempstead. It screens and makes calls using advanced natural language speech recognition that it is claimed is almost indistinguishable from a human operator’s voice. The system also does away with the need to remember extension numbers or for callers to use touch-tone systems which many people find frustrating.

Dacorum is using the new technology to manage calls from staff and the 137,000 people who live in Hemel, Berkhamsted, Tring and a number of villages in the surrounding area. The ContactPortalR improves internal communications by allowing council staff to simply say the name of the person, company or department they wish to speak to. This can be recognised quickly and staff can be connected to colleagues and people outside the offices.

Karen Tarbox, Head of Customer Services at the council, said, “The feedback from staff has been extremely positive. They love the ease of the system and not having to use our previous computerised directory system to look up numbers saves them valuable time.” She said staff whose jobs take them around the area particularly liked the ability to use the system from mobile phones. This allowed them to contact colleagues and suppliers while at other sites.

Initially the ContactPortalR is available to staff, Business to Business customers and for out of hours contacts. External callers are quickly transferred to the departments they wish to speak to and have to use only a single number. The system does away with the need for extra operators, leading to a cut in costs.

Integrating the system with the council’s call centre in the future will, it is hoped, help it to meet its e-government targets.