Features: December 8th, 2006

Councils Battle to Integrate Back and Front Office Systems

The government’s initial eGovernment white paper set specific targets for local authorities for getting public services online so that Customer Relationship Management systems could be implemented and wastage minimised. The CRM systems bring the back and front office processes together. Because this involves a fundamental reshaping of the way things are done, CRM is proving difficult to implement.

The government’s initial eGovernment white paper set specific targets for local authorities for getting public services online so that CRM could be implemented and wastage minimised. The original deadline to get services online passed a year ago, but many CRM projects are still failing to deliver. Research has shown that to date, moving from a departmental, vertical silo approach to a horizontal cross functional way of working has caused significant difficulties. Although many councils also recognise that integration is the key to a successful implementation, some are still struggling to integrate their back and front office systems.

Arguably the greatest challenge facing these authorities is not just budget cuts, job losses or efficiency targets, but implementing a system that enables them to tackle their unique environments whilst maintaining maximum flexibility and shared services.

It is clear, therefore, that although local authorities have similar generic challenges in the way that they operate, there are a number of unique issues also faced by each individual body, of which there are 410 in England and Wales alone.

Key factors such as geography, population flux and size of call centre requirements mean that not only do local authorities face the increased demands of efficiency from centralised government, they also have to maintain a service that cannot be ‘cut and pasted’ from elsewhere in the country. In short, there can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach to local authority governance.

Tailoring to individual need

Let’s look at two contrasting examples where CRM projects have been successfully implemented, due to the effective integration of front and back office systems. Both generic and specific challenges have been addressed in terms of integration and citizen service delivery by using AWI integration software from ndl-metascybe.

The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and the South Lakeland council in Cumbria, represent the huge degree of variety present in local authorities across the UK.

Implemented across a broad range of local authorities, the system, one of an increasing number now available to local authorities, has shown that the individual needs of local authorities can be met whilst still hitting government targets for efficiency and shared services.

Geographical reach and seasonal variations are some of the most salient indicators of difference between the two local authorities. Whilst South Lakeland covers a large area of 600 square miles, Barking and Dagenham is a small, densely populated local authority (165,000 residents according to ONS), characteristic of many other inner-city local councils across the country.

South Lakeland’s geographical reach is much broader, even though its population is smaller at 102,000. However, tourism to the Lake District means that this trebles in the summer months to over 300,000, presenting unique challenges that need to be tackled. Not only do South Lakeland’s services need to be available across a vast area, this is characterised by mountainous terrain and severe weather conditions during the winter months.

Meeting different challenges

South Lakeland’s core council service challenges include management of refuse within the local authority and also the removal of bulky items. This obstacle is felt most acutely in the Langdales area of the council, which presents a vast geographic spread of houses in a low population density area.

Making sure that services run on time and that refuse collections are coordinated properly is a major challenge and one that having the environmental services department linked into the CRM has significantly helped. By linking the front office to back office applications, the local authority can now coordinate requests through one central database.

Furthermore, they have been able to dramatically reduce the number of repeated call outs to unemptied bins across a large area, meaning that costs are kept to a minimum whilst service is maintained at the level that such a geographically demanding local authority requires.

Barking and Dagenham’s population, in contrast, is much more stable and even the annual exodus on summer holidays in August does little to alter this. The main challenges it faces are managing fly tipping and abandoned vehicles, burnt out cars and graffiti; typical obstacles faced by many urban authorities across the UK.

Furthermore, as befits an urban authority in the centre of London, traffic congestion can be a major obstacle to delivery logistical services on time and to budget, with refuse collections being a prime example of this.

In response to issues relating to street cleanliness and abandoned vehicles, Barking and Dagenham is investing in mobile PDAs, which will be utilise AWImx (Active Windows Integrator Mobile Extension), the mobile technology variant of AWI. These systems will be used to record items collected by the council throughout each shift and then the information will be uploaded onto the main application back at the office automatically.

Using remote-upload systems, such as this one, saves money not only by reducing administration costs, but also reduces the time previously taken transferring and processing data manually.

The council is also looking to explore the use of GPS systems, which will enable deliveries to avoid traffic blackspots and reduce delays on core services, reduce fuel costs and ultimately deliver a better and more reliable service to local residents.

Integration brings benefits

Regardless of geographic location, all local authorities are facing tough challenges in order to meet both government objectives and residents’ requirements. South Lakeland and Barking and Dagenham councils have shown that when back office applications do communicate with front office, the benefits are substantial both in terms of costs and service levels. These examples also show that success comes when unique solutions are tailored to the individual needs of an authority.

See also:
Features: April 28th, 2009
Shared services are expected to deliver efficiency savings across government of some £4 billion pounds according to HM Treasury’s Operation Efficiency Programme: