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Big Sister is watching you... or she might be

16th Nov 2006
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Read also: Special Report: C for Citizen and M for Modernity or 'How the UK government might use CRM to punish antisocial behaviour in 2007'

I've always had my concerns about Ruth Kelly. I don't think that's unreasonable. The haircut alone sets alarm bells ringing in my head - and if that's enough her conspicuous refusal to comment on various diversity matters is a major cause for concern in my mind. You know the sort of thing: a minister for diversity that won't go on the record about whether she approves of civil partnerships, for example.

So forgive me if you think I'm about to be unnecessarily alarmist - perhaps I am! - but the idea this week that the government might be looking to apply CRM technologies and techniques to determine matters such as citizen exclusion is pretty damn alarming from where I'm sitting.

I can see the appeal of the theory. If the private sector can use CRM to identify good customers and bad customers, then surely the public sector can use it to identify good citizens and bad citizens. That certainly seems to be the rationale underlying research by Professor Stephen King of Leeds University Business School, research that Ms Kelly and her chums in Whitehall seem to be taking an interest in.

But let's stop and think about this a minute. How many private sector organisations genuinely have the 360 degree view of the customer that they claim to be pursuing or that CRM vendors claim they can give them? How many of them can guarantee that their customer segmentation stategies and categorisations are 100 per cent accurate and effective.

Now think about it. If you're wrongly categorised as a customer of a retail firm, you might end up getting a lot of cold calls you don't want to get when you're sitting down to watch Torchwood. It's annoying, it's irritating, but since BBC3 is showing Torchwood about 70 times a week (or maybe it just seems that way!) you can always catch up with Captain Jack on another occasion.

On the other hand, if you're wrongly categorised as a bad citizen, the consequences could be far worse. Loss of benefits? Unwanted and unwarranted police attention? A voucher for Asbos R Us? It's really no laughing matter.

Of course, if the CRM technology could be guaranteed to work and if all the data being input into it was guaranteed to be completely accurate and if the consultants being paid a small fortune in taxpayers money to implement the system did it properly, then it might be OK.

But then of course we'd be talking about a public sector IT project that worked and delivered benefits that met expectations. Now that is a laughing matter - well, a bad joke anyway - if you don't laugh, you'll only cry.

Perhaps nothing will come of these deliberations in Whitehall. Perhaps it will be confined to another consultation document that will never be translated into practice. Maybe they'll give it to John Prescott to look after and then we'll know they've given up on the idea.

Or maybe they won't...

Stuart Lauchlan
News & Analysis Editor
[email protected]

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By david willis
16th Nov 2006 16:30

A little negative aren't we Stuart - CRM can undoubtedly offer many benefits for government.

You would have a single call centre - you'd just need to know one phone number and then would be able to ask all manner of questions: from bin collections to tax and benefits.

Best of all they would have no excuses left, all the information would be at hand in one place.

I'm sure they will be getting started just as soon as they've resolved the budget & VAT issues with the 2012 Olympics!

David Willis @ Information Drivers

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