The New Zealand Citizens Advice Bureau required a system which could manage a large volume of information including information resources, a referral database of more than 40,000 service providers, as well as managing the data generated from more than 650,000 enquiries a year across 90 service locations around New Zealand. Using Microsoft Dynamics CRM and SharePoint, the Citizens Advice Bureau has achieved a streamlined approach to recording and storing enquiries, a greater degree of transparency of its service, more control over the quality and consistency of its service, and a more effective way of identifying and tracking issues presented by clients. Situation
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is in the business of promoting knowledge and understanding. The volunteer based, not-for-profit organization is a place anyone can go when they want to know what their options are in relation to a specific situation, would like a second opinion from someone they can trust, or are not confident about navigating their own way through a process. Underlying the CAB service is the belief that accurate, relevant and timely information is the key ingredient to helping people make effective decisions for themselves.
Therefore, information and knowledge are central tenants to the service of the CAB. In 2007, the CAB identified the need to update its technology as a means of ensuring its relevance and place in the 21st Century. The system used by the CAB was out-dated and at risk of no longer being supported in the near future.
In the 2009/10 financial year, the CAB assisted New Zealanders with 653,628 enquiries, equating to helping someone every 11 seconds of the working week. Not only does this represent a huge volume of information to analyze, the organization also maintains a database of approximately 40,000 other service providers to put people in touch with when they need to be referred. The CAB also manages the data generated from this massive volume of enquiries across 90 service locations around New Zealand.
"Our existing system was proving to be clunky, and we'd taken a band-aid approach to fixes and improvements due to limited resources. This worked for awhile, but the system had reached a point where we couldn't add to it any further," says Kerry Dalton, Chief Executive of CAB New Zealand (CABNZ).
Each Bureau had a standalone Microsoft Access database to store information about service providers, meaning Bureaux were unable to access information from other Bureaux.
Records of client enquiries were recorded using Microsoft Works spreadsheets at each Bureau, and were then transferred to Microsoft Excel for regional and national analysis. This made analysis of information from the entire organization a time consuming process as it relied on people sending, collecting, sorting and analyzing information manually. In addition, the information collected about the types of issues clients were facing was not collected in a consistent manner across the country.
"Our previous technology system was not sustainable for the future of the CAB, particularly as it reinforced silos and separations within the organization. Due to a lack of transparency of what each Bureau was doing, there were limited mechanisms for monitoring quality and consistency of service," says Kerry.
As a result, the organization was unable to get a good understanding of how people used the CAB service, as well as the particular issues, questions or problems clients had.
Of particular concern was the inability for the CAB to respond to the demands of the changing environment effectively and proactively, and keep pace with the needs and expectations of clients, stakeholders and supporters. Another key reason for wanting change was to increase accessibility for people that needed the service and the availability of information to these people.
Overall, the legacy technology led to:
• Inefficiencies through unnecessary duplication
• Limited ability to detect and respond effectively to systemic issues that were impacting on clients and communities
• Restricted accessibility to the CAB service as there was no online service
These business challenges meant the organization required a system that was: flexible enough to cope with variations in how different Bureaux operate (every Bureau did things slightly differently); and could house all the elements of the system within a unified platform (service provider and client enquiry databases, administration, the intranet and website).
“We needed a scalable system to cope with the large number of client enquiries being logged, as well as a standardized system which will enable changes to be made easily in the future – all without high ongoing costs.”
“Right from the start, we were clear that technology was going to be an enabler to enhance access to information and help us deliver our service better, and not the driver that tells us how to do our jobs”.
This was particularly important message to reinforce to the 2,700 volunteer workforce – given the majority of whom are over 50 years of age, with limited confidence with technology and little time to devote to learning a new system. Solution
In late 2007, the CAB embarked on the implementation of its Digital Strategy Programme, a project to develop a new technology platform to support the CAB service in every Bureau throughout the country, and provide the general public with online access to the service. To ensure the success of this program – all information needs being met and the most effective technology system designed – the CAB also undertook an internal review of their standards, policies and systems. The review has helped the organization ensure it invested in technology which best meets its needs and expectations, and those of the general public.
The process for gathering user requirements was comprehensive. A key question for the organization was “How can we be as effective as we can be, and how can technology help us achieve this?” The issues and potential solutions were debated at all levels. Garnering the support and involvement of the whole organization helped ensure that the technology would lead to a continuous improvement of the CAB service to clients and that the final outcome worked for bureaux.
Datacom was the company that designed and implemented the solution for the CAB. Cost, particularly ongoing sustainability of the system, was a key consideration in the whole process. Microsoft New Zealand made a significant contribution by donating $5.5 million worth of software licences to get the CAB up-and-running on the latest technology.
Paul Muckleston, Managing Director of Microsoft New Zealand, says Microsoft globally is deeply committed to working in partnership with not-for-profit organizations such as the CAB, to help them use technology to advance social and economic development.
“The CAB nationally provides valuable assistance to more than 1,500 New Zealanders around the country every day, and we are delighted to be able to invest in the organization’s future development to help it reach its full potential."
There were two main elements to the solution – a customized Microsoft Dynamics CRM database and two SharePoint websites.
The customized CRM database holds the database of service providers, information resources to assist clients, an administration system to manage each Bureau, a database of client enquiries and a system for case management of complex client enquiries.
SharePoint was used to develop an intranet site for the volunteers, where they search for information to assist clients, as well as enter client enquiries on a web-based form hosted on the secure site. The search functionality covered both the CRM database as well as the large number of web pages on the site that contain factual information about a wide range of issues.
SharePoint was also used to create the public-facing internet site where clients can access the CAB service online. This allows the public to search both the CRM database as well as the thousands of web pages on the site so they can access information on a wide number of topics, including housing, employment, family law and government regulations. In addition to the Microsoft products, Ontolica 4.0 Search was used to operate on top of the standard SharePoint search.
