Supporting a State Government During a Hybrid Work Transition


Governmental organizations provide vital services that impact millions of lives. With so many people depending on these services, government agencies can’t afford to skip a beat, no matter what’s happening in the world. But as we have seen over the last couple of years, many governments are behind the times with technology, which can negatively impact how they serve their citizens—perhaps when citizens need their government most.

Lumen is a multinational technology company that helps our clients move their business forward at the speed of light. Our customers range from mom-and-pop shops to state entities. For the latter customer set, we approach our partnerships with a unique perspective, since many of us have worked for governmental organizations. It means Lumen understands the needs and capabilities of state organizations like few others do.

In 2012, my Senior Lead Engineer, Paul Schneider, and I started working with a state government client that needed to update antiquated routers, switches, and telephones at 125 different agencies within their executive branch. With Lumen’s expertise and Cisco products, we introduced more Meraki access points, the Cisco Network Convergence System for routing, Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) for zero-trust security, and Cisco Unified Communications Manager for unified voice communications. Together, these solutions made way for the state to use laptops and become less desktop reliant. Leveraging laptops was the first step the client made to foster a degree of location flexibility, integral to today’s hybrid work movement, though at this point it was still within the office. 

Leveraging laptops was the first step the client made to foster a degree of location flexibility, integral to today's hybrid work movement.

The relationship between Lumen and the state grew over the first five years. In 2017, they started leveraging our managed services capabilities to offload the management of some of their IT services. Previously, every agency in the state managed these services on their own, which created a complicated management experience. We centrally managed common services like software version management; help desk support; preventative maintenance for voice, network, and contact center; firewall and core security; and data center equipment. We monitored the network—all the routers, and switches—24/7, so that their IT providers could focus on more prevalent projects.

Managing the state government’s IT services helped us foster a true partnership with them, steeped in trust and understanding, to go beyond a traditional vendor-client relationship. This foundation was exceptionally important when, in 2020, the “Covid Era” emerged, changing everyone’s perspective on business, creating a new set of needs, and leaving the state government in desperate need of a partner they could trust and a solution that could help them adapt.  

Quickly Adapting Call Centers to Enable Remote Work

The state’s agencies use 117 different call centers to manage everything from the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to protective services, to unemployment benefits—critical services that the community depends on. Connecting citizens with such pivotal services, the call centers can't afford any gaps in service continuity or unrealistic wait times. But in the spring of 2020, the state’s unemployment call center went from receiving a couple hundred calls an hour to 2,000 calls an hour—a 900% increase in call volume. At the same time, fewer call center employees were coming into the central office due to the looming pandemic. And because the agency was still heavily dependent on hard phones in a central office, the agency employees couldn’t just easily start working from home to try to make a dent in the call volume. In March 2020, we saw a total call volume of more than a million calls with an average wait time of over 1 hour, and that jumped to more than 3.4 million calls in April 2020 with an average wait time of over 2 hours. Every minute that the wait time increased was negatively impacting constituents and degrading the community’s faith in their local government. Pressure was mounting to get call centers up and running remotely to address the increasing wait times.  

To get their call center up and running quickly and ensure operability, we recommended creating Cisco Jabber seats for hundreds of call center agents. We didn't want to implement hard phones for the number of call center employees needing to take calls remotely, and Cisco Jabber was easy to set up and administer for a large number of users, especially since we were already a Cisco UCCE shop. 

We created almost 700 Jabber seats, supporting an equal amount of call center employees and in some cases sent routers to call center agents’ homes for better performance.  By Oct 2020, we still had a high volume of calls—more than a million—by constituents trying to leverage the state's unemployment benefits, but despite the high call load and staffing concerns, we kept wait times to the initial average of one hour by moving remote. The Cisco Jabber solution kept the administration of constituent accounts manageable for our call center engineers and proved easy to roll out and manage.

With a hybrid setup, state agencies are modernizing with the times and preparing to enable work from anywhere.

Beyond ensuring continuity of their call centers, there’s another benefit to hybrid work: employee happiness. Now, agents who are enabled to work remotely don’t have to deal with traffic or commuting. They retain productivity within the comforts of their own home. And the state benefits from consolidating space and shifting to a shared-office approach, where employees come into the office maybe once or twice a week, saving on rent downtown. Many organizations have adopted such a hybrid setup, and now these state agencies are modernizing with the times and becoming more prepared to enable work from anywhere.

How Our Partnership with Cisco Enabled the State Government’s Success

Throughout this necessary transition to remote work, we wanted to ensure we were connected with broader industry trends and the latest Cisco technology to provide the most value to our client. And so, we began leveraging more Cisco CX offerings, including Business Critical Services  (BCS). With BCS, Cisco helped us show up as the right partner to help the state through their transition to update their technology and enable remote work. Some of this technology was new to our team, so working with BCS helped us stay ahead of the curve. BCS provided us the support to independently ensure our recommendations for the state government were going to be the best course of action given the expansive Cisco portfolio, time constraints, and supply chain challenges. 

Let’s not skip over the supply chain challenges. As this project got underway, we encountered the same supply chain issues and chip shortages as everyone else. We saw lead times for routers and switches jump from 45 days to 100 days to even 200 days. The state government was frustrated that the technology they needed to serve their constituents was going to take longer than expected to put in place. We were frustrated that we couldn’t implement the solutions we knew would help them immediately. The Cisco team was frustrated that they, awaiting key product components, couldn’t supply the products we needed to help our customer. 

Because of our longstanding relationship with Cisco and our extensive use of their solutions, Paul and the rest of my engineers are on technical and business calls with Cisco every week. Cisco understands the direction we’re moving with this state client—they understand the vision and the engineering standards. We couldn’t magically snap our fingers and make the supply chain challenges go away, but working with the Cisco team, we determined the best way to order in bulk and ship in sets to try to get the products into the hands of the state government faster. While there were still inevitable delays, and inevitable frustrations, our close partnership with Cisco allowed us and the state government to maintain forward momentum and keep the constituents top of mind. We are especially grateful for the relationship we have with Cisco in moments like this, when time and quality of product were of the essence. 

Our close partnership with Cisco allowed us and the state government to maintain forward momentum and keep the constituents top of mind.

Where once they fell behind, this state government is now in front. In the short run, our engagement helped the state continue to operate during a particularly precarious time without missing a beat. In the long run, our client is now set up for the next seven to eight years. From better bandwidth to hybrid work capabilities, this state agency is now future-enabled and ready to continue to serve its citizens.  

Explore Hybrid Work for Government at Cisco.