CRM to boost public services

The principles of customer relationship management (CRM) could transform the delivery of government services, but problems of...

The principles of customer relationship management (CRM) could transform the delivery of government services, but problems of bureaucracy, technology and terminology are getting in the way, a survey has revealed.

Findings in a report published earlier this week by IT consulting giant Accenture, showed that 76% of government agencies believed that applying the principles of CRM to government services could provide the public with much better levels of service.

The report, CRM: a Blue-print for Government, examined the attitudes towards CRM held by 73 senior-level executives and managers at government agencies in 11 different countries, including Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Singapore, Spain, the US and the UK.

However, 35% of public sector managers flagged up government bureaucracy and existing organisational structures as the biggest barrier to the adoption of CRM principles, claiming they stood in the way of teamwork and collaboration.

The second biggest barrier, highlighted by 27% of respondents, was managing the technology.

Martin Greenwood, insight programme manager at the local government IT managers' forum Socitm, agreed the biggest hurdle would be getting government organisations to work together.

"Most local authorities are organised around historical departments and professional structures rather than around the customer. CRM systems require the organisation to think about the customer first so the first priority would be to change the culture of local government to allow for shared objectives and priorities," he said.

Although the majority of agencies had made an investment in technology, there appeared to be a lack of understanding about exactly how it could be used to improve the delivery of services.

For example, although most agencies were using systems to collect data through interaction with the public, nearly two out of three were not using that information to streamline processes or to improve service levels. Instead, collected data was being used for publicity or for adjusting internal staffing levels.

Terminology was also a significant problem. Respondents revealed a great reluctance to embrace a private sector concept and refer to members of the public as customers rather than citizens or constituents.

Sean Shine, managing partner, Global Government CRM Services, said that although the use of the term was a problem for many in government, public sector IT managers could play an key role in cutting through terminology barriers.

"IT directors have the ability to cut through the terminology and say, 'These principles are applicable to the government sector'.

"They have a role to play in showing the real potential and the business application - that's what good IT people do all the time," he said.

Greenwood said the concept was more important than the terminology. "CRM doesn't exactly trip off the tongue but calling it citizen relationship management would be even worse," he said.

"It's the concept that matters, and making it work."

Another major issue raised in the report was the inability to share data between agencies, with only half being able to share information with other government agencies and only 11% having the technology to share with other businesses.

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