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UK councils failing to meet e-services deadline

Culture shock main impediment to CRM deployment

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A survey of local authorities in the UK has revealed that more than half have yet to install any kind of customer relationship management (CRM) system as part of their efforts to meet the 2005 deadline for offering their services electronically.

System integrators NDL, found that one of the main impediments reported was that CRM systems are too far geared towards generating new business and marketing: two areas local councils have little use for. In fact, 77 per cent of local authorities said they would have to tailor their CRM solution to fit council needs.

Declan Grogan, NDL's MD, argued that local councils don't have the luxury of choosing to cut off difficult customers, but neither do they have to make a profit from their interactions. Standard CRM systems, then, are useful, but only to a point.

The other major barrier respondents pointed to was cultural change. Angus Dunlop, spokesman for CRM supplier Northgate suggests that because councils have traditionally worked in "silos", the idea of sharing information across departments is unsettling to many staff. He says that it is the supplier's job to guide the council in its approach.

All councils in the UK now have to have an "e-champion" - a person to take responsibility for driving the process of going online. Dunlop says that in the councils where this role was taken by someone at an executive level, progress was better than when it was left to IT alone to make the changes. The reason for this is not entirely clear, but Dunlop suggested that it was a matter of perspective.

He argues that a project run by IT will start with what the technology can do, while someone outside IT will start with what kinds of changes they want to see, and what kinds of services they want to deliver and approach IT by asking "how can we make this happen?". He also acknowledged that it is often hard for IT staff to get managers to buy in to a project.

He offers the Benefits Bus as an example of the kind of project that does not start with the technology, but would be impossible without it. This is a bus equipped with laptops and Net access that can tour remote areas bringing council services literally to the door of people unable to get into town. Without the system integration, it would be impossible to run.

The survey also uncovered a bit of rivalry between councils to be ready for the 2005 deadline. Although just 35 per cent of those with a CRM system said that their installation was completed, 76 per cent gave their colleagues at other councils that their implementation was finished.

"It is like teenage sex: everyone is talking about it, but far fewer are actually doing it," remarked Grogan.

NDL interviewed the people responsible for IT systems and eGovernmewnt at 247 of the 442 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. The survey did not include councils in Northern Ireland. ®

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