Local governments have a two-fold challenge in the current political and economic environment: drive greater transparency and reduce operational costs. Put another way, citizens want assurance that their elected officials are running lean operations -- but they aren't willing to sacrifice service and they don't want bureaucratic red tape.

The City of Grand Rapids, Mich. rolled out a 311 citizen service and information department to tackle just those challenges. The department offers a single number to call for a variety of requests and issues, as well as a web portal where citizens can submit requests and monitor city performance.

"In addition to allowing citizens to submit requests through just one phone number or online, we needed a system that could manage service activity and citizen requests across 30 departments," explained Ryan Harris, CRM Relevant Products/Services Practice Manager for the City of Grand Rapids. "In the past, each department had managed requests, citizen information, and billing with its own system, and there was no way to share information among departments."

Cutting the Red Tape

After researching several solutions -- including software from salesforce.com and Motorola -- the city settled on Microsoft Relevant Products/Services Dynamics CRM. Grand Rapids officials deployed the core tech as well as the 311 Service Center accelerator, which offers a pre-built framework to help local governments deploy Relevant Products/Services citizen service centers. The solution uses workflows to automate request routing to the right department. Detailed reporting allows city managers to track the resolution of a single request, or to report on the performance of one or more departments.

"The Microsoft Dynamics solution set itself apart from the other solutions with its lower pricing model, as well as the flexibility to deploy the solution on-premises for now and then migrate to the cloud Relevant Products/Services in the future," said Harris. "We also benefit from Microsoft's common technology framework -- which many IT solution providers have expertise in."

The result: Grand Rapids can more easily respond to citizen requests, provide information, manage back-office processing, and leverage resources more efficiently. Because the solution integrates closely with the city's Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange solutions, the city gains even more efficiency improvements by being able to quickly access all the files and documents related to a specific request from a single interface.

Microsoft's Competitive Advantage

According to Microsoft, after the solution is deployed across all 30 departments, Grand Rapids citizens will be able to submit more than 250 types of requests and inquiries through a web portal or by calling a single phone number -- without being transferred from one department to the next. Citizens can then return to the portal to track the progress of their requests.

"The Microsoft 311 Service Center accelerator and Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution help the city in our effort to lower administration costs by consolidating back-office government functions," Harris adds, "The new system also encourages collaboration among departments, which typically leads to even greater efficiencies in keeping costs down."

Microsoft has a long list of wins with governments on the CRM front. We asked Rob Sanfilippo, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, for his take on why Microsoft has found so much success with government entities. He told us the company's decades of experience developing on-premises operating systems and applications is a clear competitive advantage as it brings these solutions to the cloud.

"Microsoft is also very familiar with running some of the world's largest data Relevant Products/Services centers such as those hosting MSN, Bing, Hotmail, Xbox Live, and others," he said. "Thus, as cloud offerings become more mainstream, Microsoft is leveraging its expertise in both of these arenas, which also brings benefits such as a better migration story and hybrid Relevant Products/Services -- on-premises and cloud -- support for customers moving to the cloud or maintaining deployments in both spaces."