Datacom undertook the initial design and functional assessment for the Bureaux and recommended Microsoft Dynamics CRM as a good fit for the organization’s needs. In addition to the rich native functionality of Dynamics CRM, which required little customization, the ease of use of the CRM platform for CAB staff was one of the biggest considerations when choosing and designing the system around CRM.
Datacom staff were based onsite with CAB project staff to ensure the design and ultimate look-and-feel worked for the volunteer staff. The agile design process allowed the CAB, who do not have a large internal technology capability, to see parts of the system being built and delivered, making it possible to make changes throughout the project as part of an iterative process.
The system runs off a Datacom Cloud infrastructure platform, and Datacom software staff continue to support and enhance the system under an ongoing support agreement with the CAB.
“Building and deploying cabnet for the CAB has been a hugely enjoyable and rewarding project to be involved with. The system itself is a relatively complex design ranging from online chat, through transactional portals to quite heavy workflow and core CRM functionality on top of the Dynamics platform. A key part of our project approach was to make the process of designing and building this technology, simple and accessible to CAB staff, ensuring we could help the Bureaux use their technology investment as a means to improve how they deliver outcomes to clients," says Alastair Turrell, Datacom Software Director.
“Working with Kerry and her team has been a fantastic project for us and we’re very pleased to have been able to deliver this innovative system to the CAB so successfully.”
"Microsoft and Datacom were able to provide us with an integrated platform that met many of our needs ‘out of the box’, thus reducing the need for potentially expensive customization. Using a standard platform also meant that if we need changes in the future it will be easier to implement these," says Kerry.
Westpac New Zealand donated 600 refurbished PCs and laptops that were loaded with Microsoft donated software – Windows 7 and Office 2003.
Implementation was phased, starting in May 2010 with a pilot of the system in three Bureaux, encompassing eight service site locations. This was followed by the launch of the intranet site for all Bureaux in July 2010.
On Tuesday 21 September 2010 the CAB launched its new website and branding to the public. The new website significantly enhances people’s ability to get the information and assistance that they need, when they need it. It makes the powerful database of CAB information directly available to the public and complements the face to face and phone service, giving people choice in how they access the CAB service.
In implementing the solution, Kerry Dalton pays tribute to the 2,700 volunteers who deliver the CAB service, all of whom have contributed extra hours and coped with significant change.
“The fact that such a major IT project and change process has gone so smoothly is a testament to all of the people in the CAB, but most of all speaks volumes about the commitment and dedication of our volunteers.”Benefits
The main benefits of implementing Microsoft Dynamics CRM and SharePoint for the CAB have been:
• Improved productivity
• Streamlined processes
• Greater visibility of the whole organization and all clients
• Better management of workflows and reporting
• Increased efficiency in data management and analysis
• Enhanced insight into clients and their issues
• A powerful learning and development tool for volunteers
• Public access to the CAB service
• Ability to feed information into policy processes
Service to clients
The new technology has allowed the CAB to improve its service in a number of ways – one of the most important being the ability to access relevant information easily so volunteers can respond quickly and effectively to enquiries.
Members of the public are now able to access the CAB service via the Internet, meaning a lot of easier queries can be answered with a simple search of the site, freeing up volunteers to help clients with more in-depth, complicated issues. The new website complements the face-to-face and phone service already provided by the CAB.
“It’s about giving people choice, so that those who prefer to get information and support online can now do so,” says Kerry.
The CAB now has access to more information on the issues people come to them about, which enables the organization to feed that information into policy process with the aim of addressing systematic issues occurring in communities.
"One of the CAB's main goals is to create positive social change within communities and society. In a large part, thanks to Microsoft's support, we now have increased accessibility to information and are able to track different types of enquiries, giving us greater insight into bigger community issues and allowing us to work with government to effect positive change," says Kerry.
Increased ICT capabilities enable the CAB to better leverage the skills of the existing volunteer network and reduce inefficiencies. The organization can also respond faster to change and concentrate on the things that really matter, such as empowering clients through promotion of knowledge and understanding.
The new Dynamics CRM solution has provided a powerful learning and development tool for the CAB volunteers, which over time will greatly enhance responsiveness, confidence and effectiveness of the volunteers.
Investing in an integrated ICT platform for the CAB has provided a more cohesive, connected, streamlined and efficient system that allows the organization to harness the advantages of its current structure. Technology has enabled the CAB to realize its goal of increasing accessibility and opening up the service so no one misses out on getting the help and information they need. The database has changed the information landscape around the country, as volunteers can work more effectively and efficiently, and people realize the wealth of information the CAB is now able to make available online.
This has been a successful implementation of the biggest change process in the organization’s history, and has given the CAB a powerful voice on the issues affecting people in New Zealand. The CAB has placed itself in the position to be at the forefront of promoting knowledge and understanding in New Zealand communities of today and of the future. This is a new era for the CAB in New Zealand. Microsoft Dynamics
Microsoft Dynamics is a line of integrated, adaptable business management solutions that enables you and your people to make business decisions with greater confidence. Microsoft Dynamics works like familiar Microsoft software such as Microsoft Office, which means less of a learning curve for your people, so they can get up and running quickly and focus on what’s most important. And because it is from Microsoft, it easily works with the systems that your company already has implemented. By automating and streamlining financial, customer relationship, and supply chain processes, Microsoft Dynamics brings together people, processes, and technologies, increasing the productivity and effectiveness of your business, and helping you drive business success.
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For More Information
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For more information about Citizens Advice Bureau products and services, call 0800 367 222 or visit the website at: www.cab.org.nzThis case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.