The Cloud Communications Council Spring Forum was held on Friday, 16th May 2014, drawing a number of representatives from 12 different councils across the UK. The session offered attendees the opportunity to engage in a series of discussions with other council members around the themes of integration between local authority information systems and communications, and security in cloud communications.
From the first part of the debate, covering the theme of “integration”, several key findings and conclusions became obvious:
Finding #1: Councils can have multiple siloes of information
The delegates expressed differing experiences of information siloes throughout their own councils. For smaller councils with fewer systems and fewer citizens, information systems were felt to be relatively centralised, and this led to easier distribution of data through communications outlets, such as contact centres.
However, larger councils noted that their information estates were considerably larger and more disparate. Councils with this kind of infrastructure identified the particular importance of sharing data, especially in the case of helping vulnerable citizens or providing timely healthcare and social services information, as soon as it is needed. However, the process of transferring relevant information often had multiple stages, with numerous inputs to and outputs from different systems, and with the risk of creating multiple instances of almost identical, but also inconsistent, data.
Finding #2: Communications channels can also become isolated
Delegates identified the importance of newer channels of communication, such as social media, in maintaining an exchange of important information with citizens. However, different channels were seen as often isolated – agents working in the contact centre would be taking calls, for example, while other system users might handle emails to the council. Workers responsible for sending out Twitter updates on matters such as roadworks would form yet another silo.
Therefore, citizen-facing communications can struggle to handle unstructured demand for information across multiple channels, especially when having to manage inbound calls and emails and outbound social media interactions. Councils without any effective way of sharing information between these channels face the risk of creating inconsistencies in the information distributed to citizens, and also inconsistencies in the citizen data logged after an interaction.
Finding #3: Adoption levels of systems and integrations can vary significantly
While some of the delegates reported that CRMs and workflow management systems functioned as effective ways of storing and communication information, integrated relatively seamlessly into council infrastructure, others noted that although key systems were deeply embedded within the council’s communications framework, they were often outdated and inefficient. Many found that the interfaces, particularly of older systems, were difficult to work with, which was exacerbated when the same data needed to be passed through multiple systems with completely different interfaces.
Even in the case of identical systems, polarised levels of adoption became clear. Certain workflow management and CRM systems had been installed and yet the councils had found no way to make them effectively interoperate with the other systems, and were instead considering removing them. Conversely, other councils had found the same frameworks served as effective complements to their existing communications and information estates.
Conclusion: Breaking down information and communications siloes
Some councils have already made steps to break down these siloes. One delegate noted that from a starting position of operating 2000 applications, the council had begun to scale down and consolidate. However, others noted that so far no steps had been taken, with several identifying the cost of replacing or removing systems, especially those that had been purchased relatively recently, as one of the primary reasons.
As a way of reducing overheads involved in not only consolidating siloes but also continuing to run integrated communications and information systems, the cloud was considered as a medium. Delegates agreed that in principle, accessing information and communications from the cloud could be a far more efficient and effective way of managing large estates, while increasing the speed at which smaller councils can operate. Councils with multiple siloes in particular noted the advantages of a single sign-on, unified interface, that could be offered by a single cloud deployment.
Concerns were however raised about sharing information, especially about using the cloud due to its nature as a public entity. This section of the discussion will be covered in next week’s continuation of the series of findings from the Forum, entitled “Security”.