Is customer-based government an oxymoron? Siebel Systems doesn't think so.
In May, Michael C. Maibach was appointed to the position of senior vice president of government affairs to begin educating and promoting Siebel products to the thousands of government agencies in the U.S. and around the world. Reporting directly to Thomas Siebel, Maibach plans to introduce the same multi-channel software solutions that the private sector enjoys into government agencies, enabling them to integrate their communications channels into a single customer view and report performance metrics in real time. With thousands of different government agencies serving countless citizens, businesses and sister agencies, the market is huge.
But, what's the point? The customer isn't going anywhere…except to the polls. That's why they call it Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) software. Here Michael Maibach explains it all.
Q: What is your e-government mandate at Siebel?
A: Our mandate is to define and promote the rapid adoption of e-government in the U.S. and other nations.
Q: So you want to get the government online?
A: No! We want to eliminate the misconception among the public, government officials, and opinion leaders that e-government is online government. E-government refers to connecting all the different forms of communication. We call it anytime, anywhere, anyway, any language government.
Traditionally people have always dealt with the government in multiple ways. You walk in an office, a field agent visits you, you use the U.S. mail, the phones, a call center--all those traditional avenues existed long before the Internet- -but they weren't tied together. So, a farmer in Montana brings in samples to the field office. The next day he calls headquarters of the agricultural extension and they don't know anything about the sample. Then the next day he gets a letter asking where his sample is. Then he e-mails them and they say, "Who are you?" If you introduce e-mail and Web access into this situation, they will only further complicate all the disconnected forms of communication with the government.
This is where constituent relationship management software (CRM) comes in. Today I send the government an order, tomorrow I use their call center and the next day I go to their Web site. Each transaction is connected by a thread of information so that the government acknowledges of all the communications I've had on a given topic.
Q: What levels of government are you targeting?
A: We're targeting all levels of government. The nature of the solution will be the same whether you're the city of Los Angeles, the state of Oregon, the U.S. Postal Service or a French transportation agency. You need multiple integrated channels of communications with your constituents so they don't have to keep re-explaining the problem or reintroducing themselves to compensate for the fact that government doesn't have a memory, if you will.
Q: What makes the government different than any other vertical industry?
A: There are two differences, both related to the nature of government. One is that the government is a very conservative risk taker. A CEO quickly decides to buy CRM software and implement it enterprise wide because he or she can't afford not to take a risk to win a market, win new customers or make existing customers happy. A mid-level government official is much more likely to pick a small government agency or a part of the agency for a pilot project. In government there is more concern about failing the public trust than in the lost potential from not taking a risk.
The second difference is that the-decision making process is much slower in government. The average bill takes three years to get through congress and the average appropriations bill takes almost a year from when the president introduces the budget in the state of the Union address until October when the budgets are passed. Then the acquisitions cycle of government is one or more years. When the federal government decides to buy a personal computer it can be 12 to 24 months from when they decide to put it in the budget to when the PC hits the desk. All the checks and balances leave more opportunities for things to get held up.
Q: Will governments adopt CRM?
A: Historically, government has adopted every technology that the private sector has but there's been a considerable lag time. The private sector CRM market is robust and growing at a very fast clip. Government adoption will come, but more slowly.
Q: It sounds like the customer relationship initiative is the same, but dealing with the bureaucracy is different.
A: If your social security check comes late, you're not going to resign and take your business to a competing agency. There's less choice. The government isn't as reactive as the private sector.
Q: How political is the adoption of CRM?
A: Before I answer that I should point out that one of the important aspects of CRM software is that it allows feedback. Imagine if at the end of every week the DMV could get a read out of customer feedback and every Monday Governor Davis could say I noticed the Folsom DMV has 57 percent customer satisfaction but in Sacramento it's 82 percent. Let's have the manager in Sacramento spend a week in Folsom. We want to give government the tools to improve. One of the problems is that government employees and managers haven't been empowered. One of the big messages here is empowerment.
The misconception that e-government is online government leads to the erroneous conclusion that we're going to close the field office, close the mail room, close the call center and that everyone has to be online to get government services. In fact, government is technology neutral. The constituent--the citizen, a business or another agency--decides how to communicate and the government must meet them on their own terms.
As for politics, the only customer feedback a government official has today is an election, which happens every two or four years. And--because we have no metrics for government satisfaction--elections are about everything except the basic services of government. We have in Washington a $1.5 trillion government that is mostly involved in delivering services to people whether it's airports, highways, welfare checks or unemployment insurance. But politicians rarely run on a promise to improve by 25 percent the customer satisfaction ratings of government services because there's no way to measure the services. So, we're not going to replace government workers, we're going to empower them to serve the customer better.
E-government will also help governments compete for business investment, which is the commercial side of globalization. "Malaysia doesn't have e-government like we do, so it's easier to do business here than in Singapore." It's the same with state governments. Right now New Mexico competes with Arizona and Arizona competes with Utah to get Intel or Caterpillar to put a plant in their state. They lure companies with energy supplies, schools, highways and airports. With e-government, they'll lure them with the ease and efficiency of dealing with local and state government agencies.
E-government will be a competitive advantage among nations so countries that initiate it effectively and quickly will be able to attract investment. This will become a worldwide issue in the next five to ten years.
Q: Does Siebel have a product line ready for the public sector?
A: Siebel has 147 products and every time we sell a product we have to tailor it to the situation. We can tailor existing commercial products for the government customer. The problem is educating people about what e-government is and is not--it's not just a Web site. We need to educate appropriators to fund and measure e-government so elected officials can improve services and run for reelection based on improved customer satisfaction.
To learn more about CRM and the government read, "Power to the People" in the upcoming September issue of CRM magazine. It will be available September 1 by clicking here.