Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service is resposible for protecting life and property in one of the most rugged, remote and sparsely-poulated areas of the UK.
To overcome the many practical, operational and emergency challenges faced on a daily basis, the Service has become a Centre of Excellence in its adoption and use of new technology.
One of the first in UK to use hi-tech Virtual Reality simulators to train its firefighters, the Service is now a national leader in its use of latest Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) technology. With the help of a Tri-Line call logger, the IT and telecoms expertise, management oversight, cost auditing process and human resource skills - and associated benefits - gained by the use of new CTI technology demonstrate a direct application to Best Value performance and establish the Service as a Centre Of Excellence in Communication Management.
Facing some of the most challenging risks and operational hurdles in the whole of UK, MAWWF&R; is responsible for an area covering 4,500 square miles - two thirds the entire Principality of Wales. Daily risks including petro-chemical industries in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire and Briton Ferry, Neath, heavily populated conurbations such as Swansea, Port Talbot and Llanelli. Other risk challenges include farming, light industries, extensive coastline and inland waterways. Six County Commands in Carmarthenshire; Ceredigion; City and County of Swansea; Neath and Port Talbot; Pembrokeshire and Powys are controlled by Central HQ in Carmarthen and the Fire Safety HQ at Morriston, Swansea.
With 57 fulltime, day crewed, retained and volunteer fire stations, the Service has 1,400 operational and support staff. "We have a huge land mass to cover. It can take two hours to reach some remote locations. High quality communication is vital and the managing of resources equally so," says Gareth Preece, Systems Support Co-ordinator at Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service.
Each year, the Service handles 125,000 local calls and around 160,000 national calls - not including daily 999 calls. In addition, the Service makes around 65,000 annual calls to mobiles. BT provides telecoms services and Virtual Private Network to the main HQs at Carmarthen and Swansea, with other locations linked by VoIP.
"Historically, we used an old-fashioned call logger that printed out reams of paper reports that were ignored because no use could be made of the info. It would take one person a whole day's work just to audit a half-day's phone use. The Service was not getting the information it needed to most effectively manage its telephony use and associated costs".
"The use of fixed-line and mobile phones is critical to our operation. The Fire Service is mobilised by telephone," says Gareth. "We must be 100% confident of service quality at all times when it comes to telecommunications and any application or process that comes into contact with our network".
The Service wanted to be able to log, report, analyse and manage telephone usage in and out of its Carmarthen HQ. "We needed to identify spurious calls, seek out un-authorised phone use and find un-used phone extensions. We wanted to be able to track calls as they moved through the organisation and be able to report on traffic through individual departments and extensions".
"We wanted to log and analyse hard costs associated with telephone use across the Service and its many departments in order to reduce expenditure and better manage available resources".
The Service joined a consortium of local authorities to purchase cheaper bulk phone minutes from alternative providers. "To do this we needed to conduct a comprehensive audit of our telephone usage. Only a call logger can do this".
The demands of the Fire Service are such that the call logger had to be rugged, proven, powerful and reliable. "The product provides an important function that supports an even more vital process - emergency response," says Gareth. "The technology we use must be ultra-reliable and fit for purpose, so we are cautious and undertake rigorous investigation before adopting something new".
The Service compared many CTI products before choosing the Tri-Line call logger. "We first read about the TIM product in a magazine article and upon further investigation found it offered the best features, functions and value for our needs. We wanted a demonstration - no problem - and the resulting 14-day free trial was absolutely brilliant. As soon as we started running the trial we knew the product was exactly what we needed".
"Installing the Tri-Line call logger was very easy and user-friendly, simply download the software to a PC or server, generate a licence, configure with your telecoms switch - and you're up and running. It could not have been quicker or easier," says Gareth.
"From download to live operation, the process was seamless and we began to get first results and reports within an hour of installation. It was very easy to configure and set up the product for our individual requirements, navigation is very easy and intuitive and the many detailed reports available are easy to configure and produce".
For the first time, the Service gained complete oversight and control of its telephony use. "The call logger does everything we originally wanted it to - and much more. Each day after we started using it we discovered something new it could help us with. Very soon we were customising the call logger for the specific requirement of key departments such as finance".
Use of the Tri-Line call logger delivered an early, unplanned benefit. "We can use it to monitor and 'substantiate' our call response times, a key Service Charter Mark, and provide a visible performance indicator".
Soon after installation, the Service underwent an extended period of construction work and office re-location. "Whole departments were moved around and telephone extensions had to move with them. It would have been chaos without the call logger. The system is very flexible and it was easy to re-configure the system so we did not 'lose' any phone extensions".
"In terms of daily use, once you've set up your required groups, etc, and associated extensions then begun to generate your chosen reports, it's a voyage of discovery as you learn about the many practical functions and how to apply them to your individual needs. To date, we have found nothing that the Tri-Line call logger cannot do. Importantly, it's very easy to use which means information can be accessed quickly and clearly".
"The level and quality of support from Tri-Line is excellent. Whenever we have had a question or technical issue to address, their response has always been fast, helpful and very knowledgeable. The product has never 'gone wrong' or failed. Our technical questions are generally configuration issues, or setting up a customised function. We're very happy with the level of support we have received to date".
Driven by it's own web server, the call logger is very easy and intuitive to use and requires no formal training. "You can access and start using the system very quickly. The web browser makes navigation quick, easy and familiar. Integration is seamless to the extent whereby there are no 'change management' or cultural issues to address".
It starts with a product that is easy to download, install and configure and is very quick to get running and start producing results, says Gareth. "When it comes to IT installations, the Tri-Line product is seamless and problem-free".
"The call logger delivers Service-wide oversight and control, giving us key information needed for strategic management, while allowing us to drill down to any number of individual phone or mobile extensions to micro-manage our organisation".
Use of the Tri-Line call logger - and many benefits gained - demonstrates the Service's commitment to innovation through the use of new CTI technology as a modern, forward-looking organisation.
The detailed reports generated by the Tri-Line call logger enable the Service to effectively monitor and manage communications and human resources to deliver Best Value in its daily operations.
The Service can now accurately log, report and analyse call traffic and telephone usage across the entire organisation, by department and by individual extension.
Use of the call logger enables the Service to identify, monitor and manage telephone costs such as call minutes, line rental, fax, modem and other use.
The reports and call traffic analysis allow the Service to directly account for and justify telephone costs as part of overall funding for the fire service when it comes to annual budget. The IT and telecoms expertise, management oversight, cost auditing process and human resource skills - and associated benefits - gained by the use of this new C.T.I. technology demonstrate a direct application to Best Value performance and establish the Service as a Centre Of Excellence in Communication Management.
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue aims to roll out a Service-wide IP network over time, linking all 57 stations to the Carmarthen and Swansea HQs. Oversight and control of telecoms use will remain a core requirement in coming years.
Says Gareth: "We shall take things one step at a time to ensure the highest quality, best value service. Whatever the future may bring, we are confident that the Tri-Line call logger has enough headroom to provide for our on-going needs".