Creating a future-proofed next generation call centre

The background

Thames Water is the largest waste and water utilities in the UK, providing services to 15 million people across London and the Thames Valley. Looking to enhance its operations and become a customer experience leader, the company is undertaking a wholesale digital transformation, which includes a move from legacy on-premises infrastructure to modern cloud platforms.

NGCC (Next Generation Contact Centre) is a major Thames Water integration programme to increase the scale of their contact centre and improve the user experience for customers and staff. Once finished, the contact centre will have the capability to process over 1500 concurrent calls; triple the current number.

The worry for the existing system was that it was not able to handle the potential concurrent calls experienced during moments of crisis or major incidents. When natural disasters affect Thames Water’s customers – including the UK’s “Beast from the East” winter storms – it can put pressure on the existing call system, risking leaving customers unsupported or unable to be diverted to the correct help systems. Thames Water had also identified an upcoming key billing event in the annual business cycle that was projecting an increase in customer calls. Our client’s focus on customer satisfaction meant that they were determined that the new system should be in place by this event to provide increased customer support and accelerated the delivery schedule to ensure this was the case.

Therefore, the programme had a critical release that required delivery over Christmas 2020 – a 16-week timeframe. There was an internal concern that this deadline was unachievable due to lack of agile maturity and inconsistent quality of skills and experience. As this was in the first stages of the whole digital transformation project there was also a lack of stakeholder buy in and resistance to change. Tecknuovo were brought in to work with the existing suppliers, support the project and help them meet the critical deadline.

Challenges

  • A new platform for the business was needed; technologies such as MuleSoft were new to the client and the plan was to publish APIs directly into the live environment which had never been done before at Thames Water
  • The programme included niche technology integrations such as SAP CPI and MuleSoft which required specialist technical expertise, Thames Water did not have all the right skills or volume of people internally to deliver the full programme
  • We inherited a project plan with ambitious and fixed go-live dates – this required mobilisation of our delivery team within 7 days of contract signature
  • Tecknuovo were brought into the multi-supplier environment several weeks after other teams had already onboarded, so ways of working needed to agreed and aligned
  • The work had to be performed over the festive period and during the COVID-19 national lockdown.

The solution

A team of Tecknuovo consultants with the niche technical skills required rapidly mobilised and onboarded onto the programme within one week of contract signature. The team included a Delivery Lead, MuleSoft Architect, MuleSoft Developers and SAP CPI Developers.

We used our significant experience and expertise in Agile delivery and Azure DevOps to deliver system integration services into the multi-supplier environment, initiating our One Team approach with collaborative working between all Thames Water staff and suppliers and transparent workflows. We agreed on pairings/groupings of people that worked well together and introduced agile ceremonies, best practices such as CICD (Continuous Integration Continuous Delivery) and automation of releases, to bring benefits across the programme.

The team mitigated the challenging timeframe of the initial three APIs: SMS, ID&V, and Interaction Record, by applying a fit-for-purpose DevOps methodology. Our Delivery Lead ran an Agile health check across the full programme before bringing in sprint planning, backlog refinement, user story estimations, and stand-ups. These ways-of-working fit with Thames Water’s desire to be a truly Agile company and ensured an alignment across the blended team.

Our results:

The first three APIs were designed, built, and deployed into the live environment (a first for Thames Water) within eight weeks, over the December festive period, and during a national lockdown. The energy of the team was reflected in their successes; the decision to push to live was conveyed to the team at 19:00 on Friday and the three APIs were successfully deployed by 04:19 the following morning. Publishing into a live environment had never been done before at Thames Water, and allowed the team to meet the tight deadlines.

The Tecknuovo team was the only supplier team to deliver their completed APIs on the scheduled date, and feedback received from internal stakeholders showed the unprecedented nature of the completed work within the “aspirational” timeframe. We were successfully able to support our client’s key business event – internally deemed the most successful event of its type in Thames Water’s history – resulting in an increase in positive feedback. The NGCC project also directly contributed to a 52% reduction in the number of customer complaints being referred to The Consumer Council for Water between March and October 2021.

Since the initial go-live date in February 2021, the NGCC team designed an additional 18 integrations within 10 weeks of requirements being agreed. Pairing up members of the team ensured that the code being created was being continuously checked, reducing the risk of issues. The team also pioneered the use of automated Munit testing in the build itself. These have resulted in almost a 500% increase in efficiency in the output within a similar timeframe to the initial three API builds enabling Thames Water to release further improvements to the NGCC in a faster timeframe.

The future:

To future-proof the work, every one of the 21 integrations built by the Tecknuovo team has been designed to be reusable. Rather than operate a point-to-point model, time was dedicated to the interface design to ensure they fit with the broader strategy of loosely coupling systems which will make them easier and cheaper to change in future.

Thames Water has ambitions to build new services to support its customers further, integrating with WhatsApp, Messenger, and intelligent agents to mean customers can contact them in the way they feel most comfortable with. Tecknuovo’s practice of future-proofing work by building in reusable code means that every one of the 21 integrations built by the Tecknuovo team has been designed to be reusable. This reusability means that the future services can be deployed more quickly in the interest of the customer.