With the UK Government deadlines for getting 100 per cent of all public services on line by 2006, it's somewhat disheartening to realise that to date only 50 out of 314 local authorities polled by the Society of IT Managers has actually put a CRM system in place.
The complexity of the software is one reason cited for this slow takeup. There's also the whole question of return on investment, difficult enough to predict in the private sector, but even more so in the transparency that surrounds the public sector. Frankly opportunistic vendors who talk airily of the benefits of so called Citizen Relationship Management need to put some more credible examples of ROI studies into the marketing mix.
The emergence therefore of a user led consortium of local authorities to drive CRM standards and uptake in local government is only to be welcomed. Having the input of those on the front line can only help to make the rollout of CRM across the entire country a more attractive possiblity for councils. All too often in local government circles in the UK there has been a 'not invented here' mindset that has somehow assumed that the particular needs of their local authority are in some way unique. This has simply led to a constant and unncessary reinvention of the proverbial wheel.
So I certainly welcome the National CRM programme which has been set up by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) to encourage councils to use the software to become more customer friendly. It's a shame it's falling under the remit of the bumbling John Prescott - I tend to assume that the government isn't about to give any responsibility that really matters to it to that already, shall we say overstretched, individual! - but it's a clear move in the right direction.
And it does have the advantage of being led from the front by Tower Hamlets, whose CRM implementation looks like a text book example of how to do it. With the Tower Hamlet team rallying other local authorities, there is a good chance that the progress of the programme will be in the right direction.
Now it's up to the vendors casting their rapacious eyes over all those lucrative public sector contracts - yes, that's you I'm talking about Siebel, Oracle and Microsoft! - to prove their commitment by getting right behind the National Programme. It's early days, but I note the supportive statements made so far. Let's just make sure they translate into deliverables.