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Listening

Canadian solution provider teams with Nortel Networks to help America's deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech impaired

A Montreal call management service provider is helping California improve the lives of its deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired citizens.Nordia Inc., a joint venture between Excell Contact Centre and Bell Canada, has built an IP-based contact centre allowing these people to communicate with others either by telephone or the Internet.
Nordia has been servicing the deaf community in Canada for six years. It was this expertise that landed it a contract with the state of California.
“In the U.S., the service (to the disabled) is provided state by state, unlike Canada, which is regulated by the CRTC,” explained Pierre Grimard, Nordia’s vice-president of information technology.
“The traditional offering was by Sprint, AT&T, MCI and other legacy telephone companies. California wanted to improve the services by introducing competition.”
In the past, the service was limited to just voice support or teletypewriter (TTY), but the U.S. has introduced IP to help the speech-disabled community. “This does not exist in Canada,” he said.
The Nordia solution is called Multimedia Relay Centre, or MMRC.
When an impaired person wants to telephone someone, a session is initiated by computer. His or her typed comments are read by a Nordia call centre staffer to the person recieving the call. The staffer then types replies back to the caller.
Through a Webcam link, the call centre can also relay conversations in sign language.

Built from scratch
MMRC was built using Nortel Symposium and Papi products. “When we were awarded the California contract we found that the platform we were using in Canada was not able to handle those calls,” said Grimard. “We looked for a different system and did not find any on the market matching the requirements. So we developed something new from scratch,” he said.
The solution took more than a year to develop and three months to deploy.
Besides Nortel, Nordia partnered with Ottawa-based Circumference Technology Services, which integrated the Nortel components; Bell Canada, which provided special assembly to handle cross-border calls; and Concepts2I of Montreal designed the graphical user interface and the online part of the solution, called www.myrelay.com.
MMRC’s interface enables agents answering calls to better prioritize each call, Grimard said.
Nordia has 190 agents in Montreal handling calls in English or Spanish for the state.
“The two-party call must be transparent. The agent reads the ones that are typed and talks to the other person and tries to make it seamless — like a normal conversation,” Grimard said.
Nordia has to ensure confidentiality and cannot retain any data from the calls.
Its solution helped cut down the time needed to handle calls from 10 to 3.3 seconds.
Nordia’s agents also service the deaf and hard-of-hearing for Go America’s IP relay service.
“For us to get into this market and compete with Sprint and MCI, we invested millions,” Grimard said. The length of the California contract is three-years and Nordia earns eight to 10 per cent margin off the volume of calls it handles.
The solution will be more lucrative for Nordia as more companies contract to use it.