INS rolls out an interactive voice response system

INS rolls out an interactive voice response system

Callers from all over the country dial in to find out about citizenship requirements, green cards, more

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

The Immigration and Naturalization Service's new nationwide toll-free telephone service will route more than 1.5 million calls a year via a networked interactive voice response (IVR) system.

Nancy Radosta, the INS program's manager, called the now-complete rollout a major milestone for the agency. She said callers can learn how to apply for citizenship, green cards or work visas, and can get advice on how to bring family members to the United States.

Sprint Corp. supplies the voice response system under its FTS 2001 contract as an extension of a service piloted in 1998 under the General Services Administration's old FTS 2000 contract.

Going nationwide

This is not INS' first toll-free service nor its first use of IVR to answer and direct calls. But it is the first integrated, national system, and it relieves the agency of buying and owning the equipment.

INS began using an 800-number service in 1996, largely for callers east of the Mississippi. All calls went to a center in Los Angeles. Most callers west of the Mississippi had to dial a local office. Some offices had IVR systems purchased in the late 1980s from Microlog Corp. of Germantown, Md. Callers to offices without IVR sometimes got busy signals or no answer if staff members were unavailable.

'We always planned to go nationwide with a system, but it is only recently that we got the resources,' Radosta said.

The old IVR equipment, which cost $500,000 a year to maintain, was not year 2000-ready. When INS officials compared the cost of contracting for service on an as-used basis against purchasing and maintaining equipment, 'they decided to decommission it all and move into the cloud,' said Larry Richardson, account manager for Sprint's government systems division.

The cost of the service comes under INS' operating budget rather than being a capital expense.

The Sprint system uses Microlog's Intela hardware and software platform, based on standard PC and voice board components running under UnixWare from Santa Cruz Operation Inc. of Santa Cruz, Calif. Multiple interactive applications can run simultaneously from four or more ports.

Sprint's box, located with its FTS 2001 switch in Elkridge, Md., has 1,152 ports.

INS phased in the service by time zone from west to east beginning in December.

Callers to 800-375-5283 hear a prompt with a menu of six selection options in English or Spanish. The options include information about applications already filed, INS office addresses, forms, recent changes in immigration programs and services offered by other agencies. The networked IVR lets a single access point query multiple databases. An INS database lookup based on the caller's ZIP code entry gives an automated response about local services.

The toll-free number receives 25,000 to 40,000 calls a day, and the automated system handles 'about a third of the callers,' Radosta said.

Calls requiring personal assistance go to call centers in Barbourville, Ky., and Woodlawn, Md. Each site has 10 T1 primary-rate interfaces supplied by Sprint.

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