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Hi-tech partnership aims to bring about local government revolution; BT: One-stop shop scheme borrowed from Canada would deal with all council services.

AT ONE time or another, most of us will have tried to telephone our local council only to come away from the experience feeling the worse for wear.

There's nothing more frustrating than being met with a constant engaged tone or being treated to 10 minutes of piped music while the person on the other end desperately tries to find someone who can deal with your query.

Now an exciting new partnership between BT and Canada's largest information technology company, CGI, aims to revolutionise the way UK local government works.

"It's all about empowering the citizen and treating them as individuals, " says Derek Metcalfe, head of BT Local Government Partnership Solutions.

"We are working together with our partners and local authorities to change the whole working culture in local government so that it brings returns and benefits across the entire organisation, while delivering top-quality customer service."

The basic idea is to have a onestop shop or "single-window" interface for all local authority services in a region. For example, a resident, instead of having to make sure they ring the right council department to get the information they need, simply calls one number and speaks to someone who is able to access the necessary information from across all of the authority's services. No more being shuffled between departments or having to phone back later.

Mr Metcalfe says that while telephone services and using modern technology to give quick access to a number of different databases is certainly part of BT's culture revolution vision for local government, it is by no means the whole story.

Citizens should also be able to access their local authority's services at any time of the day or night, every day of the year and in a way that they choose.

Known as multi-channel access, this gives residents the freedom not only to pick up the phone, but also, for example, to go online and click on the services they need, or to meet a council employee who can provide a speedy solution to their problems face to face.

Sounds too good to be true? That is where the partnership with CGI comes in. Local authorities are already under pressure to modernise and make more use of new technology as part of a massive, UK-wide "eGovernment" initiative.

Despite BT's huge experience in providing technology and business solutions to local authorities, when the Government's aggressive modernisation programme was first announced, it proved to be a challenge.

"There was a degree of uncertainty among the local authorities on how to tackle the eGovernment agenda, " said Mr Metcalfe.

"The problem was, there was simply no blueprint for it in the UK. So we took some time to look abroad and see what best practice was available in this area."

BT's travels led them to Canada and finally into partnership with CGI. A recent study chose Canada as the world leader in electronic government initiatives for providing services that were centred around the citizen, rather than around government departments.

The pioneering model for this is an eGovernment initiative in the province of New Brunswick, in which CGI is a partner. The company also provided acrossthe-board expertise, from conception through to project management, systems integration and final implementation.

The partnership between CGI and local government in New Brunswick is called Service New Brunswick, or SNB.

It has become a best-of-breed model taken up by regional governments across the world, including Singapore, Tasmania, Western Australia and South America. "We really felt this was a great opportunity for BT and the UK, " says Mr Metcalfe.

The combined expertise and resources of the two companies enables BT to offer tailored solutions to local authorities in the UK without having to go through the huge learning curve that the Canadians experienced when they embarked on the SNB venture.

Brian Freeman, director of consulting services at CGI, explains that the overall concept of SNB is as a one-stop shop service for the citizen, where all local government departments are represented.

"Service New Brunswick provides 120 different services on behalf of 11 departments. It manages three million transactions a year and collects around a third of a billion dollars in government revenues, such as taxes and fines, " he says.

This work is all done through a number of different channels, including a call centre, a website and 36 shop fronts, located around New Brunswick, based on a modern banking look. So citizens are only ever a single call, a click, or a visit away from the information they need.

Mr Freeman uses the example of someone who wants to start up a convenience store in the locality and perhaps needs 12 permits, such as hygiene and health and safety certificates, from several different government departments. "Before, it was left pretty much to the citizen to find out what they needed. The citizen could go to one department, which would issue them with a particular permit but wouldn't know about the requirements from the other departments.

"Now, they just have to deal with one person and they'll get everything they need. The SNB model breaks down the artificial walls between government departments and also removes duplication."

Mr Freeman is particularly enthusiastic about bringing the SNB model to Wales, because he says there are remarkable parallels. New Brunswick is around the same size as Wales, has large sparsely populated rural areas and a multi-cultural society.

"Everything we do here is bilingual, " he says. Towards the end of the 80s, New Brunswick was heavily dependent on disappearing resources, such as forestry, fishing and mining.

"We had to change and so we embraced new technology."

This was done in much the same pattern as has happened in Wales over the past few years:

through massive investment in technology and communications infrastructure, enabling companies to set up call centres in the region. The local government also invested heavily in enabling its residents to acquire the latest technology skills. All of this became a catalyst for inward investment and crucial for th e eventual success of Service New Brunswick.

Mr Freeman added, "Sinc e SNB started up in 1987, unem - ployment has halved in the region. And I see the same sorts of ideas and the same sorts of thought processes going on i n Wales. It reminds me very much of our own thought processes in New Brunswick when we first started."

He says local government in New Brunswick has, by embrac - ing new technology and funda - mentally changing the way it works, been able to use staff mor e cleverly, driving productivity u p and putting the citizen in the dri - ving seat.

Mr Metcalfe agrees that Wales is an ideal starting point for the introduction of the SNB model t o the UK. "The Welsh experience is undoubtedly the best parallel we have in the UK to the New Brunswick experience."

BT's own experience with the difficult transition from nation - alised industry to a modern pri - vate company provides the com - pany with a huge understanding of the difficulties that local authorities are facing.

"Coupled with this, CGI have an architecture for the transforma - tion of local government from an administrative organisation, into one that provides a seamless interface between itself and the citizen, regardless of the transac - tion required, " Mr Metcalfe said.

"But this is not just about implementing a piece of technolo - gy, it's about a fundamental step - change in an authority's whole working culture.

"Single-window government does not happen overnight. But when it's in place it brings returns and benefits across the entire organisation.

"It works by creating headroom throughout the organisation and making efficient use of a coun - cil's budget. This means that resources such as cash and staff can be redirected to front-line ser - vices such as education and social services, where they are needed."

CGI's and BT's technical and business teams are already collab - orating on adapting the SNB gov - ernment model for use in the UK .

The two companies are in joint discussions with local authorities around the country, including sev - eral in Wales.

Sharanne Basham-Pyke, head of BT Innovative Solutions Wales, said, "We are actively seeking local authorities in Wales that are interested in working in partnership with BT and CGI.

"The experiences of Service New Brunswick will help us iden - tify actions that can bring rapid change and improve the lives of the people of Wales. CGI's expe - riences of delivering these ser - vices bilingually mean we can avoid some of the pitfalls."

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MODERN SOLUTION: Experts believe the SNB model would transfer well to Wales
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Nov 21, 2001
Words:1425
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