Case Study: Anatomy of a System Upgrade

By Gary Dupont


The MASCO Services Inc. (MSI) contact center is the hub for many medical institutions in the greater Boston area. It triages thousands of medically related calls each day for hospitals and physician practices and provides paging and answering services for hundreds of health care professionals. MSI is also responsible for the activation, inventory, and billing of over 6,000 pagers.

Additionally, the contact center handles area wide communications for emergency situations in the Longwood Medical Area (LMA) of Boston. The LMA is home to numerous medical, academic, and scientific facilities. The MSI contact center is the focal point of the alert system, linking the LMA medical and academic institutions with the Joint Operations Center (JOC) responders. The JOC emergency command center is manned by teams representing the medical and academic institutions within the LMA. The JOC notifies city and state partners such as the Boston Emergency Management Agency and reports the nature and location of an emergency in the LMA.

The Decision

MSI reviewed the Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and operator console/paging gateway systems in place and determined that enhanced functionality would allow them to provide additional services to its customers in a more efficient manner. MSI decided to upgrade the existing Avaya PBX/ACD system. This was completed in February 2004.

The focus then shifted to evaluating operator console/paging gateway/telephone answering service integrated systems. MSI sponsored focus groups comprising of Boston area telecommunication managers whose institutions used various systems. This information was invaluable in drafting a comprehensive RFP. Several excellent vendor proposals were received and reviewed carefully. The decision was made to install the Windows-based Xtend Medical™ system to replace the Xtend DOS products that served MASCO Services and its members so well over the past ten years.

Keys to Success

Detailed planning and preparation for this project was paramount to its success and was necessary to limit downtime. MSI worked closely with the Xtend project team and radio-paging vendors to ensure code paging (medical emergency) would not be impacted.

Educating and soliciting feedback from the MSI staff was also a high priority. Xtend and MSI trainers developed detailed training plans and testing to ensure effective knowledge transfer. Each contact center representative received a minimum of ten hours of one-on-one training. Select accounts were ported over to the new system, which ran in concert with the existing DOS application. “Being able to work on the new platform using select accounts gave service representatives the additional “hands-on” training that was key to maintaining service objectives during the transition period” comments Kelly Nollet, customer care representative and one of the project trainers.

“The [MSI] contact center is one of our vital links to each other and to the outside world,” said Sandra Denekamp, Telecommunications Manager at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center-Boston. “We depend on it to keep this institution functioning smoothly and are grateful for the hard work and dedication that went into this recent upgrade.”

As part of their quality assurance program, MSI contacted its customers prior to the upgrade to communicate timelines and changes on the new system. It also followed up through verbal contact with the majority of its customers to ensure they were satisfied with service and to inform them of new services available.

New Features

On May 24, 2004, the Medicall™ system was placed in service. The upgrade provided new, efficient, and enhanced services for paging, web paging, on-call scheduling, and directory. There is also a robust telephone answering service module; Xtend worked with MSI closely to design the custom solution for its telephone answering service. Xtend technical experts also played a pivotal role assisting the company in the design of its new Local Area Network (LAN).

  • Text messaging to most wireless devices.
  • Web access to create and edit on-call schedules.
  • Ability to send email messages as well as fax messages to customers.

Another key feature of the Xtend system is enhanced “Page Assure.” Page Assure allows MSI to receive an alert if a paging vendor has an outage or paging delay. MSI will now be able to update that vendor’s customers of problems via the web and provide a recorded announcement about the service impairment to touch-tone paging end-users.

According to Roland Blair, who oversees telecommunications for MSI client, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, “Although transparent, as it should be, to end-users such as physicians, nurses, and administrators, the new system has already had a significant positive impact at the institutional level. One gain we will see is the ability to isolate various paging vendors when one is experiencing a service problem,” said Blair.

He also noted that MSI and DFCI [Dana-Farber Cancer Institute] purchase pagers from multiple vendors for back up and redundancy.  In the past, when one vendor’s services were malfunctioning, all end-users were affected and re-routed to the page operator. “With the new system that won’t happen…we are able to segregate the paging vendor having the problem and alert specific end-users of that problem.” The potential also exists, in the near future, for integrating the MSI web paging system with other Boston hospitals that work closely with MSI customers.

The Results

The successful outcome of this project is a testament to the hard work of the project teams and to the extraordinary and laudable performances of the MSI customer care representatives whose enthusiasm and contributions were invaluable. As a testament to this, MSI ended its fiscal year with a service level of 91 percent. This exceeded the service objective of having 90 percent of calls answered within that timeframe.

Gary DuPont is Director of Telecommunications and Customer Care at MASCO (Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, Inc.).

[From the Fall 2004 issue of AnswerStat magazine]