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Feature Article
July 2004


Distributed IP Enables 2-1-1 Services For the State of Texas

The Challenge

The State of Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has oversight and administration responsibilities for designated Health and Human Services agencies and programs including the Texas Medicaid Program, Children��s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Medicaid waste, fraud, and abuse investigations. The Texas Information and Referral Network (TIRN) has been designated by the Texas Legislature as the Texas Health and Human Services Commission program responsible for the development, coordination, and implementation of a statewide information and referral network.

 

Texas is one of a number of states using the 2-1-1 dialing code assigned by the Federal Communications Commission for access to community-based information and referral services. Callers can find help with housing assistance, maintaining utilities, food, finding counseling, hospice services and services for the aging, substance abuse programs, or dealing with physical or sexual abuse.


Texas wanted to deploy 2-1-1 services statewide, allowing calls to be routed to one of a number of Area Information Centers (AICs.) Serving a population of 21 million residents, information and referral specialists at the AICs assess caller needs and determine the best service providers to refer by using a comprehensive database of resources. This database is maintained at the local AIC level and synchronized at the state level to make the same information available to other AICs who may be called upon to help a 2-1-1 caller. While information and referral services were already being provided within the communities by non-profit agencies, the Texas Information and Referral Network team wanted to make it easier to access services by using 2-1-1, improve the quality of service by certifying providers, and reduce telecommunications costs. In addition, the State wanted to be able to report on the 2-1-1 service at an enterprise level and to reconfigure the AICs quickly to deal with local or regional emergencies.

The Solution
To rapidly implement AICs in cities across Texas without a large capital budget, the TIRN HHSC program required a vendor to provide a managed services solution to route the calls. The managed services required were: the creation of a telecommunications system design; implementation of the system; ongoing operation and maintenance; and, support of the infrastructure for IP-based 2-1-1 services.


The State of Texas, like many state governments, has a volume purchase arrangement for voice and data circuits. This arrangement � known as Tex-AN (Texas Area Network) � provides Texas with very favorable rates for data circuits. By building a �converged� voice and data network (utilizing VoIP technology for voice) for 2-1-1, Texas would be able to create a virtual, consolidated call center that could be reconfigured easily to meet changing conditions, including the ability to respond to calls during emergencies or periods of high-alert status. Texas selected eLoyalty to design, host, and support the ongoing operations of the IP-based call routing infrastructure for the Texas 2-1-1 solution.
 

The solution design was based on IP Contact Center (IPCC) technology from Cisco Systems. Working with Cisco and the state TIRN team, eLoyalty designed and deployed a virtual call center, linking together the AICs. A �converged� IP network was designed and implemented for 2-1-1 call traffic to leverage the state��s existing IP Data Network.
 

A 2-1-1 call traditionally would require an intercept of the 2-1-1 dial code at the local exchange carriers (LECs) and subsequent routing of this call to a hidden 800 number, resulting in 800 number charges or other toll charges. Because HHSC has 25 remote offices (AICs) across Texas, the 2-1-1 call is intercepted and routed to a local seven-digit number that points to the AIC in 80 percent of the cases. In the event the caller is not in the local calling area, the 2-1-1 call is instead directed to a local 800 number (inter-LATA) that points to the closest regional AIC. When the call arrives at the AIC, the 2-1-1 solution performs a look-up on the ANI (Automated Number Identification) to determine the proper AIC to handle the call. With centralized call routing enabled by Cisco IPCC, calls are redirected, using the VoIP network, to the appropriate AIC based on language or skill requirements. In the absence of these factors, calls are routed based on the originating ANI and time of day.
 

Call flows can be reconfigured easily to meet changing conditions, such as times of emergency. In addition, enterprise-level reporting provides HHSC with visibility to AIC performance and assures that Federal and State funding is achieving the desired results. AIC-level reporting provides each AIC manager with more management metrics than ever before.
 

The Results
Administrators for the Texas HHSC realized that information and referral services would not be effective unless all AICs had local presence in the community and people in the region were aware of the available services. Having a local presence in each community would have come at a substantial cost without the benefit of Distributed IP Contact Center technology. The benefits of economies of scale � consolidated telecom facilities, a flatter management structure, better utilization of call center personnel and larger, yet more economical facilities � gained by consolidating call centers would not be available to organizations with these �local presence� requirements without converged IP networking.
For the State of Texas, significant community and state government financial benefits will result now that the solution has been deployed. The social service providers working in the AICs already report high satisfaction with the ease of access 2-1-1 enables.


Other benefits identified include:
� System-wide common features not available in segregated PBX environments.
� Standard features at each AIC regardless of the call center size.
� Savings from shifting toll calls to local calls.
� Ability to provide immediate alerts to a community in times of disaster or emergency.


AICs that operate 24 hours a day handle after-hours calls for those that do not. In addition, calls can be overflowed or redirected to other AICs in times of extraordinarily high call volume. Because the calls stay within the state�s 2-1-1 network, telecommunication costs are fixed, predictable and dramatically lower than they would be over the Public Switched Telephone Network. With the first 14 AICs deployed, the system is working as designed and economic benefits are accumulating.


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