Survival guide: perspectives from the field - David Molchany, CIO for Fairfax County, Va.

David Molchany, Fairfax County, Va., CIO

Customer relationship management. You may not know what it is, but you know it when you see it. A good place to look is Fairfax County, Va., where CRM is B-I-G. The largest county of the metropolitan Washington area, it has 1 million residents, 33,000 employees and a budget of $4 billion. And over seven years, David Molchany, its chief information officer, and the 1,200 people involved in broad categories of information technology have implemented an exemplary CRM program. Managing Editor Evamarie Socha talked with Molchany about his experiences with CRM.

WT: How wired is Fairfax County?

Molchany: The ability to get access in Fairfax County for citizens is great. I think between 70 percent and 80 percent have Internet access.
We have a large e-government program which includes [interactive voice response], kiosks in multiple locations across the county, the Web site and cable television.
Also, we have Access Fairfax Center in our new south county center, which has PCs as well as a kiosk. And in all of our libraries, we have PCs for the public to use. We also have computer learning centers that are targeted to people who want to use computers after school.

WT: Who thought of all this?

Molchany: Certainly not just me. One of the neat things about having the libraries as part of my group is that they bring a lot of innovation; they also bring a lot of work with citizens directly. ... Most of our original kiosks were in the libraries, and they got a lot of use there.

WT: What was the first service to go online?

Molchany: When we started, a lot of these projects were about to become pilots. We already had a bulletin board, which was really successful. When I got here, they were already thinking: Web site, yes, we want one; kiosks, here is an interesting idea; they had a foray into that. And then [interactive voice response] was something also in its infancy, and we decided to pilot them all at once.
And it was extremely successful. People loved it. ... I think the very first thing that went up on the IVR might have been traffic tickets. And from there we went into tax payments, personal property and real estate.

WT: What has been the biggest surprise?

Molchany: The usage. Another is possibly the multitude of opinions about how things should be done. And that has been interesting, because the typical IT group seven years ago probably didn't deal directly with the public. Now there is a direct connect to the end user. IT actually has the citizen as a customer now, and that has been a surprise and a change to how we do business.

WT: A common argument against CRM is that it's not really workable because most of the software out there is commercial.

Molchany: I disagree with that, because generally all of the vendors are willing to work with you. When you get to the real CRM, the call center type things, you really need several things: a good software package to manage the most frequently asked questions, a knowledge base, and actually the assignment. You also need a telephone system with call routing, etc., built in. You need to marry the telecommunications to the software in a most efficient way.
The key thing is to find a vendor you're comfortable with, a vendor that is willing to help you tier the package in a way that is going to maintain your ability for them to support you, and also make sure your telecom backbone is there to support your call centers.

WT: What does CRM cost Fairfax County?

Molchany: We've been spending pretty consistently for seven years. In fact, part of our budget each year has been about $20 million; that is just on new projects. This year we decided to reduce that to $13 million. Instead of doing so many brand new projects, we're concentrating on ones that are ongoing and have a very specific customer service focus.

WT: What advice do you have for governments that don't have a lot to spend on CRM?

Molchany: You want to pick off small pieces. What is your most strategic area? Where are you getting the most calls or queries? And can you find a package that will handle that? And then move outward. We actually did not spend an enormous amount of money per office on the solution we have today. The average was in the range of $200,000. n

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