As the pace of the Modernising Government agenda increases, support for electronic service delivery is becoming an increasingly essential pre-requisite of most ICT strategies. e-Government is forcing a radical re-evaluation of the role played by websites, Intranets and customer service teams. Many local authorities are already using the Internet imaginatively to provide community information services with limited degrees of end user interaction. Others have developed or are re-designing existing customer service capabilities around call or contact centres. The advent of regional portals, wireless handheld computers and interactive digital television simply serves to increase the range of service delivery options available.
The architectural approach
A common approach is required that facilitates both self service and assisted methods of service delivery and allows all interactions to be managed in accordance with a common set of standards, service definitions and enquiry handling procedures. This pre-supposes the existence of core functionality including:
The role of CRM
To many resource constrained authorities the notion of a CRM solution appears to provide a veritable ‘silver bullet’ that solves most, if not all, of their e-Government requirements. The prospect of addressing integration, information management and accessibility concerns with a single procurement has an understandable appeal. Potential adopters of such CRM centred e-Government strategies should, however, take careful note of the increasing backlash against such an approach that is currently occurring in other vertical markets. This seems to focus on the very real but often under-emphasised distinction between CRM (the technical solution) and CRM (the customer service ideal).
Virtually any existing enquiry handling technology can be positioned as a CRM solution but may only address two or three of the nine functional areas described earlier and will almost certainly be heavily geared towards commercial environments. Citizens are not prospects and the objective of local authority CRM should be to enable and improve delivery of service not to identify up-selling or cross-selling opportunity.
A recent UK government study highlights several key themes that characterise current perceptions and behaviours with respect to CRM within government circles. First, it identifies a growing realisation that whilst the principles of CRM are universal many of the commercial messages surrounding CRM are not necessarily applicable within a government context. Next it identifies the high degree to which government service providers, keen to embrace CRM, are being impeded by existing infrastructure and inadequate integration or multi-channel delivery capabilities. The study goes on to suggest that Government agencies are still inclined to focus on CRM as a piece of procurable technology rather than a whole-of-business approach. The study’s final identified theme is the lack of CRM related capabilities & understanding, within government agencies, that is effectively constraining their ability to expand their thinking to encompass wider issues such as customer data management within partnership initiatives or public/private sector alliances.
CRM is a fundamental component of any e-Government strategy but it remains a component not a complete solution. Recent announcements from major CRM vendors appear to accept this new reality. They place much greater emphasis on developing CRM propositions that specifically target the specific needs of the government sector and on the positioning of CRM functionality within a wider technical architecture as part of an overall solution. Siebel’s Universal Application Network, is a good example of this latter trend and seeks to leverage emerging web services standards to simplify the resultant integration requirement whilst relying on third party middleware to provide the actual connectivity with existing applications and service delivery channels. Such a strategy provides a welcome degree of pragmatism and e-GIF compliance but necessitates the acquisition of several, potentially costly, pieces of discrete functionality from different vendors and their subsequent combination to create an overall solution.
An element of risk
To many time or resource constrained local authorities such a “Do-it-yourself” approach carries an unacceptably high element of risk. A perception that is doubtlessly fuelled by a growing body of disillusioned CRM early adopters within the council sector. An alternative strategy is to procure a ‘ready integrated’ architecture that provides the full range of required functionality for effective e-Government, delivers immediate and visible business benefit ‘out of the box’ and can be subsequently developed and expanded in line with the Authority’s developing requirements. Software AG UK has developed an Integrated Electronic Service Delivery (IESD) framework which is a good example of such a pre-integrated solution. It builds upon Software AG’s class leading XML integration facilities and award winning XML storage technologies but adds Content management, CRM and Management Reporting functionality to create a modern and highly modular e-Government platform.
Integrated Electronic Service Delivery
IESD is a loosely coupled architecture that utilises XML & Web Services to interconnect the core components. As a consequence of this, IESD can be used in conjunction with existing elements of CRM, integration or content management functionality or with Open Source components such as APLAWS to quickly create a comprehensive e-Government solution.
Such a loosely coupled approach to electronic service delivery is increasingly perceived, by early adopters and vendors alike, as the only pragmatic route to full e-Government. The relevant standards are currently recommendations within e-GIF but seem likely to become mandatory in the not too distant future. It should be noted that adherence to web services is not, in itself, a guarantee of success. The real benefits emerge when such standards can be combined with integration capabilities, pragmatic experience and an overarching technical vision to dramatically embrace and extend a local authority’s existing e-Government strategy whilst still delivering the all important quick wins.
Proven Track Record
Software AG has a proven track record of delivering single and multi-authority e-Government projects based on 20 years experience of government IT provision including the following UK based projects at Devon County Council, Birmingham City Council, North Wiltshire District Council, Aylesbury Vale District Council, Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council and Avon & Somerset Constabulary.
For more information on e-Government customers, solutions and reports simply select the “government” option on the industry reference content finder menu at www.softwareag.com. Alternatively, call your local Software AG office.
By Jonathan Gamlen | Software AG
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