The future of eGovernment

By on 03/09/2010 in Blog

Dawn Flook, Customer First Programme Delivery Manager at Birmingham City Council, writes about the future prospect for eGovernment in the city and beyond…

There have been many reports and much speculation about the future of big IT projects within the public sector given the new Government's need to reduce the national deficit.

However, here in Birmingham we are showing investment in technology as part of a transformation programme can reap long-term financial benefits.

Birmingham City Council launched its ambitious Business Transformation programme in 2006, and it is on track to save the authority £1billion by 2016.

Much of the £600+million we are investing to save this money has gone into improving our ICT, using it as an enabler along with staff training and improvements in our processes .

In terms of how this benefits citizens, the arguments and business cases that we have put together are compelling - and would be for anyone in the public or private sector.

Customer First, one of our nine Business Transformation workstreams, is all about improving the experiences our customers, be they businesses, citizens or visitors, have when engaging with the council.

A cornerstone of Customer First has been to make the hundreds of services that we provide as accessible as possible to people, using a wide range of different channels.

Just over ten years ago barely anyone was using the internet. Now the majority of people do.

Therefore we recognised that making our web presence fit for the 21st century was an absolute priority and we have embarked on a journey to do just that.

Prior to the first stages of its revamp, birmingham.gov.uk was a website that offered little more than pages and pages of information.

This was, and is, of course useful, but there was so much more we could be doing.

We now have a website that is far more functional, from a user and technical perspective. With each programme delivery phase things are getting better and better, enabling our customers to transact with us more easily for an increasing number of services.

Citizens can now create customer accounts that enable them to raise and track any queries they make. This simply wasn't possible using our old web platform and this will continue to grow as we add more and more services.

This one bit of progress has been massively significant. We are empowering citizens like never before.

This technical capability also enables our staff to share the same information about our customers and their transactions across a variety of channels.

For the first time staff at our Neighbourhood offices, where customers visit us and staff at our contact centres, where customer calls are taken, have the same tools and have been trained in the same customer service techniques – thus providing consistent levels of improved customer service to our customers, regardless of how they contact us.

We are also now more accountable as our processes and performance transparent for all to see.

The end result will be increased customer satisfaction ratings, which a key outcome of our customer service transformation.

Allied to this is also the level of savings that e-government aspects of our transformation can offer if the concept is embraced fully.

By giving people the power to raise queries from the comfort of their own home and preventing unnecessary multiple journeys to our offices, we are cutting out overheads that don't need to exist in 2010 and ensuring staff have the time to deal with those customers who still need to deal with us face to face or over the phone.

Our research tells us that customer satisfaction is driven by delivering what is promised and through the handling of an enquiry and therefore we have ensured that technology has been as an enabler and a tool for our staff, alongside training and empowerment.

We are offering our customers a balance of choice of contact, as Telephone and face-to-face contact will still be offered as options to citizens. However, over time we are confident that the ease of carrying out transactions via the web will become more and more attractive to people.

The right balance of technology, training and improvements to our processes will enable us to make savings, but more importantly, real improvements in the provision of service to our customers.

We believe e-government isn't just the future. It needs to be the now, and we here at Birmingham City Council are strong supporters of the need to invest in this area as an integral part of our customer service improvement programme.

This article first appeared on September 2 at http://www.publicservice.co.uk/feature_story.asp?id=14806

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