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 Pam Baker States and Federal Government Embrace Cloud CRM Solutions

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 By Pam Baker

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Government agencies are turning to the cloud en masse for the same reason many enterprises are: to get through tough times on as little cash outlay as possible. The hunt is on for cheaper business software applications; and close to the top of that list for a move to the cloud is customer relationship management (CRM). "There is increasing movement of government agencies adopting the cloud in certain processes where it makes sense and CRM makes perfect sense," says Paul Plaia, president of non-profit and public sector software for CDC Software. "I see government, either through a private cloud or shared services with other government agencies, increasingly using cloud CRM deployments."

Government use of CRM software is not itself a new trend, it's been in vogue for over a decade. The Port of San Diego was one of the first adopters but CRM efforts quickly bloomed across the U.S. in federal, state and local agencies. There are, however, some noticeable differences in deployments across the federal, state and local spectrums and in how they work with one another."CRM systems for governments usually are designed not to replace state systems, which historically support case management, but to interface and work with them," says Pam Owens, a senior manager at ACS who develops customer care solutions for government clients. "Generally, front-end CRM software screens are developed to retrieve and push data to the state systems."

CRM application use in government is still shy of hitting critical mass but that point should be reached, according to a general consensus among research firms, in roughly three to five years. While on-premise CRM products had an early advantage, competitive edge has now shifted to SaaS CRM solutions.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM products are helping speed government agency adoption because of two primary factors 1) SaaS CRM fits government plans for widespread cloud use and 2) SaaS CRM is, generally speaking, cheaper to buy, faster to deploy and easier to use.

"The trend here is that this [CRM software] is a commodity offering and if it's a commodity, the cloud is a logical choice for implementing these systems," says Tom Begley, practice manager at TrueTandem. "In the past, organizational CRM systems took years to implement and had a long shelf life due to the expense of the systems. Today's hosted platforms eliminate these costs and time to get up and running."

Cloud CRM Systems For Constituents and Transparency

Vivek Kundra, the United States federal CIO, deems CRM a vital tool the government needs to serve citizens, both in terms of delivering government services and in the overall effort to keep government works transparent. It's a mantra that Kundra takes very seriously and presents in government IT works across the board, not just in CRM. His take on the various IT technologies are explained on the CIO.gov site and include important offshoots such as the innovative IT Dashboard, which monitors all Federal IT investments and performance, and TechStat Accountability Sessions , which are evidence-based reviews of specific IT projects.

A quick search on the IT Dashboard can find any project type, such as CRM, across all federal agencies or by agency type. When searching, recognize that in the public sector CRM may stand for either "customer relationship management", "constituent relationship management" or even "citizen relationship management". A search of CRM in the Small Business Administration (SBA), for example, shows the performance of the SBA's recent investment in CRM from cost overruns to performance metrics and contract details. The site is current except during Congressional budget sessions when there is a reporting lull between the end of the prior budget and the beginning of the next budget.

While a search of these sites reveal a lot of detail on everything from costs to implementation metrics on each CRM product acquisition, an analysis across the various CRM projects reveals common problems. These obstacles tend to dictate a general preference in CRM features primarily in document management, content management and security.

Government CRM Merges with Content Management Systems

"Document management technology is a key component in the successful use of transforming paper intensive, inefficient record processes into an innovative electronic record system," explains Plaia. "Whether the federal government needs to track Medicare and Medicaid recipients or integrate a soldier's DoD and Veteran Administration records, or simply enable a citizen to attach a tax bill to the electronic payment of their taxes, document management works hand in glove with CRM software."

"Similarly, Content Management Systems also serve as an enabler for CRM solutions to promote transparency and fully engage constituents by pushing information digitally on to the web," he added.

While security issues will always remain a thorn in all IT pros' sides, whether government or civilian employed, SaaS CRM vendors may measure higher than generally expected in this regard. "Cloud computing can be as secure, if not more secure, than the traditional on-premise government IT environments," says Plaia. "Cloud vendors are held to high standards, must offer evidence of security certifications, and are subject to inspections by auditors, placing them under much higher scrutiny than typical in-house security teams." Vendors hosting CRM software for the federal government are held to prescriptive information security standards, including FIPS 199 and the all encompassing NIST Certification and Accreditation (C&A)—a security compliance that generally takes more than one year to complete and is thereafter reviewed annually.

CRM will continue to find favor in governments for years to come. Even so, CRM objectives, requirements and preferences may change as elections and new administrations come and go.

From Federal to State Government Adoption of Cloud CRM

Kundra's IT Dashboard is an excellent resource to track further CRM solution movement in the federal government. Tracking CRM use on the state and local level is a bit trickier although most states and many local governments have websites for their respective CIOs and those are often good starting points for CRM project discoveries. However, a good resource for an overview of all public sector CIOs at the state level can be found at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). Any prevailing or emerging trends at the state level are likely to appear on the NASCIO website.

Consider state government CRM software utilization in light of federal CRM adoption, as even different levels of government tend not to exist in a vacuum. Systems will require some degree of interoperability if there is to be efficiency on either government level. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is currently supporting electronic health records by leveraging cloud-based CRM tools but Owens reports ACS finds "there's not yet widespread acceptance of CRM application in human service environments [at the state level] due to reluctance of using an outside system." Whether this disconnect actually connects in the future and whether state governments follow the federal governments push to the cloud remains to be seen. End

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Software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM solutions are helping speed government adoption because of two primary factors — 1) SaaS CRM fits government plans for widespread cloud use and 2) SaaS CRM is, generally speaking, cheaper to buy, faster to deploy and easier to use.

 

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The economic gains, the environmental benefits and the ability to provision services on demand are key factors in the government's shift to cloud computing."

~ Vivek Kundra, White House CIO

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