Government Agencies Look To CRM Software

Erie County, N.Y., and Queensland, Australia, are among the governments beginning to implement customer-relationship-management software to manage constituent information.

Tony Kontzer, Contributor

December 3, 2004

4 Min Read

City and county agencies in the United States and abroad are turning to customer-relationship-management software in growing numbers as a means to integrate constituent information and deliver services more effectively.

The latest examples came last week, when Onyx Software Corp. and SAP revealed sizeable deals with the governments of Queensland, Australia, and Erie County, N.Y., and Onyx joined Microsoft and Unisys Corp. in launching a Web site designed to educate government agencies on the value of CRM and provide them with best practices.

Erie County plans to deploy mySAP CRM as the latest phase of a massive software infrastructure update designed to reduce duplication and enable the county to deliver better services at a reduced cost. The county went live with an SAP enterprise-resource-planning suite in May, and it's looking for mySAP CRM to provide it with centralized views of the county's interactions with 960,000 constituents. MySAP CRM will serve as a common system for case management, call-center operations, constituent and client tracking, and a variety of other business processes related to social services, plant management, and homeland security. The effort was triggered by the fast-spreading use of 311 citizen-service initiatives to simplify the public's interactions with local government agencies.

Ideally, one mammoth system would be built to manage the range of services provided by government agencies throughout the state of New York, says Arthur Telaak, director of the county's division of information and support. But since that's not feasible and Erie County's systems thus have to interact with systems operated by state, federal, county, and city agencies, as well as private-sector contractors, it's opted to deploy a CRM system that will let it pull data from each organization's native system. "What you need is a traffic cop to sit on top of those systems and pull all of the client information together into one central repository," Telaak says. "We view CRM as the integration layer than can pull all that stuff together."

Ultimately, Telaak says, Erie County's system will act as a centralized integration hub for all constituent and client information, and it will give other agencies appropriate access to the information on shared cases stored in that hub. He says that his conversations with other local government CIOs indicate that the use of CRM to manage cases and improve service delivery is a fast-growing trend. "This is a big change at the local level in government," Telaak says. In all, he estimates the five-year project will cost the county about $3 million in software, implementation, and related services.

On the other side of the world, Queensland's department of child safety awarded a $7 million contract to Onyx and Fujitsu Australia to deploy an "integrated client-management system" that will help it more effectively track and manage cases as youths move through the courts and state-sponsored care programs. Fujitsu consultants eventually will integrate Onyx's CRM software with Microsoft's BizTalk and SharePoint technologies, as well as identity-searching and address-validation applications used to ensure data accuracy. Currently, the department relies on faxes to exchange information with law-enforcement agencies and courts, and that information is then manually entered into computers. Onyx's technology will run on a service-oriented architecture that will let the department use XML Web services to connect with other agencies and exchange data electronically.

Project director Gerard Palk says the system, which will be deployed in two phases over the next two years, is expected to make the department more responsive and less reactive by enabling more thorough case planning, and thus better decision-making, through improved statewide access to information. Ultimately, it will also do a better job of matching up kids with appropriate care environments, Palk says. "We'd like to think that our workers will spend more time with the clients and less with the computers," he says. "It will potentially mean that cases are handled more effectively and that kids are reintegrated back into the home environment more quickly."

Meanwhile, CRM providers are gearing up to meet government demand. While market leaders such as Siebel Systems Inc. and SAP have undertaken concerted efforts to market CRM to government agencies, Onyx, Microsoft, and Unisys (which provides consulting services for CRM deployments) last week launched, a site aimed at demonstrating to government agencies the potential benefits of CRM in a noncommercial setting and giving them access to best practices developed by early adopters in the government.

The state and local government sector holds promise for CRM going forward, analysts say. Momentum for government adoption of CRM will grow over the next three to five years as agencies attempt to make themselves more responsive to a public that's finding it harder and harder to get to the information they need from the public sector, Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone says. But serious growth may come sooner, says Denis Pombriant, a Beagle Research Group analyst. "This is one of the hotter areas, and it's about time that CRM starts penetrating government more."

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