Councils lack IT integration to make most of online services

Councils want a big switch to web services to save money and better serve citizens, but a lack of IT integration is causing them "serious concern", according to research.

With councils facing further funding cuts, software house NDL has revealed that three-quarters of councils now view increasing the amount of transactions done online as the "main focus" for maintaining or improving service delivery.

The research, which was compiled from interviews with 270 senior IT staff from two-thirds of UK local authorities, demonstrates the move to digital.

Currently, the majority (54 percent) of councils view automated phone systems as the main channel of interaction between councils and citizens, while just over a quarter (27 percent) view the council’s website as fulfilling this role.

However, by 2016, respondents predicted a radical shift with almost 70 percent saying the majority of interactions with the public will be via the council’s website, with just 21 percent still expecting automated phone systems to be in poll position.

NDL’s managing director, Declan Grogan, said: “From a cost savings perspective it makes perfect sense for councils to route more interactions with the public via their websites.

"This follows the trend set by central government’s Digital by Default initiative, where services which are deemed appropriate are designed to be accessed online first, as is the case with the flagship Universal Credit reform."

For this to happen in councils though, said Grogan, council websites would first have to be properly integrated with wider IT systems.

"IT experts, whose opinions feature in our research, know this but there is still an enormous way to go in implementing full scale integration,” said Grogan.

Almost 90 percent of senior IT personnel surveyed recognised that a lack of integration is a barrier to delivering services via online channels. A substantial majority (70 percent) of those questioned believed that the link between the front end of a council’s website and back-office systems, will be provided by customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

But NDL said "generally speaking CRM systems are themselves poorly integrated".

The report revealed a third of councils still integrate less than 10 percent of CRM services with back-office systems, and that 81 percent of councils integrated less than half of services.

"So it’s hardly surprising that over 70 percent of councils say re-keying data gathered by CRM systems is ‘common practice’", NDL said.

Almost 40 percent of authorities re-key more than half of the data gathered.

Grogan said: “This is a depressing picture and shows there is still an enormous amount of work to be done if websites are to be the councils’ main service channel in little more than three years’ time. Retyping data is of course massively inefficient and resource intensive, while also making errors endemic."

The report also found that e-forms are increasingly being seen by councils as providing a "light touch" route to service delivery, provided of course they are properly integrated too.

But NDL’s research shows e-forms are even less integrated than CRM systems. The report found that 83 percent of councils using e-forms regard re-keying information as "common practice" - 13 percent more than those using CRM. And 55 percent of respondents re-key more than three-quarters of data captured via e forms (the equivalent figure for CRM systems is 33 percent).

“To benefit from an online shift there simply has to be robust and comprehensive integration between council websites and back-office systems. How this is done, whether via CRM or e-forms, is less important than the fact that it is done," said Grogan.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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