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Citizen relationship management (ZRM)

Citizen relationship management -- high-tech public service "of the people, by the people, for the people."

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

Chairing a recent seminar on e-Government at The Brookings Institution, I asked the participants to raise their hands if they had been on a government website for any reason within the last 30 days.   I was surprised to see over 90% of the class raise their hands. In discussing what they were doing, the diversity of responses was telling. The activities ranged from simple queries (i.e., weather, telephone numbers) to more complex searches (i.e., directions on completing tax returns, availability of books in a local library,) to the actual transacting of real business (i.e., filing tax returns, downloading of application forms, paying traffic tickets). The Internet changes everything, it has been said, and this includes the ability of government to serve its citizens. This is the principal driving force for electronic government. However, e-gov needs to be paired with Citizen Relationship Management (ZRM) to be truly of service to the governed. 

Often when discussing the origins of Citizen Relationship Management I like to point to Abraham Lincoln’s contribution in speaking of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  This concept is at the root of ZRM, and has been incorporated into President Bush’s Management Agenda and e-gov programs.  Citizen Relationship Management holds out the promise of a much more effective, efficient and simple government at the service of its citizens. Yet, there is a lot we need to know and do before we get there. 

ZRM borrows heavily from Customer Relationship Management (CRM). The latter has been defined as “customer-centric business strategies that optimize the long-term value of selected customers.” Citizen Relationship Management focuses on “serving” rather than “selling,” but both ZRM and CRM are premised on the fact that in order to obtain best results from the relationship, there has to be identification, differentiation, interaction and personalization. It is the latter point – personalization – that ultimately accounts for the breakthrough, whether for, Wal-Mart, the FAA or the Virginia Department of Transportation.   

In ZRM, as in CRM, the key is to build a 360º view of the government’s “customers” – its citizens -- by capturing interactions across all the channels or touch points.  This will provide government with the necessary information to be able to better serve its citizens through a number of benefits or byproducts. For example:  

  • Data can be captured once but reused often.
  • Citizen preferences can be identified through analysis of past interactions.
  • Services can be personalized based on geography, life stage, or specific eligibility requirements.
  • Applications, filings, payments, or other interactions can be simplified by enabling them on-line.
  • Automatic notification can be made of license expirations, renewal due dates or other time-sensitive interactions and where possible they may be transacted on-line.
  • Data can be shared across government agencies and levels (i.e. Federal, state, local) in order to facilitate dealings with the citizen.
  • Quick detection and prevention of identity theft and other fraud attempts can be enabled. 

There will be potential benefits for the government as well. These will take the form of achieving economies of both scope and scale, and allow for the facilitation and simplification of processes.   

It is through electronic case management that true ZRM is accomplished. Think of how government might address its interactions with citizens who are applying for a passport, a patent or a driver’s license. In every one of these situations there is a process characterized by workflow covering a number of steps and involving one or more transactions with the same individual.  This constitutes a case and its status in the process and work queues should be tracked in the same way that FedEx tracks a shipment.  Whenever possible it should be done openly, providing the applicant free and friendly access to the case file in order to engage the individual in facilitating his or her own situation. Furthermore, by capturing the history of cases – transactions – within a specific agency and across agencies and levels of governments, the process of better serving that specific citizen can be substantially enhanced. What if the government official working on a transaction were to have ample awareness of that citizen’s preferences, prior transactions, and other interactions with sister agencies? What if all the needed authentication and eligibility verification could be done automatically, through the case management system connected to other agencies and levels of government? Backlogs and cycle times could be substantially reduced and the government could do its job much more effectively. 

A number of issues need to be addressed as we move to ZRM within the Federal government. First, in order to share information across agencies and bureaus, we need to be able to reach beyond screens and into databases. That entails the use of a tool like the eXtended Markup Language or XML. However, it is not yet true that XML is the universal standard web language. There are many flavors to XML, and much work has to be done before broad data sharing through XML is enabled. 

Secondly, ZRM requires more than just accessing databases across government organizations. For true ZRM implementation, you need to capture and integrate historical data and analyze it in order to effectively handle cases and manage campaigns. This has to be done through personalization and the only way to personalize services to the citizen is to develop fast access data marts with contours for each individual that can be improved over time with each new interaction. This will enable a public library, the State Department or the EEOC to personalize and respond quickly to someone interested in borrowing a book, applying for a passport or filing an equal opportunity complaint. These government agencies should be able to respond as quickly, and in as personal a mode, as does now for its current customers. 

The last point is the issue of privacy. At the root of ZRM is the ability to personalize, which entails having substantial information about the citizen. Insofar as this is solely and exclusively for the benefit of the individual citizen, there is little argument about the value of the approach. However, we are well aware of the significant debate over government use of confidential information, and the need to protect our civil liberties. Safeguards must be established and a balance must be sought that protects our rights while we streamline, personalize and improve citizen service.  

Citizen Relationship Management holds substantial promise for improving the way the government serves the governed. Today’s technology can make it substantially simpler to interact with the government, by driving e-government in parallel with a push toward ZRM.  

(Previously Published in the GSA CRM Newsletter Number 14, November 2003)

Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

Dr. Barquin is a member of the E-Gov (Electronic Government) Advisory Board, and chair of its knowledge management conference series; member of the Digital Government Institute Advisory Board; and has been the Program Chair for E-Government and Knowledge Management programs at the Brookings Institution. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. Dr. Barquin can be reached at

Editor's note: More government articles, resources, news and events are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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