How the FBI is using technology to put customers first

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How the FBI is using technology to put customers first

Bill Goodwin

Businesses and public sector organisations are under pressure to use technology to put the needs of customers first.

Companies have learnt the hard way that embarking on IT projects without considering what their employees or customers really need is a route to failure.

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The FBI, Lloyds Banking Group and US health insurer United Healthcare shared their strategies at an industry conference this week.

Sharing intelligence at the FBI

Since the 9/11 attacks, the FBI has been under pressure to share its information more effectively with other government agencies.

For the past 10 years it has been has been investing in technology to do just that. Now it faces an additional constraint – making better use of data at a time of tightening government finances.

The head of the FBI once said that the information to apprehend the 9/11 terrorists was in government databases – all that was needed was a method of connecting the dots, said Richard Haley, chief finance officer of the FBI.

“We have been, since 9/11, on that journey. Early on we reacted by trying to build systems, but we were building a lot of hardware and a lot of systems that were not getting us to that point,” he said.

The agency has a relatively small number of agents worldwide – equivalent to a quarter of the number of police officers working in Manhattan – so using technology to help them work more efficiently is vital.

Supporting agents in the field

To start with, the FBI made the mistake of developing back-end systems, which were only helpful to agents when they were in the office. The problem was that most agents spend 90% of their time in the field.

“We have had to be much more strategic about prioritising, and listening to our customers who are out there in the field. We can’t invest in products that are not going to work,” he said, speaking at the Pegaworld conference in Washington DC.

Sharing information with other government agencies is also a priority, Haley revealed. The FBI acts as a clearing house, for example, to ensure that law officers in any part of the country can access fingerprint records held by each state.

Using technology to help FBI agents work more efficiently is vital

“There are 80,000 police officers in the US, and if someone gets pulled over and the police don’t have data that someone is a suspected criminal and they let them go, that is a problem,” he said.

Proactive policing

This focus on sharing and using data more effectively is transforming the culture of the 106-year-old organisation from a largely reactive police force to one that is proactive.

“The mission has changed from a reactive crime-fighting organisation. An event would happen, we would respond to the crime scene and start an investigative procedure. That was very linear, very paper driven,” said Haley.

He cited examples of how, in the past, Bonnie and Clyde could rob two or three banks in a day, or a cyber criminal, sat in their bedroom, could hack hundreds of bank accounts in a few hours.

The days of the FBI hoarding information in a steel drawer are over, he added. “It's about looking outside to our partners. If someone has a better mouse trap, let’s use that.”

UnitedHealthcare turns to analytics                         

US health insurer UnitedHealthcare is turning to data analytics to help it improve the way it deals with customers.

A few years ago, if a customer called in and asked a question about renewing a claim, and then asked a question about their premium, they were told to ring a different number, said Jessica Kral, CIO at UnitedHealthcare Medicare and Retirement.

Now the company is investing in technology to put its relationships with the customer first.

UnitedHealthcare is investing in technology to put its relationships with the customer first

“It’s really a big transformation for us as the healthcare industry is changing, everything is going towards what the consumer wants,” said Kral.

The company has learned that small, incremental projects are often more effective than big bang approaches.

“Let’s demonstrate how this could be done, let’s build a prototype, put it in the hands of people who use it and get feedback. That has been more effective than grand strategies,” she said.

There has been a tendency in the past for the company to invest in technology without considering the real needs of the user.

“When you see a problem in business, particularly a business like insurance, the solution is always technology. We have rushed quickly to a technology solution, but we have situations where we have not looked at the people and the process,” she said.

Kral ensures she puts the needs of users first. That means carrying out surveys and looking to see how the company can improve processes before turning to technology.

Another hard-learned lesson is to make sure that the business is committed and involved in the IT project all the way through.

Banking on data at Lloyds

Lloyds Banking Group has begun a digitisation programme that will bring together its different channels.

The company has finished a major project, designed to simplify its IT infrastructures, which have grown up through its acquisitions over the years.

Simplification helped the bank reduce its costs and improve the experience of customers, said Bruce Mitchell, CTO of Lloyds Banking Group.

Lloyds has learned from experience that it needs to begin with the needs of the customer, rather than the process

“We see ourselves moving into a second phase of transformation – moving out of simplification and now focusing on digitisation,” he said.

The programme will mean some heavy lifting to merge web and high street banking into an omni-channel.

Lloyds’ aim is that customers will be able to start a transaction on the web and finish where they left off on their mobile device or complete the transaction in a branch.

“It’s about bringing the data together. As we face a digital future, and look at acquisitions, we have silos of data that limit our interaction with customers,” he said.

The bank also has plans to develop predictive analytics, that will help it anticipate customers’ needs before they ask, Mitchell revealed.

The project will need a huge cultural change, he said.

The bank has learned from experience that it needs to begin with the needs of the customer, rather than the process.

“Beginning with process is the wrong approach. Customers don’t get excited by your 42-step mortgage process, and they don’t get excited when you reduce that. They want to buy a house,” he said.


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