Bridging the gaps to service delivery with communications integration

The modern citizen wants to be able to access government services quickly and easily, because that is what they have come to expect in their dealings with private sector organisations.
The trouble is every citizen has a different idea of what the quickest and easiest method is.
Younger people might want to use SMS, busy professionals might like going on the internet, while the older generation may prefer a voice call. So the first challenge is to enable all of these people to interact with organisations using their preferred method of communication, bridging the gap between the organisation and the citizen.
However, if all of these different forms of communication come in separately, organising and administrating them can be a nightmare. With every public sector organisation offering dozens of different services, ranging from Council Tax payments to police Victim of Crime surveys, to have several methods of accessing each of those services seems an unmanageable prospect.
Should there be different departments to handle different forms of communication? How can huge numbers of SMS messages be interpreted and filed appropriately? How can duplication be prevented, and how can complete data accuracy be guaranteed across multiple channels? Opening up new channels of communication means a superior standard of citizen-led service, but there are still gaps within the operational processes of public sector organisations in which time and money can be lost.
That is where communications integration comes in. By enabling multiple channels of communication to pass through one integrated platform, the need for a disparate and overcomplicated system of administration can be avoided. Furthermore, by integrating with back-end data systems, the same platform can automate processes which previously had to be performed manually. Whenever a piece of data needs to be put into a computer, or a message sent to a colleague, or a notification dispatched to the citizen, gaps open up which result in reduced efficiency. By communications-enabling data systems, admin staff and contact centre agents can be freed up for higher value tasks, while eliminating the opportunities for data duplication and human error.
Take resource management for example. Most organisations above a certain size and level of complexity have a workforce optimisation application. This application brings together all critical information relating to staffing arrangements and predicts future requirements. It knows when shift patterns are, how much overtime everyone has worked and – with a fair degree of accuracy - when the peak times are. An application like this serves to bridge the gaps in resource management processes. But such applications lack communications capabilities beyond a simple email notification, which means there is still a crucial gap in which time is always lost: it is the disconnect between the information itself and the person who needs to know it. This is especially costly when unexpected peaks in staffing requirements occur due to incidents which no workforce optimisation tool can predict, such as heavy snowfall or a terrorist attack. Supervisors and duty sergeants should not have to make hundreds of individual phone calls to tell contact centre agents and police officers to come in at short notice. But it takes a communications integration platform to bridge that gap.
However, there are hindrances to adoption of such innovative new technologies. If a large amount has been invested in a new system recently, organisations can be unwilling to consider further investments in that area of their operations. Cloud technology has a key role to play in bridging the gap between legacy infrastructure and the new capabilities required. With plug-and-play, SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) applications hosted in the cloud, controllable from anywhere through browser-based portals, it is being made much easier for government organisations to streamline their procurement processes. In the first instance, they can try the technology out without needing to invest thousands upgrading their existing systems. Then, if the new solution works well, there is no need to replace those legacy systems just because they lack certain capabilities: the cloud can act as an additional layer of functionality on top, operating in tandem with older systems and adding new value to them. At this point it is essential that the technology is built on open standards (such as Voice XML) to enable a high level of system integration.
Ultimately, there is always a disconnect between what organisations want to achieve and what they have to spend. In a time of tightened budgets and restricted resources, this is particularly true in the public sector. There are always dozens of suppliers to choose from, hundreds of brilliant ideas for ways to improve efficiency and the standard of service delivery. But when budgets require a minimum of risk, it is hard to make those big ideas become reality. In the end, it is up to the supplier to build a business case which makes sense, helping to bridge the gap between a great concept and real positive change.
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