At this year’s edition of Technicity GTA, ITWC’s chief information officer Jim Love sat down with Becky Jamieson, director, corporate services/municipal clerk, Township of Scugog, and Kalyan Chakravarthy, chief information officer, Durham Region, to discuss a residents’ services digital transformation project where the two organizations of very different sizes found a way to work together in a way that, in the end, was certainly to the benefit of the residents as much as the organizations.
In 2022, the Township of Scugog, one of the eight lower-tier municipalities in the Region of Durham, partnered with the Region of Durham on its Customer Relationship Management (CRM) project. Scugog built its CRM, myscugogconnected.ca, within the Region of Durham’s CRM, which will be live to the public in late March 2023.
The project started when Durham Region was seeking to enhance its customer experience, explains Chakravarthy. What they ended up doing was taking an all-channels approach. One of these channels was telephone, so the system had to support 311 service for the region. They also chose to include a customer portal where residents can create service requests and then track their progress, as well as get information about the Region’s services.
But the most unique thing about the project is how two levels of government managed to work together on a common project that would respond to the specific needs of each organization, as well as those of their respective residents.
“We were in a position where we were looking to do our CRM,” says Jamieson, “and it happened to be that the Region of Durham was going down a very similar path at the same time.” Durham Region had already been providing support to the Township of Scugog at the time. “So we already had started to develop that partnership, and then this opportunity presented itself and we decided to give it a shot,” she continued.
The project was not without its challenges, and Durham knew there were going to be some. “But I think the biggest part of this partnership was about that trust and respect for each other,” said Chakravarthy. “That is what helped us to really go into this partnership and think about it and say: ‘Hey, let’s try to make this so that it is always thinking about our residents’. We were looking at it and saying ‘how can we make it easy for our residents?’”
For the Township of Scugog, there was a lot of stress to begin with. A lot of people told Jamieson she was crazy. “But when we weighed our pros and cons, it made the most sense for us”, she says. “We have limited resources here at the township, especially on an IT front, and we saw this as an opportunity. Hopefully in the future, others will look at what the region has done and allowed us to be a part of as something that they want to strive to do in the future.”
Reflecting on the challenges they encountered, Chakravarthy explained how integrating the township’s portal within the region’s came with its set of hurdles, starting with branding and differentiating one from the other. “These are all the kind of small technical challenges [that] we would not have thought about if you’re going alone,” he said. And these challenges were addressed through discussion and compromise.
In the end, the winners turned out to be the residents of Scugog Township and Durham Region. As Jamieson puts it, “Being able to provide something to our residents [where] they’re not going to have to know whether it’s Scugog or the region that’s responsible for it, and being able to track all those service requests in one place, is a huge win. And I think that’s really what sold us on this project – the ability that, from a resident standpoint, it’s going to be so simple and easy for them to understand and see all their various service requests in one place.”
Chakravarthy also gave some advice to other organizations contemplating such a partnership. First and foremost, this is about enhancing customer service for the residents. You need to see the partners are equal, despite their size difference. There will be roadblocks, but with many smart-minded people working together as one, the chances of success are there. “Although from a legal perspective, from a provincial perspective, we are two separate entities, at the end of the day we are serving the same residents, so we are here to help each other out,” he concluded.