Government doesn’t need a CRM

I’ve have multiple conversations lately with public sector clients who are searching for a CRM (Customer Relationship Management software). If you’re thinking about this, then you’re starting with the right intent: it’s good to want to treat citizens like customers, and to invest in tools to improve those relationships. But a CRM is likely the wrong tool for the job you’re trying to do.

What job is CRM designed to support?

The problem with CRM as a solution for government, is that a CRM is designed to solve a different job. CRM software is intended to solve the problems of coordinating and operating a sales team. CRM software has interface for sales people and sales managers.

Government doesn’t have sales people or sales managers, or any roles that compare. There are exceptions — municipalities may have a commercial land sales teams — but there isn’t normally a role within government that equates to the job of a sales person or a sales manager. So who would actually make use of CRM software and what jobs would they use this technology to do?

The person within a public sector ecosystem who does need to look at a history of interactions, understand the relationship, and view how personal information is managed and stored is the citizen. I can’t think of any CRM tools that gives the customer a role and explicit view within the product — that’s almost always done through customization.

What is the job to be done?

There is a relationship management job to be done here. The citizen does need to see a total lifetime view of their relationship to the government organization and may want to solve questions or tasks such as:

  1. Grant permission for a government department or service to access my identity
  2. Sign in to a new web site or online service
  3. Learn what information you store about me
  4. Browse services that have I accessed in the past
  5. Search for records that exist about me (i.e. permits, receipts, fines, contact information)
  6. Audit who has viewed my personal information

Each of these jobs are initiated by the citizen, not by the government. There is no sales person scheduling calls, capturing meeting notes, or doing any of the jobs that a CRM is designed to automate.

The job is identity management

What’s needed is Identity Management, or IDM software. IDM software has the plumbing to connect to multiple systems to enable single sign on. It has capabilities for an end user to log in and update information and see records of previous transactions. It should provide tools for auditing access to information (i.e. Health may view my medical records but Motor Vehicles may not). IDM software should provide for levels of access, where a user can access basic information following a web signup, but to get deeper access to personal information they need to provide some more formal identification, like coming to a service desk with ID and connecting your online account to your drivers license. These features are not present in CRM software; it’s the wrong tool for the job.

So there is a software category for solving the problem of improving citizen relationship management in a digital service context. But it’s not Customer Relationship Management, it’s Identity Management.