Hull City Council is consolidating data currently held in about 200 different systems into one database and is trialling a call centre for citizen enquiries.
Many of the systems that hold information on council customers now in use are incompatible. The environmental health and street services departments alone use 37 systems.
But now, agents at the council's pilot call centre and four customer service centres in the city will be able to refer to a database and customer system that holds data from all council departments on the city's 250,000 residents. The scheme uses Oracle systems and services, purchased at council- rather than at departmental level.
Full roll-out of the call centre is planned for spring 2001, with a target of five years for full data consolidation.
Jack Hornsby, head of corporate customer services at the council, said, "We are aiming for a seamless front- to back-office system which will give council staff a single view of the customer. The aim is for phone calls to be answered by the right person, who has instant access to the right information and is able to answer 70%-80% of queries there and then.
"Staff are answering phone calls when they shouldn't be, and are then unable to resolve the query because they lack access to customer information," he added.
Bob Griffiths, national secretary of the Society of IT Management, said, "Councils are finding they can operate more efficiently, cut costs and achieve customer satisfaction by adopting Web-enabled working. But there are huge challenges because councils hold a massive variety of types of information."
Since the launch of Hull's trial, the call centre - handling environmental health and street services enquiries - has logged a 2% call abandon rate and is answering calls in less than 10 seconds.
The council's staff will be trained in telephony skills, as well as given a view of the council's structure that matches their ability to access it.
Links to other public sector organisations such as NHSnet are planned, as is provision of council customer services by interactive television.