The London Borough of Newham has reduced the time council staff spend updating systems with customer queries by developing an interface that allows front-line employees to input directly into back-end systems.
The challenge for the council's IT department was to reach a point where all front-office employees could update its core customer relationship management application using a single interface. It also wanted to avoid the rekeying of customer requests from the CRM application into other back-office systems.
IT staff built and deployed the Services Online interface at a cost of £26,000. It has enabled Newham's core Hotline database to be updated with customer requests at the same time as the council's CRM application.
The council said, "As a result of integration between the Hotline database and CRM, we have reduced waste within the reporting process. The time taken by the contact centre staff [with this reporting work] has been reduced by approximately 338 hours per month."
The system is also expected to lead to fewer calls being made to the council because customers will be sent updates on the progress of their requests automatically. Services Online can be configured to send SMS messages and e-mails to customers at different stages of their requests' progress.
Further time will be saved if customers use e-forms on the council's website to submit their enquiries electronically.
The council said productivity savings in the customer contact centre would be reinvested in front-line services.
Several council departments within Newham worked on the project. IT provided the technology and application development skills, with a separate team within IT, called Excellence-online, providing project management skills based on the Prince 2 framework.
The council's customer services department contributed knowledge of how the front-line systems were used and how business processes operated.
At the start of the process, Newham appointed a project manager to oversee the introduction of Services Online. The manager visited front-office and back-office sites to understand business processes and establish terms of reference with the project board and service heads.
The council said, "Early involvement and consultation with all the teams that would use the new system resulted in less resistance to change and a greater understanding of the requirements of the system.
"The project revealed the amount of wastage in the system and this discovery will provide a good motivation for future projects."
By keeping customers informed of progress with their requests, Newham is also hoping to improve its rating under the government's Comprehensive Performance Assessment, which monitors how effectively councils are spending public money.