Behind the scenes at BBC Children in Need

Peter Andre, Pudsey and Steve Smith project & planning lead for BT Data Centre Estate

Behind the scenes at BBC Children in Need

Fundraising | Vibeka Mair | 26 Nov 2010

For the past 30 years BT has supported BBC Children in Need, since their very first telethon in 1980, Vibeka Mair went behind the scenes to look at what happens on the night.

At the peak of the 37-floor BT Tower hundreds of BT workers gather to take part in the annual BBC Children in Need telethon.

For many it’s a yearly ritual, and competition between BT staff for a place on the night is fierce, volunteers tell me.

Celebs pop along to take calls too. This year Peter Andre and some stars from Eastenders and Coronation Street mucked in with the volunteers on the night.

As well as BT volunteers, the whole technical operation is carefully co-ordinated by BT employees. I talked to two on the night about the process:

Peter Coles, voice product manager at BT agilemedia is responsible for analysing all of the calls as they come through on the night.

He says his most important role is to try and ensure there is an even flow of calls through the night: “Sometimes 80 per cent of agents don’t do anything,” he said, “And then there is a massive spike if we have an appeal video.”

“I am always trying to work out how to flatten out these spikes. We try to keep the number on screen, for example, or keep announcing it.”

Coles says he tries to ensure that each call is answered within 5 rings.

“Tonight 50 BT engineers are working on the network as it’s important to make sure that all calls get through.”

This year’s appeal saw a total of 51 call centres participating with over 3,400 lines plus 4,600 additional IVR lines (automated lines to capture donations when live operators cannot meet call demand).

Alongside phone donations, since 2002 BT and BBC have raised funds online for Children in Need.

Steve Smith, project & planning lead for BT Data Centre Estate analyses all of the donations that are made online through eDonate system on the night of BBC’s Children in Need.

The eDonate system collects donations online and all participating BT call centres and volunteers at these sites input donations directly using the eDonate platform, which can handle 500 transactions a second and 28,000 people simultaneously inputting.

Before, when volunteers were taking donations on paper forms, they had to be stored securely at call centres on the night, collected by Securicor, then electronically scanned. Now donations are processed immediately.

Smith’s (pictured) role on the night is to monitor the web servers and databases. And check for hackers into the system.

Telethons provide huge impact for campaigns

BT uses platform across all telethons it supports, says Smith:

“When we had a telethon for the 2004 Tsunami £47.6m was raised through BT and the system.”

Both Smith and Coles think the web will eventually overtake phones in donations.

“It will evolve,” says Cole, “In the old days we had different numbers for each region, now we have one number. It’s a more intelligent network.

“Nowadays, people are on their laptop or smartphone when watching TV. At the moment there are more phone calls than web interest but over time that will definitely change.”




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