Empowering e-Government

Just picture it. You need to pay a parking ticket. You want to apply for a fishing license. Or maybe it's time to pay your personal income taxes. You boot up the computer, visit the Web site of the appropriate local, state or federal government agency, and with a few clicks you're done. No trip downtown to the federal office building. No additional parking ticket because you couldn't find a spot. And, no waiting in line.

Sounds nice. And in fact many citizens can already complete these relatively simple transactions with the government online. Furthermore, several CRM vendors are offering solutions tailored to help the government meet constituent needs. But the utopian vision of, for example, offering a single site where a new home owner could fill out a change-of-address form, apply for a new driver's license and file property taxes is still five to six years away, according to a recent Forrester Research report titled Sizing U.S. eGovernment.

"Politicians like to use the 'online, not inline' rhetoric," says Jeremy Sharrard, associate analyst at Forrester's Internet Policy and Regulation Group and principle author of the report. "But really they've not done much investing in CRM." Elected officials are motivated by short-term political gain, he says. They want to automate simple services quickly and then be able to point to how much red tape they've cut in the next election.

Silo Mentality
But there is value in having one view of the citizen, Sharrard says. To date, he's seen more single purpose implementations. The cross departmental initiatives and data sharing needed to offer the new home service in the previous example have been slow in coming.

The reason for this delay, says John Goggin, head of the electronic government strategies group at Meta Group--and formerly a public servant for 30 years--is that, "the transfer to e-government is mired in a silo mentality." Government looks at CRM from the basic help desk and Web site point of view, he says. "But there's no movement towards true CRM, or taking the constituent through the full cycle of engagement, fulfillment and service."

The Forrester report found that after interviewing 45 state, federal and local government agencies, the biggest obstacle to e-government was siloed departments. "Governors have said, 'We need to provide a single view of the constituent,' but they haven't backed it up by saying, 'I want a plan,'" Goggin says, who blames underdeveloped government CRM on politicians. "As an excuse, they fall back on issues of confidentiality and privacy," he says. He admits that the government is unique in that it forces citizens by law to provide information, but instead of refusing to share information among departments, he says, politicians should be saying, "Let's look at how we utilize the information for specific purposes."

Take welfare for example. Governments have clients who need jobs, childcare and food stamps. But they've built walls between the labor department, the child welfare department and public assistance. "Those agencies should be intermingled," Goggin says. But instead, the client's address is stored in several different bureaus. Each is authorized by statute to collect that information, so, in order for bureaus to share the information, governments must look at each statute to check limitations, which Goggin says is a monumental task.

Experts say there has to be a balance between making it easy to work with government and preventing government from being invasive. It all goes back to the political beliefs and values lawmakers bring to the table, Goggin says. "Some feel government's job is to make services available to the most people possible. With this constituent-centric model, government needs to know all it can about a citizen so it can serve him better. On the other hand, some lawmakers feel government should be minimalist, which means, for example, that a client's tax information and medical records should not be shared between departments in order to protect the rights and privacy of that citizen."

The government has to be sensitive to how the system works, Sharrard says. One way is by adopting a strict opt-in environment. "In certain areas, we can say to a citizen, 'we want to use the information to serve you,'" Goggin says. "Government needs to show there are areas where information can be used to serve citizens better."

By Phone or By Web
Government use of the various CRM technologies is still in its infancy, agrees Ron Sullivan, vice president and general manager of PeopleSoft's federal government division. "CRM will be an important tool for reaching out to constituents," he predicts, "but it won't happen overnight." He thinks certain CRM technologies will be used more than others in the government realm. "Except in cases like the post office or the mint--which sell products--sales force automation tools will generally not be strong players," Sullivan says. "Governments are not managing sales forces, so the starting point and cornerstone of CRM will not be important for them." But, he says, call centers will be huge. Web site management and portal technologies will also be key.

CRM vendors are taking note. Companies, such as Vignette, are rushing to open offices in Washington D.C. Providers of CRM technology are also starting to offer government-tailored products. In May 2001, call center provider Remedy launched Citizen Response, an off-the-shelf CRM solution designed to help government agencies respond to and track in-person, phone, e-mail and Web inquiries from constituents. Siebel has ePublic Sector. PeopleSoft has PeopleSoft CRM for Government, a pre-built, packaged portal for federal, state and local governments. In fact, recent Remedy research shows the public sector will be Remedy's first or second largest vertical market in the coming years.

So, what's sparking all the interest in government CRM? In the first place, citizens are demanding the same convenient service in the public sector that they are, for the most part, used to enjoying in the private sector. A Forrester survey of 5,000 Internet users confirms that constituents see benefits of interacting online with their government. Forrester predicts that by 2006, federal, state and local governments will collect $602 billion--or 15 percent of total collections--via the Internet.

Government is also mandating better service, from Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government, which spawned the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 setting new customer service standards for government agencies, to the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, which requires federal government departments to move services online.

Public vs. Private
CRM in the public sector and CRM in the private sector share the same basic goal: to attract and retain loyal customers (constituents) in order to maintain a steady stream of revenue (tax dollars). Government's customers include citizens who need everything from public school information, to assistance with the Social Security Administration; local businesses, such as ones that deal with a county inspector or state incorporation regulator; and multinational organizations that need help from the state Department or Commerce Department.

Although we usually think of government as a monopoly, and are resigned to the fact that we can't change our provider no matter how bad the service, in today's mobile society, families can choose to live wherever they want, conveys a recent PeopleSoft white paper titled Customer Relationship Management: Implications for Government.

Goggin gives the example of citizens migrating from Southern California to New Mexico. "New Mexico has made an effort to build the infrastructure that will attract skilled workers from Southern California," he says. "Those workers can interact with their companies on the electronic highway."

On the other hand, there are certain dead pockets in the Southeast, he says, where governments have not invested in infrastructure, and skilled workers are fleeing. This emigration costs governments tax revenues, and, as economic development officials--like their private sector counterparts--know, it costs more to attract a citizen than to retain one.

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