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California county finds CRM vendors low on functionality, high on price

The CIO for a county in California explains why some of CRM's top vendors couldn't meet his needs and where he ultimately turned.

Steve Monaghan is the chief information officer of Nevada County, Calif., and he's here to tell you that CRM for the government sector isn't what vendors want you to believe it is.

Two years ago Monaghan had the task of finding a way for CRM technology to better serve the roughly 95,000 residents of the sprawling county in the heart of what was once California's gold country. Faced with staffing and budget constraints that typify many government IT efforts, he found the existing CRM landscape unfriendly and ultimately overblown.

"There's a lot of hype around CRM in the public sector but when it comes down to it, the options aren't ideal," Monaghan said. "The e-government label is thrown around too loosely. There are a lot of vendors promising support, but all they've done is add little ticket systems to an existing package and renamed it as 'government CRM.'"

The CIO received orders from his county's five-member board of supervisors to begin looking for a CRM infrastructure to aid in the delivery of services to its citizens. Monaghan said a trip to an industry trade show quickly helped him understand that the most effective tool he could acquire wouldn't be found in the applications offered by major CRM providers. This included the government offering tendered by market leader Siebel Systems Inc., San Mateo, Calif.

"Siebel builds a nice package of software with lots of bells and whistles, but it would have cost twice as much as our current system, and we didn't need a lot of what was in there," Monaghan observed. "The pure CRM vendors don't have a strong grasp on what government organizations are looking for. They're clearly geared for Fortune 500-type customers and those companies' environments, especially in terms of pricing and product life cycle."

What eventually worked for Nevada County was a beefed-up e-mail routing package developed by business process management (BPM) specialists Metastorm Inc., Severna Park, Md. Monaghan said Metastorm's e-Work application delivered exactly the kind of functionality he was looking for, at a much lower price than other alternatives. The executive estimates his department has spent $200,000 on deploying the software thus far.

On a technological level, Nevada County is using the application to link its Web sites to its databases. Tired of losing citizen requests for services in its sprawling IT network, the system was designed to interface with the county's existing Novell databases and direct residents' queries to one of 30 county departments. Previously, paper-based requests were often misplaced or hung up in a patchwork network of technology and bureaucracy.

The long-term goal is for citizens to conduct all of their county business online. Future applications currently in the planning phase include registration of cars, tax payment and Web-based time sheets for all county employees. The citizen request management system is the only application being piloted with the public at present, Monaghan reported.

According to Metastorm CEO Avi Hoffer, working with government customers poses a completely different set of challenges compared to serving private companies.

"You have to be a higher service organization and you must be very customer driven," Hoffer said. "It's a different kind of relationship. [Government customers] lean on you more."

Hoffer also advised that vendors be ready for culture shock when it comes to pricing products for government customers. Metastorm is currently serving other government entities including California cities Los Angeles and Fresno, and international locations like Berlin, Germany.

For Monaghan the ongoing initiative isn't just about implementing technology, it involves a fundamental shift in how county employees view themselves and the various jobs they perform. He said the biggest hurdle so far has been motivating the workforce to change its habits and embrace the new system as a way to become more effective. Another challenge has been quashing the opinion that CRM is a 'big brother' device aimed at gathering negative performance information.

"I think something as significant as what we're trying to do with changing the way people work, the way government works and interacts with the public, is always bound to get a lukewarm reception on some levels," he said. "But shifting these perceptions is the single most important element of the project."

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

The Best Web Links on public service CRM

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Metastorm brings BPM modeling to Azure cloud computing platform Business process management (BPM) house Metastorm has joined the fledgling ''BPM in the cloud'' movement, releasing a cloud computing-based version of its BPM modeling tools. Metastorm joins Appian, Cordys and others testing the waters of cloud-hosted software for BPM. Notably, the Metastorm offering operate in the Microsoft Azure Cloud. Metastorm M3 comprises a popular subset of its modeling tools for business process building. Supported model types include process/workflow, activity, rule, project, requirement, location and other models. Business users employing the tools can chat, whiteboard and annotate models online. The subset of Metastorm models can share a subset of Metastorm objects. ''We are using Azure to host our M3 Modeler,'' said Greg Carter, CTO, MetaStorm. ''The host and repository you store models in are on the Azure platform.'' ''It's like a gigantic copy of Windows on the cloud,'' he said, noting that M3 modeling also supports private cloud and on-premise architectures. While the runtime deployment of the BPM software still resides 'off-cloud,' one can picture a hosted runtime as a next step. The software could help cut time-to-deployment, allowing business teams to forge their models and bring process re-engineering long before IT installs runtime software and hardware. At the same time it released M3, Metastorm also announced an enterprise mashup system that allows Metastorm's software and other applications to be accessed from a single user interface.

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