The Technology Champs - Customer Relationship Management

I’ve always said that technology isn’t a driver, but an enabler when it comes to CRM and the strategies associated with it. The public sector is one place where it comes as close to being a driver as is possible. Technology never gets to driver status—not even designated driver, but it plays a huge role in the transformation that’s going on right now.

There are many companies that are involved in CRM when it comes to the public sector. Companies like, Oracle, SAP, Aplicor, and RightNow have been involved in the public sector for many years at state, federal, and local levels. For example, RightNow has more than 135 federal agencies as clients including, GSA, Social Security Administration, U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Census Bureau, Health and Humans Services, EPA, USDA, HUD, and a host of other three-letter institutions. In fact, as of 2008, the public sector was responsible for 20 percent of all of RightNow’s revenues.

But there’s also a new posse in town—in fact, a new sheriff. Companies like Blue State Digital (BSD), which has had a meteoric rise from 2004 when they were the company responsible for Howard Dean’s Internet backbone on through 2008 and beyond because of their technology architecture for the incredibly successful efforts of the Obama campaign through Companies like BSD are beginning to incorporate the social technologies that are being used in the Social CRM constituent interaction strategies that seem to win things these days.

Not only that, the general trend toward technology integration is reaching into this same realm. Companies with CRM products are now developing the application programming interfaces (APIs) or using middleware like Websphere to integrate with social applications. In the public sector, the first integration well done is Microsoft and Neighborhood America’s joint effort.

Integrating Social with CRM: Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Neighborhood America ELAvate
One of the paradigmatic and, also, puzzling issues of a Social CRM technology plan is, how do you develop a solution that combines the more traditional CRM applications that are geared toward operations and transactions and the social applications that are built more for external customer/constituent participation and engagement— meaning involving interactions? They aren’t necessarily on the same platform, nor are they necessarily an obviously workable combination.

On the one hand, you’re dealing with activities that are primarily data- or process-driven. They are centered in a corporate environment and their purpose is more about improving efficiencies and effectiveness than anything else. That would be traditional CRM activities in case you’re either a newbie or tired—that’s sleepy tired or tired of this book.

In the public sector, it gets even more complicated due to the existence of multiple legacy systems, which can get in the way of even the most comprehensive software and services solutions. The standards for those software and services solutions have changed over the years, too. Traditional mainframe architectures are now being replaced by service-oriented architectures and web services–based messaging. That means revamping much of the information technology that exists at many federal agencies, which still have to handle terabytes and maybe even petabytes of information quickly and effectively because real-time response is what the constituent is expecting.

So the subject of integration in the public sector is complex. The results move a lot slower than many companies or individuals want, but one of our public sector tech rock stars is a two-man band that uses service-oriented architecture and their own products to provide something that is the first CRM and social network platform integration in the public sector. Note, I didn’t say the first platform to use CRM and social tools. I said integration.

That would be Microsoft and Neighborhood America, whom you were introduced to in previous Chapter. In March 2009, at the 2009Microsoft Convergence conference, they released the integration between Microsoft Dynamics CRM for the Public Sector and the Neighborhood America ELAvate platform.

Amir Capiles, the public sector industry manager for Microsoft Business Solutions, and a key player in making this happen—besides being a really nice guy—had this to say about it:

While the technological foundation of this integration is based on MS CRM, the potentially transformational element of our approach lies in the fusion of MS CRM with the social networking community. Its first result, the Idea Bank Community, enables pretty much all constituents who want to share ideas, provide feedback, and propose new solutions to become part of a public sector–driven community while being linked to a myriad of social networking sites. This is empowering. It combines technology and social networking community engagement to realize a level of transparency, communication, and collaboration that gives a forum to the ideas of the citizens it serves.

