For discussion
on 27 March 1998


Government Secretariat : Offices of the Chief Secretary for Administration and the Financial Secretary
New Subhead "Pilot implementation of two intelligent call centres"

    Members are invited to approve a new commitment of $19,892,000 for implementing intelligent call centres on a pilot basis in the Water Supplies Department and the Labour Department.


We need to improve the Government telephone enquiry service to better serve the community. set up an intelligent call centre each in the Water Supplies Department (WSD) and the Labour Department (LD).


2. The Head, Efficiency Unit (EU), with the support of the Director of Administration, proposes to create a new commitment of $19,892,000 for implementing a pilot project to set up an intelligent call centre each in the Water Supplies Department (WSD) and the Labour Department (LD).$10,000,000 by $9,892,000 to $19,892,000.


3. Telephone is a very popular communication means because it is widely available, inexpensive, easy to use and above all, convenient. It can save customers the trouble of having to visit Government offices for enquiries. Effective handling of telephone enquiries thus plays a very effective part in delivering good customer service.

Existing Telephone Enquiry Services

4. At present, there are over 900 telephone enquiry numbers in Government. Of these numbers, some 92% are attended by staff and the remaining 8% are supported by interactive voice response systems (IVRS) which deal with the more straightforward enquiries. Out of the total 900 numbers, only a few are equipped with simple network routing and automated call processing functions.

5. This traditional approach to handling telephone enquiries is ineffective and has been a subject of complaint by members of the public. We therefore plan to implement an integrated programme to improve Government's telephone enquiry services and have been looking at the best practice elsewhere. Besides taking short and medium term improvement measures, we are exploring the feasibility of achieving the long term objective of implementing a one-number telephone system which would enable members of the public to transact a whole range of business with Government through a single telephone call. As a first step towards this goal, we would like to try out in selected departments the concept of an intelligent call centre which has been extensively applied in the private sector locally and in both the private and public sectors overseas.

Intelligent Call Centre

6. The key feature of an intelligent call centre is the integration of computer and telephone technology to facilitate the provision of a more effective and efficient telephone enquiry service. Using this approach, we shall be able to deliver a better service by -

  1. giving call centre operators better equipment and ready access to database information;

  2. providing real time supervision and performance monitoring to the operators;

  3. improving call queuing system; and

  4. extracting reliable information for resource planning and management.

We set out at the Enclosure a comparison of the services and functions between an intelligent call centre and a traditional call centre.

Pilot Project

7. We have selected WSD and LD as pilot departments to try out the intelligent call centre approach. The former provides a service very similar to that of utility companies which have set up very sophisticated call centres to better serve their customers, while the latter is a more typical Government department providing services to members of the public. The present situation of these two departments in attending to telephone enquiries is as follows -

  1. Water Supplies Department - There are presently four units in WSD responsible for telephone enquiry services, namely, two Technical Complaints Centres, a Telephone Enquiry Unit and an IVRS - the Water Infolink. In addition, staff in the Headquarters, regional offices and sub-depots also respond to telephone enquiries. In 1997, the average call demand of the department was 6 500 calls per day. Most of the operational statistics are recorded manually and automatic call management facilities are not available in some of the telephone systems.

  2. Labour Department - Since 1993, the General Enquiry Telephone Service (GETS) of LD has adopted IVRS to provide pre-recorded messages on labour legislation and on the work of the department in general. The IVRS handles simple enquiries on a 24-hour basis while the operators answer those more complicated calls during office hours. In 1997, the average call demand of the GETS was 8 700 calls per day. Due to the complicated features and frequent amendment of labour legislation, and callers' expectation of a direct response to their specific enquiries and personal circumstances, the demand on operators' service was very large. In 1997, about 45% of the total calls requested for operators' service. Although the department has made piecemeal improvements to the GETS over the years, the existing system has failed to cope with the increasing demand on enquiry services due to the outdated technology and limited capacity of the IVRS. The lack of management information system and real time monitoring system has also posed problems to the department in providing an efficient and quality enquiry service.

8. A feasibility study conducted in early 1997 concluded that piecemeal enhancement of existing equipment in WSD and LD will not bring about the substantial service improvements required. We have commissioned the Management Services Agency to conduct a business process review of the telephone enquiry services in the two departments and to implement the intelligent call centres in these departments to improve their services. We would consider rolling out this approach to other service areas within Government in the light of experience gained in the pilot project.

9. To provide a more effective and efficient service, the proposed intelligent call centres in WSD and LD will each comprise an advanced IVRS, an automatic call distribution system, a computer telephony integration server, a database server and other supporting hardware and software. Each intelligent call centre will have sophisticated functions to address the inadequacies of existing systems. These include call queuing, screen pop-up for customer profile/information, synchronised voice and screen transfer, voice logging, silent monitoring, call management information as well as access to various information systems.

Benefits of the Intelligent Call Centres

10. We anticipate that implementation of intelligent call centres in WSD and LD will enhance their customer service and bring about higher operational efficiency as follows -

    Enhanced customer service

  1. The intelligent call centre will provide the public with a more convenient and easier access to the departments. In the case of WSD, integration of the existing telephone systems (involving eight published numbers) will result in one telephone number for all enquiries and fault complaints. As regards LD, the increase in capacity of the new system (from 58 telephone lines to about 120) will provide easier access to the GETS.

