Company: Sunrise SoftwareCustomer: BCCSubmitted by: LEWISBirmingham City Council is one of the largest metropolitan councils in Britain, employing 43,000 staff who serve in excess of one million residents. Approximately 2,500 staff are linked together over local and wide area networks across 100 local locations, accessing a plethora of IT platforms spanning mainframes, client/server and desktop systems, and communicating through Lotus Notes.

The Council’s 13 departments cover areas from health and education to traffic and road systems. Each is semi-autonomous, running its own IT operation. The combined IT infrastructure of all but two of the departments is managed through one central help desk manned by 16 staff out of 26, 4 assigned to the IT support group. Overall, the Council employs over 100 IT skilled staff in its central computer department in Birmingham.

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Private sector values

With no profits at stake to lose, or shareholders to keep sweet, councils have historically been less motivated to follow commercial good practice in their business. However, Birmingham is an exception and one of the most innovative in the country thanks to its wholehearted adoption of the customer service ethos.

The Council has demonstrated that commercial thinking can be successfully transplanted into the public sector for the greater good of service to end-users and local citizens. It has applied IT to improve internal efficiency, and invested in Web-based technology to provide a better customer service along the lines of business practice more commonly associated with the private sector. In so doing, the Council has become a leading light in the application of recent Government legislation designed to encourage commercial good practice in public sector thinking.

Help desk efficiency

A central part of the Council’s internal customer service strategy is its application of Sunrise Software’s Web-enabled technology on its central IT help desk. Birmingham has been a user of Sunrise Software’s Professional help desk and customer centre solution for the last two years and is currently part-way through an upgrade to Sunrise’s Enterprise package in response to Government legislation demands.

The high levels of productivity and customer service that the Council is achieving are directly linked to the efficiency of its help desk, whose performance has been transformed since Sunrise’s software was introduced.”Sunrise has minimised system downtime and improved staff productivity and performance,” says Bob Carter, the head of Birmingham City Council’s central IT department. “Enterprise has proved to be a flexible, intuitive system that will pay for itself within the year. It will enable us to tie together a number of software solutions into one package to deliver better customer service more cost-effectively.”Sunrise Enterprise, built on the Microsoft SQL Server platform, is primed to support fast and flexible problem response and resolution using neural networking for proactive troubleshooting. The software addresses the management challenge of delivering improved customer service for less cost.As well as supporting internal Council functions, the Sunrise help desk software also supports services accessed over the Internet by external organisations for two of the largest Council departments: education and finance. These manage Sunrise locally and operate independently because of their size. Schools seeking local authority guidance can dial into the help desk for support when they hit system problems.

Government best practice

Birmingham City Council’s central IT department is the first part of the Council to be assessed under the new Government legislation introduced earlier this year, called ‘Best Value’. This aims to ensure that public services are responsive to the needs of citizens, that services are efficient and of high quality, and that Council strategy is forward-looking and proactive, not just reactive to short-term pressures.The overall goal of Best Value is to instill a regime of continuous improvement centred around ‘four C’s’: challenge (why and how the service is being provided), compare (against performance by others for benchmarking purposes), consult (canvass service users about their requirements and quality levels) and competition (as a means of securing efficient and effective services).To take action in all these areas calls for an appropriate management system that can develop, monitor, and maintain high service levels and sustain continuous improvements.”The Sunrise software has risen to this challenge and is key to our meeting the targets of Best Value,” says Carter. “We could not have improved our performance or productivity, or reduced the system downtime we used to suffer, without the application of Sunrise’s solutions.

“Birmingham’s help desk dealt with over 40,000 support calls last year, covering everything from forgotten passwords to system failures, new IT roll-outs, and office moves. The Sunrise software also manages the Council’s IT inventory, which had been a time-consuming and difficult task in the past. Today, Birmingham enjoys excellent IT asset control. Carter knows he has 2,673 desktops, 89 portables, 1,721 peripheral devices and over 300 terminals.Sunrise is also helping Birmingham comply with the Best Value legislation relating to departmental performance.

New departmental Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are being keyed into the system to generate key performance indicators and quality of service information accessible by all the Council’s end-users. This way everyone can continuously monitor how the Council’s operations measure up against Best Value. In turn this will support Council staff in delivering a higher quality service to local citizens.

Future plans

Carter plans to use Sunrise Enterprise’s KMS Deskartes feature much more extensively in the future, again in response to Best Value. This combines neural network technology and natural language searching with self-learning knowledge management.”We want to register commonly occurring faults and offer pre-determined solutions to queries, to spend less time dealing with routine tasks and more on complex problems,” says Carter.

“We hope to move eventually to a self-service approach to problem resolution, as well as remote software management and deployment. Ultimately, we want to resolve 80% of support calls on the first call. We’re confident that the Sunrise solution will enable us to achieve this.”Carter has particularly high hopes of Sunrise’s Web feature. This will effectively extend the opening hours of the help desk since it will enable end-users to log problems online 24 x 7 x 365, and dial in to track progress, reducing calls to the help desk and freeing up more staff for fault resolution.”We shall greatly improve call turnaround time when the knowledge management feature kicks in this autumn, when we shall also explore linking Sunrise with CTI (computer telephony integration), and change management technology,” says Carter.

Carter is confident that his Sunrise strategy will pay dividends. He concludes, “we set out to improve customer service around Best Value and Sunrise is delivering that goal. We expect it to improve our performance still further in the future.”