Figure provides a view of its technology services. Two things are notable. First, the ability of the citizen to use a single ID to access all the different services provided by the different agencies in different states or cities (or nationally) that use the system. Second, the ability to track the interactions between the citizens and the agencies.
Microsoft-Dynamics CRM and Neighborhood America's
Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Neighborhood America’s ELAvate platform together at last

The first actual instance of this integration was announced in March 2009 with the release of the Public Sector Idea Bank. The idea was a community that would be a collaborative site for Microsoft Public Sector and its partners to interact so that they could improve the overall offerings to the public sector. While this is by no means a realization of the potential of this integrated platform, it is a useful first effort. One feature I want to point out is on the right in Figure. Latest Community Ideas is a place where there is discussion of public service–based events and the community scores them for their value and importance. The best ideas, like commercial sites that are using UGC-like rankings or ratings, bubble to the top.
The-first-results of the integration
The first results of the integration: the Idea Bank Community

All in all, this is an important step toward a public sector version of Social CRM. I expect there will be others, but Microsoft and Neighborhood America are first to the table with this and because of that are one of the technology champs in the Social CRM world. uncharacteristically has had very few big marketing moments when it comes to government business. Probably their biggest splash was the Citizen Briefing Book discussed earlier in the chapter. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t involved in either the government or with elections. They have an active presence in the cutting edge of government bth from SaaS and social strategies.

Kaveh Vessali, vice president of public sector for, told me their strategy:
For us, cloud computing as a delivery model enables connection and communication in ways that other delivery models can’t. While it’s okay to use the Web as a technology for efficiency, that isn’t what it’s about. It isn’t about the software either. It’s about the locations that exist because of the Internet.

What this leads to is a public sector technology model that is based on three “layers.” The top layer is the outreach services. The second layer is the business processes that are needed to succeed with the outreach. The third layer, according to Kaveh, is the infrastructure, technology, communities, and the interactions among the agencies regardless of the level of the institutions. attempts to unify all three layers. They also have a wide range of services that they can cover because of the flexibility of their platform and the maturity of their CRM platform and the innovative uses of their technology as we see below.

Campaignforce is a product of the fertile minds at I came across it at a launch of something else I went to in San Francisco in 2007 that has a back story that I’ll tell you if you ask (it involves wine). I was impressed and I saw its power both because it was something that you could quickly get up and running and because someone had put the kind of thought into it that made it more than a mere port of its salesforce automation application. Plus it had some very cool mash-ups using the always popular Google maps.

What it does is what campaigns have to do. It manages the volunteers and the donors for a given campaign. It provides visibility to budgets and their use, it organizes and tracks the donors by issues they are interested in or by geographical location (thus the use of Google maps). It can pull in data from national polls and compare results to the other candidates.

Probably the most important single feature is who it synchronizes with and how. It will actually synchronize via NetFile (in the states that NetFile is available) with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to report donations. It then syncs FEC donation verification with the candidate’s donor list so that the candidate has a true record of the donation levels of each donor. It can do this with some state election commissions too.

As with all applications and services, there are strong APIs and web services and the platform so that you can build mash-ups to pull in unstructured data like the status of Barack Obama’s Facebook organization or the number of Twitter tweets about John McCain. By Super Tuesday 2008, 30 campaigns were using it, including Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. Not bad.

You’re In the Army Now: On Demand
In February 2009, the U.S. Army announced that it was using in a pilot recruitment program. That itself isn’t all that interesting, frankly. Just sounds like another customer. But in this case, it’s being used in conjunction with the Army Experience Center, a recruitment center that includes simulations, video games, and interactive career tools. It is spacious, casual, and in a mall in Philadelphia.

The use of in this environment is for its ease of implementation and its ability to capture data and create a single “customer” record. When the prospective recruit registers, they provide basic demographic and contact info—age, education, and family military history, among other things. The idea is that the recruiter will be able to see the individual’s likely level of interest and recruit more effectively.

What also made this valuable to the army was that it took only four months to implement. The army called the cost “inconsequential.” Which might or might not be a good thing for

The State of Virginia:Pilot One Stop
Get this one. There was a time not too long ago when if you wanted to register a business in Virginia you might have to fill out up to 28 forms that would be sent to four separate agencies at three separate levels—state, county, and city. Some of the forms were paper, others were either digital or paper. But none were connected to each other. According to Kaveh Vessali, that meant registering a business in Virginia would require the registrant to enter their name, address, and Social Security number 19 times. was deployed in Pilot One Stop—a program using to create a wizard that would allow the registrant to enter data once which would autopopulate the forms and then send the forms themselves to the appropriate state, city, and county agencies. Any changes were updated automatically on all forms.

Note the uses of in campaigns, at a federal level, and at the state level, and, of course, with the Citizen Briefing Book, in the new administration. Maybe not lots of headlines, again, a anomaly there, but there are lots of uses in the public sector—both traditionally and contemporarily, which in this case, is a good thing.

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