How Virginia agencies' CRM speeds services, cuts costs

The executive branch of Virginia’s government was facing a classic case of being stuck with legacy systems that through the normal software cycle would have cost millions of dollars to replace.

But by deploying an off-the-shelf product with a little modification and creativity, the Commonwealth not only replaced legacy systems, "but provided a considerably enhanced user experience and workflow process in the back office that did not exist at all," Virginia CIO Sam Nixon said. Agencies have been able to speed up the delivery of citizen services, respond more quickly to inquiries and concerns, retire outdated and often unsupported software and hardware systems and redeploy existing staff to other tasks.

Based on Microsoft Dynamics, the customer relationship management system within a shared infrastructure is allowing agencies to modernize business functions and improve citizen services. Prior to the deployment of Dynamics, agencies used a hodge-podge of custom-built databases, explained Nancy Kuppich, workgroup productivity manager with the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA), the state's central IT department.

Virginia deployed Microsoft Dynamics since it was already using centralized desktop and messaging capabilities of Microsoft Windows and its productivity office suites, as well as Outlook and Exchange for e-mail. Dynamics integrates with Outlook, and its security is driven by Microsoft Active Directory, so it was a natural fit, said Kuppich.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Vesta Kelly got acquainted with Dynamic CRM two years ago during Gov. Bob McDonnell's transition to the governor's office. An online interface to the CRM system helped Kelly's office handle the 4,000 applicants applying for positions on various boards and commissions. Kelly's office moved the paper-based process online so that applicants were able to apply online, cutting the process from 30 days to a week, significantly reducing postage and shipping costs and enabling the office to operate more efficiently with less staff.

Another improvement allowed agencies to create Web interfaces for the many paper-based processes or functions that did not have a citizen-facing or government-facing portal, said Aaron Mathes, deputy secretary of technology in the governor's office.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth, for example, has six divisions, one of which deals with the 20,000 notaries who have to renew their licenses every year. Like many processes, the renewal was paper-based. The notaries could not pay online, and it took at least 30 days to be recertified. So the office created a CRM-based portal that lets citizens apply to be a notary, receive an answer about whether or not they qualify within a week and pay online. "It is not revolutionary, but it is a fast, nimble way to take paper-based systems and put them online," Mathes said.

Mathes said the governor's office previously had a set of servers owned by the state but hosted by another company. In the new CRM environment, servers and storage as well as the core infrastructure costs are shared by all the agencies on the CRM platform, hosted by VITA. The agencies only use and pay for the computing capacity they need, making better use of the resources.

Prior to moving into a shared environment, the Secretary of the Commonwealth was paying $150,000 a year in infrastructure costs, plus $30,000 a year to the company supporting the platform.  “We literally moved into the shared services Dynamic CRM environment for $30,000,” Mathes said.  “We were able to eliminate $150,000 right off the bat just in infrastructure costs,” he said.

"The environment also allows us to do is share information and allow other people to access or obtain reports from our system," Mathes said. Because there is no universal, out-of-the-box solution that can meet all the legislative mandates that may be required of an agency, Mathes said, the CRM fills in the gaps. For instance, if Mathes’ division builds an application to address a particular function, the development team that helped build the app and the IT team that supports it could use the application in another agency. “They may be modifying it, but instead of building from scratch they are only modifying 5 or 10 percent of it,” Mathes said.

Dynamic CRM is a natural platform for development, because it has a powerful workflow engine and native integration with Microsoft software, Kuppich said. Users also can perform reporting functions through Microsoft SQL database's reporting service. Kuppich explained that the Department of Historic Resources wanted to develop a case management system that automated the approvals process for expanding or making changes to historical properties. After gathering information from Historic Resource executives, Kuppich was able to build a couple of workflows using wizards in hours to demonstrate what was possible.

"We rent space on our infrastructure within the [CRM] application itself, just like a tenant would with an apartment building," Kuppich said. "We have the infrastructure, the software and we can rent things out and customize it." "We have health care, the Governor's Office and the State Board of Election Campaign Finance Management all coinciding on the same infrastructure although their data is segregated and is very different and their business processes are different," Kuppich said. "It's like having your own private cloud," said Ajay Rohatgi, VITA's agency outreach manager within the enterprise applications division.

"The thing I find compelling is we were able to leverage our shared- services, enterprise architecture infrastructure with a commercial product," Nixon, Virginia's CIO, said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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