The Public Sector CRM Opportunity

Disconnected governments and disempowered citizens are why we need a full-blown, nationwide public sector CRM program.

Josh Greenbaum, Contributor

February 9, 2012

5 Min Read

Three key problems are causing the inefficiencies that are rampart in the public sector:

>>The growth of information. The data required to efficiently run even a small local or regional government is growing at an extraordinary rate. Understanding how that data can be used efficiently is a major challenge.

>>The accessibility of that information. Not only is there a massive amount of data in these processes, many public sector information systems are ill-equipped to make it usable for the different stakeholders. Systems are often antiquated, siloed, and suffer from a lack of funding and expertise.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of IT research and development is targeted at commercial sector systems, and the resulting applications and tools are often ill designed for the public sector. This results in much of the technological lag in the public sector that President Obama referred to in an address at the White House Forum On Modernizing Government in March, 2010.

Public servants, President Obama noted, are more than willing to participate in improving the interactions between government and citizens. "But all too often," he said, "their best efforts are thwarted because the technological revolution that has transformed our society over the past two decades has yet to reach many parts of our government."

>>The inability to keep up with the need for new processes

Governments have historically been unable to keep up with the need for new processes to effectively manage the growth in information and to better manage citizen-government interaction. This problem is both a public policy and an IT issue: Governments need to mandate change, and then work closely to ensure that it's implemented in the most effective manner using the best technological tools available.

Using technology to improve government effectiveness doesn't necessarily mean spending more to do more. Indeed, in many cases, these approaches are extremely cost-effective. According to a report by CALPIRG, the California-based public interest research and lobbying group, the payback for undertaking initiatives that bring citizens and governments closer together can be significant.

CALPIRG's California Budget Transparency 2.0 highlights the example of the state's Reporting Transparency in Government website. The site, which cost $21,000 to develop and $40,000 annually to maintain, provides access to state budget and other data for citizens to download and analyze. In one example, the report said, citizens viewing usage data on the site for the state's automobile fleet directed administrators to information that suggested that the fleet was larger than needed. The state was able to cut the fleet by 15 percent, savings $24.1 million.

The CALPIRG report and others like it show that many of the technologies that businesses use to engage customers and partners can be applied to helping citizens and other stakeholders interact with their governments. This is very much the case with CRM software and related technologies.

The success of a number of vendors' public sector CRM offerings shows that there's a way to help improve government and reverse some of the corrosive effects of complexity and citizen disaffection and distrust. Public sector CRM systems are becoming less expensive to implement and maintain, meeting the need for governments to be accountable to taxpayers with tech spending. Accountability is a key element in civic culture and trust, and being able to build highly effective citizen interaction systems based on a cost-effective CRM package provides additional value to public sector agencies.

CRM systems ability to analyze public sector processes can further enhance public sector accountability. A CRM-based municipal service and support system can assess data on malfunctioning parking meters or calculate citizen satisfaction rates. This type of analysis supports a metrics-based society that, in turn, can optimize its citizen-support processes based on real data, something that most public sector organizations haven't been able to do.

Finally, the notion that modern CRM can improve government employees' effectiveness and job satisfaction provides a new lens with which to view the role of public sector technology. Ensuring that the growing number of interactions between citizens and public sector employees take place under optimal conditions provides an environment for improved public service that benefits all.

Public sector CRM is an idea that has so many applications, so many private sector examples to draw from, and so many good products to deploy, that it's almost criminal to consider running a democracy without a full-blow system. I'd love to see this become part of the dialogue in the coming election cycle, instead of some of the nonsense we're seeing.

With CRM's proven ROI in the private sector, it should be easy to cost-justify a serious national investment in modernizing citizen-government interactions. Who needs to colonize the moon when there's so much more we can do to make life better here on earth, for so much less?

Josh Greenbaum is principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, a Berkeley, Calif., firm that consults with end-user companies and enterprise software vendors large and small. Clients have included Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and other firms that are sometimes analyzed in his columns. Write him at [email protected].

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About the Author(s)

Josh Greenbaum


Josh Greenbaum is principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, a Berkeley, Calif., firm that consults with end-user companies and enterprise software vendors large and small. Clients have included Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and other firms that are sometimes analyzed in his columns. Write him at [email protected].

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