  2. The new call centres will provide a more efficient service to the callers as illustrated by the following expected response time -



    Success rate of measurable call connection







    Success rate of connection to the operators







    Average waiting time for connection to the operators



    54 seconds

    112 seconds

    15 seconds

    81 seconds

  3. The installation of advanced and user-friendly systems in the new call centres will enable the operators to have quick access to various computerised departmental information systems for answering enquiries. This will facilitate the provision of accurate and consistent information to the callers.

    Higher operational efficiency

  1. As the new IVRS in both departments would provide the callers with more user-friendly navigation and a wider range of options and easier selection, the systems could effectively handle all enquiries of a simple nature. Hence, there will be a reduction in the number of existing calls requiring operators' service. The new system will also shorten the operators' average processing time from 4 to 3.4 minutes for WSD and from 3.5 to 3.3 minutes in the case of LD. Overall, these will lead to a shortened waiting time for the callers and a higher rate of connections to the operators.

  2. Apart from ensuring the prompt updating and retrieval of information from the database, the computerised information systems of the new call centres will also automate the processing of referral cases and enhance the communication between the call centres and other relevant divisions of the departments.

  3. As a result of the business process review, we have made recommendations to streamline the existing systems and procedures in both departments. This would bring forth improvements in terms of services to the customers and higher operational efficiency.


Non-recurrent Expenditure

11. After completion of the business process review mentioned in paragraph 8 above, we have determined the user requirements of WSD and LD, particularly in respect of the call centre facilities, work flow and information systems. We have also obtained information from suppliers in the market on possible turnkey options with cost implications to meet the requirements of the two departments. Based on the above information, Head, EU estimates that a commitment of $19,892,000 will be required for implementation of the projectwill incur a non-recurrent expenditure of $19,892,000, broken down as follows -








Telephony system





Information systems





Computer telephony integration system





Implementation and installation





Training services













12. As regards paragraph 11(a), the cost of $6,400,000 is for the acquisition of telephony equipment such as PABX and telephone sets, wall boards, IVRS and voice logging systems for the two intelligent call centres.

13. As regards paragraph 11(b), of the total cost of $7,500,000, $5,900,000 is for the provision of personal computers, peripherals, networking and software for as well as system customisation/development of the information systems required for the two call centres. The remaining $1,600,000 is for enhancement of the existing Water Billing and Information System in WSD to enable it to interface with the intelligent call centre.

14. As regards paragraph 11(c), the cost of $2,400,000 is for the acquisition of hardware and software for the computer telephony integration systems. These systems are necessary for integrating the functions of the telephony systems and information systems in the two call centres, thus enabling each operator to access call management data and various information systems using a single workstation.

15. As regards paragraph 11(d), the cost of $2,445,000 is for the implementation and installation services for the two intelligent call centres. These include overall design of the new systems, laying of data network and telecommunication cables, installation and integration of the hardware and software as well as full documentation for the new systems. We estimate the requirement at 15% of the cost items set out in paragraph 11(a) to (c) on the basis of the normal charging rate in the market.

16. As regards paragraph 11(e), the cost of $200,000 is for staff training on system operation, administration, maintenance and fault diagnostic skill for the two intelligent call centres.

17. As regards paragraph 11(f), the cost of $947,000 represents a 5% contingency on the cost items set out in paragraph 11(a) to (e).

Recurrent Expenditure

18. Both WSD and LD will redeploy existing staff to man the proposed intelligent call centres. Nevertheless, the project will entail additional annually recurrent expenditure of $1.55 million for WSD and $1 million for LD on system maintenance and telephone line rental.

Implementation Plan

19. The Head, EU plans to implement the pilot project according to the following schedule -


Target completion date

Tender invitation

June 1998

Tender processing

August 1998

Award of contract

September 1998

System development and delivery of equipment

December 1998

Installation, testing, training and commissioning

February 1999

System live run

March 1999

Post implementation review

August 1999

20. Accordingly, we expect to spend the total project sum within 1998-99.


Efficiency Unit, Offices of the Chief Secretary
for Administration and the Financial Secretary
March 1998

Enclosure to FCR(97-98)110

Comparing an Intelligent Call Centre
and an existing Call Centre

An intelligent call centre

An existing call centre

• multi-site support and management

• single site management

• integration between host computer and switch functions

• no integration between host computer database and switch

• intelligent network information, control access and updating by centralised call centre management

• no intelligence or control over network

• call centre facilities including voice processing, enhanced management information system (MIS) reports and network interface

• automatic call distribution (ACD) facilities limited to simple call management functions and reports

• automated call processing and messaging options given to callers in queue

• limited options given to callers in queue

• flexibility for dynamically and selectively routing call traffic over the network

• limited flexibility for redistributing call handling activities

• selective and efficient use of agent responsibilities during any stage of a call

• cannot achieve such efficiency

• sophisticated call centre forecasting and scheduling software based on historical data

• unsophisticated ACD MIS reports on traffic and agent activity

• effective staff supervision by silent monitoring and voice logging

• no silent monitoring and voice logging functions

• display of real time call management and queuing information to call centre staff

• limited information to call centre staff