In 1993, as part of then Vice President Al Gore's efforts to reinvent government, the White House issued executive order 12862, which set "customer service standards" for interactions between government and the citizenry. Gore later commented that upon reading this order, many public officials and government employees were left scratching their heads, asking, "What's a customer?" According to Gore, some of these officials thought their bosses were customers. Others cast Congress in that role. One group actually identified their customers as "wild horses and burros."
Luckily, with the passage last May of the E-Government Act of 2001, government employees may soon know exactly who their customers are and how to serve them better. In the words of the bill's co-author, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., "The private sector has benefited tremendously from the application of information technology. Now it's the government's turn."
Citizens are demanding more efficient and accessible government. They're becoming savvy, expecting the same customer-driven, results-oriented service from the government that they receive from the private sector. In a survey conducted earlier this year by The Council for Excellence in Government, 59 percent of 1,017 adults surveyed named greater participation and an informed citizenry as the most important outcomes of a movement toward e-government.
But how long does the road to e-government wind? Before starting on a path toward implementing customer-centric business technologies, government must overcome certain obstacles. First, the people must elect leaders who understand the need for citizen services. Government must also break down bureaucratic barriers that impede responsiveness to citizen needs.
But the burden of creating a more customer friendly government does not lie solely on public sector shoulders. The CRM industry should market its products and services to government, just as it does to private industry. Unfortunately, right now many CRM vendors are either overlooking or ignoring the public sector's potential. This past spring in Washington D.C. at the annual FOSE show, a government technology conference, a handful of CRM vendors showcased their solutions to an audience that for years only saw Dictaphones and copiers at this gathering. Among the exhibitors were Avaya, AG Communications Systems, Unisys, Silanis, PeopleSoft and FrontRange.
The poor attendance by CRM vendors at FOSE indicates the road to e-government may need forging. But, some companies are actually rising to meet this challenge. Siebel recently hired three new executives to enhance the company's focus on e-government. They will help launch products geared toward helping agencies increase operational efficiencies. Microsoft publicly announced its support of the E-Government Act, and the software giant has already implemented a project in the United Kingdom that will track all government transactions online by 2005. PeopleSoft has dedicated an entire department to the government sector and offers PeopleSoft for Government, which serves citizens through an interaction centerpiece and features helpdesk, support, field service, sales analytics and quality components. Nancy Raca, marketing communications manager of PeopleSoft for Federal Government, says the technology is being used on local, state and federal levels, from school registration and tax help, to maintaining the U.S. Mint's supply chain, distribution and financial systems.
"[Government] is a huge, untapped market right now. The [government] community is finally catching on to how CRM allows them to improve how they help their customers," Raca says.
"We're not there yet in government. We're going to be, but it's a long curve."