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Electoral lottery ...
Electoral lottery

It is strange to think that with so many advances in technology we still vote in the way my grandfather did - in a plywood booth making a cross with a blunt pencil.

Contrast that with the lottery where you can go almost anywhere to take part in the draw, knowing with certainty that technology will provide the result with no fuss, no mistakes and no delay.

Why can't we have the same certainty with voting? The need to modernise is borne out by new research from de Montfort University that shows society has indeed moved on since my grandfather's time - today's electors want to vote in ways that suit their commitments and lifestyles. Trials in the recent local elections show that postal voting pushes up the turnout. Young people like text messaging; others prefer to vote online.

Inventing the technology is no longer the challenge - the critical task is gaining the confidence of the electorate. For that we need a secure means of voting and authenticating the voter, coupled with a transparent process that clearly demonstrates the vote and the count cannot be manipulated or tampered with.

When I was in the US recently they were experimenting with voting via games consoles as these are more difficult to hack into and are widely available.

Even more fundamental to a modern democracy is an electoral register that is accessible for e-voting. The Improvement & Development Agency has been working with councils and key stakeholders to take forward the Local Authority Secure Electoral Register project, which, through a system of common standards and electronic communication, means electoral registers can be maintained by councils.

All of these actions will make it easier for citizens to vote. Perhaps the more challenging part of the plan is persuading the electorate to use their votes.

john thornton

E-government director,

Improvement & Development Agency

How call tracking takes the pressure off the back office

Like all councils, Epsom & Ewell BC in Surrey has a real interest in improving its services - especially in the way it communicates with its citizens.

Currently three-quarters of Epsom & Ewell residents contact the council by telephone. This compelled the council to look at how it could use technology to be more responsive and move towards fulfilling the modernising government programme.

Steve Davies, director of operations at Epsom & Ewell, explains: 'Before the contact centre opened, there was a real risk of a drop in service quality if individuals were out of the office and unable to answer the phone.'

A contact centre was proposed to provide a more efficient way of dealing with telephone enquiries and to relieve back office staff from routine calls.

The aim was for the centre to go live in spring 2001. Epsom & Ewell issued a competitive tender for an intranet which would support contact centre staff by recording processes and providing answers to FAQs- taking pressure off back-office staff.

Three companies were shortlisted and ITNet was chosen in December 2000. ITNet investigated an intranet but decided that it would not represent value for money or offer a suitable technical solution in a short time frame.

Steve Davies explains: 'ITNet gave us a business-focused rather than technical solution, proposing a Siebel CRM system that would also support our knowledge needs such as FAQs.'

The system was implemented in 10 weeks and went live in May 2001. The CRM software is based on Siebel's public sector product and customised by ITNet to meet the public sector's specific requirements.

The CRM software enables Epsom & Ewell to track enquiries that cannot immediately be resolved by the contact centre. 'It gives us a foolproof record and allows us to chase an enquiry around the organisation, ring the citizen back and tell them what actions are being taken,' says Mr Davies. And, with the FAQ capability contact centre, staff can give instant answers to the majority of queries.

Mr Davies says: 'People like it when the town hall phones them back to keep them informed of the progress of a problem. That is new territory for most councils.'

A key element of the contract was that the council had a requirement for the project to be cost neutral by April 2003 and ITNet is on target to achieve this.

As for the future, Epsom & Ewell is exploring the possibility of extending CRM to other areas and increasing the types of communication channels to the contact centre.

'The council is comfortable with approaching this initiative at the starter level which can be built on later,' Mr Davies adds.

Paul Johnson

Director of sales and marketing, public sector, ITNet

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