Tech Success: Indianapolis calls up better CRM service
Scott French, Tier1 Innovation LLC's vice president of public sector
Cities have used 311 information lines and dedicated call centers for more than a decade to let citizens call in complaints about everything from trash pickup to stray animals.
But the aging systems, designed to give people one stop for nonemergency city services, no longer are meeting the expectations of city leaders and citizens. In Indianapolis, for example, the call center had no connection to legacy systems running in various city departments, said Patrick Holdsworth, administrator for the call center called the Mayor's Action Center, or MAC.
The call center is the central point of contact for all departments that take care of city services such as public works, code compliance and animal care and control. About two years ago, city officials decided the system, installed in 1992, needed an update.
"The city put in some software way back when, at the time, it was state of the art, but it had drawbacks," Holdsworth said. "It was good at taking information, but it wasn't good at giving information back so citizens would know what's going on."
Indianapolis officials chose Tier1 Innovation LLC of Denver to install and integrate the San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel Systems Inc.'s customer relationship management system.
Under Indianapolis' old system, calls would come into MAC, and customer service representatives would fax work orders to the appropriate departments. Orders were easily lost, and there was no way to know if action was taken on a request.
But with Siebel's CRM system in place, "we've got our departments' systems talking to each other now, so when a citizen has a question for us at MAC, we know what's going on over at public works or animal control," Holdsworth said. "We can relay that information back to the citizen. With the old system, we weren't able to give them an update."
To achieve that, Siebel's CRM system had to be integrated with four legacy systems the city uses, said Scott French, vice president of public sector for Tier1.
A "bi-directional" integration of the city systems with the Siebel system was implemented to ensure the CRM system became the central point of all city issues, French said. If, for instance, animal care and control gets a call directly, the request can be entered in the department's Chameleon system.
"Entering information in a department system automatically triggers a transaction that goes into Siebel," French said. "If a day later, the citizen calls MAC, the customer service rep can see that the citizen already called animal control and can see the real-time status of the citizen's request."
Having information automatically flow back and forth among systems also has freed city employees to focus more on their core responsibilities rather than on data entry, Holdsworth said.
One of the most useful features of the Siebel system is its ability to capture and analyze data, said Dan Israel, group manager for Siebel's public sector business.
"The analytical tools can provide a very clear picture of the key metrics that are going on in the city," Israel said. "It points to what are the most critical things that the folks who work for MAC need to pay attention to, or what the other departments need to be alerted about."
For example, the system might detect that animal collections in a certain part of the city are on the rise. Armed with that knowledge, city officials can determine why the problem is occurring and how to fix it, Israel said.
"Siebel analytics lets them see a chart or graphs that are updated in real time, based on information that is being put in the system by call center reps," he said.
Under the old system, MAC officials would have to tabulate statistics by hand or put data in spreadsheets, Israel said.
Tier1's integration of the Siebel system into the city's geographic information system is proving to be one of the new implementation's most useful features.
For most service calls, location is the most important piece of information: Where is the streetlight burned out? Where is the pothole? Where is the stray dog?
The first information that a customer service rep asks for is location, French said. "Once they get that entered, the system immediately pulls in information from the city's GIS system. It tells the customer service rep, for example, which trash district is associated with that address, who the city council member is and even who the U.S. congressman is."
Integrating with the GIS address database also ensures that inspectors' time is not wasted, Holdsworth said.
"By using the master address database, we've eliminated a lot of time inspectors spend going to the wrong place or trying to find a place that doesn't exist," Holdsworth said. "Validating addresses saves us time and money."
The ability to better track citizens' concerns has been the biggest payoff, Holdsworth said.
"It makes us more accountable as a city," Holdsworth said. "This system lets us see exactly where a process breakdown has occurred [so we can] make sure it doesn't happen again."
If you have an innovative solution that you recently installed in a government agency, contact Staff Writer Doug Beizer at firstname.lastname@example.org.