By Mark Nicholson, Account Director, GovDelivery UK
My interest was reignited recently on the topic of useful information being virtually untapped (and potentially rendered useless) because certain “islands of information” remain unlinked. This can be for technical reasons or, in the UK, Data Protection. Both are a human problem which really should be sorted out because it can save money and lives. It’s not a far stretch to say that criminals have remained at large because databases are not linked.
Ever since the mid- to late nineties, many integrators said they have the silver bullet to bring these disparate islands of information together. But have they? In a recent meeting with a senior officer at a Local Authority, I was told to keep off the subject of data integration because it was a subject that got him angry!
These “islands” or “silos”, as they are now often referred, are still very much in evidence and rarely fixed. In a local authority context, we often talk to clients about bringing silos of email and/or SMS lists together under one system, so that some cross-pollination of services can be promoted. This is probably easier than the technical challenge of combining a complex database, but it still needs a technical challenge to be overcome, as well as a legal one.
To comply with the Data Protection Act (DPA), doing something like this involves the agreement of a person to opt-in to receive information which interests them. So for example, a Local Authority Leisure Services team may send an email newsletter with the regular sporty info to thousands of residents (they always generate very large lists) but how can you use this to promote channel shift? Easy, the addition of a link suggesting they also sign-up for receive alerts for Bin collections, School Closures, Inset days, Bad Weather warnings plus lots of other local services. When your existing contact lists can legitimately be used to deliver other service information, your residents are much less likely to call in and more than likely be pleased to see useful information being delivered by the council.
All you need is a system that manages these lists, cross-promotes services and helps you grow your audience by breaking down that silo mentality. A Local Authority is promoting their services legitimately and with the best interest of the resident (not up-selling, which goes against a key principle of the Data Protection Act). This not only achieves significant channel shift but potentially gains much needed revenue, brings greater awareness of all service areas and increases satisfaction. Take, for example, a resident who books a weekly squash court who might also have two kids and therefore generates a greater volume of household waste. This resident may also want to sign-up and be alerted when a change in bin collections is announced. With the information delivered directly to them via email or SMS, they won’t need to call and complain or incur costly special collections, and there won’t be any smelly bins. They’ll also be grateful to receive alerts when their kids’ school has closed due to snow (again, no need to call). A quick, simple and sensible crossover of data can result in encouraging more residents to use cheaper channels and avoid making calls. All you need to do is ask permission and cross-promote!
A real example can be found at Central Bedfordshire Council. It has about 10,000 residents subscribing to an average of 7 topics, each informing them of specific and granular information that is important to them (typically bin collections and school closures). The council kick-started its proactive alerting service, “Central Bedfordshire Updates,” with an import of a huge list of email addresses from Adult Learning, Libraries and other services. By bringing them all under one roof and cross-promoting, their residents now receive alerts from several different topics that they have asked to receive information on, which delivers channel shift. The council calculate that as many as 100 calls per day to their call centre have been avoided!
For us at GovDelivery, breaking these silos this has become a very a hot topic and has revealed itself as a major way to jump-start a Channel Shift initiative. In fact, we recently published a white paper on Channel Shift by Dr. Gerald Power. Download it here.
Have you found other ways to deliver sustainable channel shift? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.