December 17, 2009 By Casey Mayville
New York City encompasses the largest public school system in the United States, educating approximately 1.1 million students in 1,500 schools and employing more than 80,000 teachers. To make information about the school system more accessible to parents, the city's Department of Education (DOE) launched in September 2009 an enhanced 311 system to integrate information from different DOE offices.
The system uses Oracle CRM on Demand, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, which would cost less than a fully customized system built from the ground up. The system was piloted during summer 2009, during which additional development and integration took place. After a successful soft launch, the system was up and running by the time school started in September.
"Previously there was no dedicated parent inquiry system or tracking tools for the NYC public school system. There were different divisions within the New York City Department of Education that were clustered into seven different groups, and they all ran their own call centers on different platforms," said Stephanie Coffey, a senior director from Accenture who worked on software for the project. "So depending on the type of question you had and which division it went to, you were handled by a different agent that tracked that information in that separate system."
The new 311 system is operated by a call center where employees take more than 2,800 calls per day. They either answer a parent's questions with prepared information from the various divisions or route the call to the appropriate department if the question requires further assistance. The system integrates information from DOE offices such as Student Enrollment, Pupil Transportation, Family Engagement and Advocacy and Special Education Initiatives -- eliminating the need for parents to call different departments.
"Approximately 80 percent of questions are answered in one call and the average wait time is four and a half minutes," said Keir Buckhurst, senior executive from Accenture.
The biggest challenge to implementing this new system was the short time frame in which to get the system running smoothly, according to Coffey. "Essentially we had less than 90 days before the start of school. We had to stand up a new facility, roll out new software, train the new representatives and figure out the best way to meet the business needs of the call center with the least amount of customization," she said. "Another challenge was just the amount of data. We had to load over a million student records and 1,500 school records in to the system, all of which updates on a nightly basis."
"One of the features of SaaS is that it really gave us the ability to get something up and running that quickly. It's very robust and really met the needs of the department," Buckhurst said.
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.