Cloud computing

Using the cloud to bolster government disaster continuity plans

The value of strong disaster continuity plans has never been more prevalent than it is today—especially for government agencies helping citizens with extremely time-sensitive needs. Constituents expect the same level of service and assistance as they do from private businesses; that’s to say, instant help on their preferred channels.

Businesses in the private sector have adapted to those expectations by accelerating their adoption of cloud technology. This move provided them with an improved ability to test and deploy new features like digital channels, enabled their employees to easily work from home, and allowed them to continue serving customers in the event of natural disasters, viruses, and other unforeseen events. In fact, our research revealed that 66% of contact centers were already planning to fast track their move to the cloud due to the pandemic.

Fast tracking to cloud percentage

But what is your agency's contact center doing to ensure uninterrupted service to your citizens? Was it enough during COVID-19, or were there huge wait times for weeks or even months? Are you prepared for the next disruption?

Government agencies were dealing with disruptions long before the pandemic, and they'll be dealing with them in the pandemic’s wake. Although smaller in magnitude, events such as wildfires and federal government shutdowns can be just as devastating for the people impacted by them.

This creates a need for flexible solutions—such as cloud contact center software—that help agencies quickly adapt to changing conditions so they can continue serving their constituents.

This article will answer frequently asked questions about cloud software and review how being in the cloud helped Michigan DHHS weather several back-to-back disruptions.

FAQs about cloud technology and software

Let's get started by answering some frequently asked questions about cloud technology.

Question 1: What is the cloud?

Cloud technology allows organizations to access on-demand computing services. These services can include storage, development, and applications, and they're typically accessed through the internet. Most of us are familiar with the cloud because it stores our personal photos and documents.

The most relevant cloud model for government contact centers is Software as a Service (SaaS), sometimes referred to as Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS). In a SaaS model, an organization contracts with a cloud software vendor to provide the vendor’s platform via the internet or private secure network connections. The agency (and its agents and other staff) just need a browser and a high-speed internet connection to access and use the software.

The CCaaS provider hosts the contact center platform on its server infrastructure and keeps it up to date, eliminating the need for agencies to maintain hardware, apply the latest software releases, and tune databases. It also enables fast and reliable scaling to meet seen and unforeseen demand.

Question 2: Is personal data safe in the cloud?

Safeguarding citizens’ personal data is a vital concern for government agencies and should be a prominent requirement when selecting cloud software. Data in the cloud can actually be more secure than data stored on-premises because of the amount of resources cloud vendors can dedicate to data security.

Additionally, some cloud contact center software solutions, like NICE CXone, are FedRAMP authorized, meaning they meet the federal government's rigorous standards for cloud software security.

Question 3: What are some of the capabilities and advantages of cloud-based software?

There are many advantages to moving to the cloud, including:

  • High availability. Industry-leading software providers, such as NICE, can deliver 99.9% software availability. They handle backups and redundancy, so agencies don't have to.
  • Easily scale up and down. Disruptions can send call volume through the roof, creating the need to quickly add more phone agents. When contact center software is in the cloud, it only takes hours to add and remove seats, providing agencies with the flexibility to rapidly scale up and down.
  • Budget friendly. Cloud software is typically less expensive than on-premises solutions because you only pay for what you use. For example, if you scale up and then back down, you only pay for the seats you're actually using instead of being stuck with expensive licenses you don't use when volume normalizes. Additionally, because the vendor handles software, hardware, and database support, that reduces an agency's IT overhead.
  • Easily add new channels and other capabilities. A typical purchase and implementation process for on-premises software can take months, which makes agency contact centers much less agile. Quickly adding new channels to respond to a crisis isn't possible. However, with cloud solutions, new channels or capabilities such as analytics or workforce management software can be up and running within days, providing the flexibility needed to rapidly adapt to disruptions and continue serving citizens.
  • Always have access to the latest release and innovations. With legacy systems, implementing the latest release can be a significant and harrowing undertaking. Sometimes organizations skip updates, which means they miss out on whatever benefits the updates provide. This isn't the case with cloud software. SaaS providers keep their software current so that end-users always use the most current version and have access to the latest innovative features.
  • Seamlessly support remote workers. Work from home is the new reality. What was a necessity during the lockdowns has become a permanent employment model for most contact centers. You may have bad memories of trying to get legacy systems to work for remote agents. That won't happen with cloud solutions. Work-from-home employees can log in from anywhere using a browser and a good internet connection. As we learned from the last couple of years, remote work capabilities are critical to maintain business continuity during a disaster.

How Michigan DHHS used cloud software to weather multiple disruptions

Michigan DHHS was planning to transform the way it communicated with citizens who receive public assistance. Five thousand case workers across the state were responsible for handling calls from the people who were assigned to them, which frequently resulted in unproductive and frustrating games of phone tag.

At the same time, they were facing challenges with their legacy systems.

Sound familiar?

The agency chose six NICE CXone solutions to implement, including our industry-leading ACD, IVR, and unified agent desktop. These capabilities enabled the agency to set up a virtual call center in which 10% of the case workers handle the entire phone volume, freeing up the other 90% to focus on more value-added activities. The overall solution also included IVR self-service options to offload routine calls from case workers and empower residents to help themselves.

Three disruptions took place during the implementation:

  • A federal government shutdown that would impact benefit payments for thousands of Michigan state residents
  • A bitter cold snap that put energy-vulnerable citizens at risk
  • A month when food benefits were paid early

All three events quickly drove up phone volume. Although the agency was still midway through implementation of their new cloud contact center solution, they were able to use the system to mitigate the impacts of the disruptions in the following ways.

  • Quickly increased capacity. The spikes in call volume required more agents on the phones. NICE opened additional ports within hours, reducing wait times and increasing response times for non-voice channels.
    Bill Premble message about CXone
  • Quickly adjusted call routing and scripting. With cloud solutions, even though the vendor hosts the software, agencies and other clients are firmly in control of configurations. In this case, Michigan DHHS was able to use NICE CXone's intuitive design studio to quickly change routing rules themselves.
  • Changed IVR message. In times of crisis, it's critical to get information out to residents. Michigan DHHS leveraged their new IVR to provide callers with an informative message at the beginning of the interaction. Not only is this an effective way to extend timely information, but it can also reduce agent-assisted interactions when it answers callers' questions.
  • Leveraged effective self-service. A main goal of the overall initiative was to implement effective self-service A common barrier to providing residents with the best customer service is that agencies are only available during business hours, which isn't always convenient for the people they serve. Self-service enables people to access help 24/7. And in a crisis when call volumes are high, it provides faster resolutions.

Not only did being in the cloud enable the agency to streamline operations and swiftly react to multiple disruptions, they also reported improvements in customer satisfaction. Increasing access and responsiveness through actions such as creating a virtual call center and implementing effective self-service was a win for both the agency and its citizens.

Read the Michigan DHHS case study and learn more about NICE's government solutions

The Michigan DHHS customer story is a great example of how the right cloud contact center software can help government agencies ensure continuity in the face of disruptions. Download the case study, "CXone Cloud Platform Comes Through for Michigan DHHS," to learn more.

And while you're on our website, visit our government and education solutions page to find out how we can help transform your customer service and provide your agency with stronger disaster continuity.