Problems with a voice-and-data telephone system chosen by the Ministry of Social Policy are occurring while the system is still in its implementation phase and hence are not unexpected, the ministry says.
“There have been a range of early implementation issues,” says spokesman Tom Bridgeman. “These are pretty well solved.” The system, supplied by a partnership led by Cisco, is intended to supply 209 offices at the DWI, CYFS and the Ministry of Social Policy itself. The problems were reportedly the subject of recent letters from the Department of Work and Income and Child Youth and Family service to the Ministry of Social Policy, asking for an explanation. But none of the parties will confirm this. CYF and DWI will not comment on the situation at all; they referred all inquiries back to Bridgeman last week. Problems include erroneous entry of telephone numbers into the system's database, leading to staff members getting calls intended for other people. Voice-mail messages “bank up” without being available to the user concerned, then several messages suddenly come through at once, says Bridgeman. Some calls are being cut off. And “in a handful of cases", companies with old PABXs not equipped for the Clear network, which the agencies use, were unable to get through. Individual callers were not affected, Bridgeman says — nor were most companies. The system, worth an estimated $9.4 million, was rolled out around the country from July when initial pilots went in, until early September, when all offices were connected. Some problems could not be detected during the pilot phase because they only manifested once a large number of users were on the system, he says. The system was supplied by Cisco in association with Wellington company Logical Networks. Cisco country manager Tim Hemingway says he is "comfortable" with the progress of the project. "We have another five to 10 days to go to the end of the installation period," he said last week. He had not personally heard of the problems before Computerworld contacted him, he says, but they are the kind of issues that "would happen anyway on any large voice-and-data network. They are matters of user configuration. Right now there are no network-affecting issues. The IP telephony system and the network that underlies it are working fine." Problems such as calls being cut off and voice-mail messages banking up would normally be reported to a helpdesk and resolved there, he says. The Clear access problem does not sound like a problem with the voice-and-data network itself, he says. The customers' equipment seems to be implicated. Companies communicate with many government departments that use the Clear network, and few problems are heard of from them. A Clear spokeswoman says the problem is due to some PABXs not having been programmed to handle numbers beginning with 9 (introduced for the Clear network). "It would be rare, as most PABXs were reprogrammed when those numbers first came into use, or have been reprogrammed as part of their Y2K check. We can easily change any that are having problems."