AT&T dials right number with Mercury, West Corp.

Registry details

Project: National Do Not Call Registry

Agency: Federal Trade Commission

Partners:

  • AT&T Corp., Bedminster, N.J.
  • Mercury Interactive Corp., Sunnyvale, Calif.
  • West Corp., Omaha, Neb.


Goal:

The Federal Trade Commission needed to compile and maintain a list of citizens who did not want to receive calls from telemarketers. It wanted a contractor to set up and run a registry that citizens could access easily. The system also would provide a way for telemarketers to get lists of the phone numbers they are prohibited from calling.

Obstacle:

The registry was expected to receive a heavy influx of users through both the Web and toll-free telephone numbers.

Solution:

West Corp., which specializes in volume call-center services, provided a solution that could take calls from all around the country and funnel the information received into AT&T's databases. Mercury Interactive provided a detailed analysis of how well AT&T's system would withstand a heavy influx of users.

Payoff:

AT&T has successfully registered 41 million people and, as of Sept. 2, has started making the registered names available to companies and law enforcement agencies.

Rich Callahan, AT&T government solutions

Although AT&T Corp. expected heavy traffic on the do-not-call registry it deployed for the Federal Trade Commission, the company was still surprised by the registry's instant popularity.

On June 27, the day the service became available to the public, it received more than 635,000 registrations by 2:30 p.m. and was averaging 60,000 transactions per hour.

"It was an overwhelming response," said Richard Callahan, client business manager for AT&T's government solutions unit, which oversaw the project.

The wave of users slowed down the system, a problem AT&T fixed within hours by adding additional servers, Callahan said.

For a contract that was awarded just four months before, AT&T saw the center as a success story, one that it hopes to replicate elsewhere in the government.

"It was truly a systems integration task. We had most of the pieces in-house," Callahan said.

For those elements the company did not have internally, AT&T of Bedminster, N.J., turned to suppliers that specialized in handling high volumes of users. West Corp., Omaha, Neb., provides the automated voice response system for phone calls. Mercury Interactive Corp., Sunnyvale, Calif., tested the system that AT&T assembled.

Responding to legislation, FTC awarded a contract to run a repository of names of citizens who do not want to be contacted by telemarketers. Under the plan, the contractor would set up a database of names, along with a Web site and toll-free phone number for people to add their names to the list.

In addition, the contractor would provide an interface for telemarketing companies to get the list of numbers not to call, and for law enforcement agencies that would need to access the list so they could pursue offenders.

In February, FTC awarded the job to AT&T in a contract with a ceiling of $3.5 million. AT&T would bill FTC for completed consumer transactions and a monthly fee based on the number of telemarketing companies and law enforcement agencies that used the system. It was in AT&T's best interest to keep the system running as efficiently as possible.

For the interactive voice response portion of the system, AT&T looked for a service that could accommodate a vast number of concurrent callers. Another division of AT&T offered that service, but it couldn't scale to the upper limits required by this registry, Callahan said. So the company outsourced to West.

"It has been an outstanding service," Callahan said. For the FTC repository, West provides a distributed service, using five West call centers spread around the country. West collects the numbers and transfers them to the AT&T database, located in the company's Ashburn, Va., facilities.

West had impressed AT&T with its scalability. In 2002, West provided the dial-in service for the Fox Entertainment Group Inc.'s television show "American Idol," in which viewers voted by phone for their favorite contestant.

According to the business directory Hoover's Inc., Austin, Texas, West is a major player in the field of outsourced teleservices. It competes with companies such as Convergys Corp., Sitel Corp. and TeleTech Holdings Inc. For 2002, West reported revenue of $820 million. The company focuses on vertical markets in financial services, telecommunications and the health care.

Before going live, AT&T wanted to test the system to assure it could handle peak loads. For this service, the company turned to Mercury Interactive, which specializes in network stress testing for both interactive voice systems and Web sites.

The company "can simulate tens of thousands of users simultaneously accessing the system," Callahan said. "You want to anticipate a real-world environment as best you can, so you don't have to do changes on the fly."

In addition to AT&T, Mercury Interactive provides its ProTune Delivery Service to other government systems integrators, including Accenture Ltd., BearingPoint Inc., Deloitte & Touche LLP, Electronic Data Systems Corp. and IBM Corp., said Robin Meyerhoff, a company spokeswoman.

The company also uses two resellers for the General Services Administration schedule, GTSI Corp., Chantilly, Va., and Spectrum Systems Inc., Fairfax, Va. The company has a 15-person sales office in Landover, Md. For 2002, the company reported $400 million of revenue, up from $361 million for 2001.

Mercury "met all of our requirements and in many cases exceeded them," Callahan said.

As of press time, more than 41 million people had signed up for the FTC service. For AT&T's government services unit, the National Do Not Call Registry provides a gateway to similar types of converged voice and data repository work.

"There are many possible uses this type of integration could serve," Callahan said.

Especially since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, various agencies have been considering building company registries for specific industries, such as the chemical or food-service industry. Having a national registry can help government quickly identify relevant industry players in times of national emergency.

"We have a quicker way to offer these services," Callahan said. *

If you have an innovative solution that you recently installed in a government agency, contact Staff Writer Joab Jackson at jjackson@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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