Judge and Jury: Oftel rings the changes but the public is left flat by its reasoning - For a firm which primarily deals in communications, Oftel has done a poor job of conveying its latest phone number changes, says Andreas Vecchiet, director technology p

Once again, there is not enough capacity within the nation’s telephone network to handle the burgeoning demand for voice and data traffic, meaning at least 22 million phone numbers have to change - for the third time in ten years in London.

Once again, there is not enough capacity within the nation’s

telephone network to handle the burgeoning demand for voice and data

traffic, meaning at least 22 million phone numbers have to change - for

the third time in ten years in London.



Numbers in Coventry, Southampton, Portsmouth and Cardiff are also

affected and 21 other urban centres will need to be looked at soon.



The announcement by Oftel was generally greeted with dismay and

anger.



Most publications noted that Oftel had gone ahead with these changes

against strong objections from the Commons Trade and Industry

Committee.



Oftel took cover under the bland rational argument that its ’primary aim

is to ensure there is sufficient capacity on the network’. With a pounds

20 million budget assigned to the job, it should have done better.



Not being strategically minded enough to foresee these capacity

shortfalls early enough is one issue. Inconveniencing 22 million users

across the country, adding costs and impacting upon national

productivity is another.



And doing this for the third time in a decade in one of the world’s most

important capital cities is plain incompetence.



Apart from these issues, Oftel did a poor job of communicating to the

public. No contrition, concern or empathy was expressed for users.



Tempering these negatives, however, was the fact that one important

message got through: that the new numbers would run in parallel with the

old until April 2000.



Oftel also missed a trick by failing to link the change with the more

exciting reasons behind it: the explosive growth in data and internet

traffic and rapid development of the networked society. In the process,

it could have positioned itself as a facilitator and enthusiastic

participant in the process, one which is taking the public’s interests

as paramount.



Announcing change is always a tricky matter and major public

announcements are always challenging.



Understanding the issues, motivations and concerns of the audiences and

developing appropriate messages are part and parcel of the

challenge.



But on this occasion, Oftel’s messages came through as bland and

stark.



The challenge of the announcement was not met well, and potential

benefits to its reputation were not exploited.



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