First contact

Qatar's Supreme Council for Information and Technology has revamped its callcentre support technology with the development of a new Microsoft Dynamics-based CRM.
First contact
Qatar’s contact centre in Doha employs close to 300 staff.
By Imthishan Giado
Sun 14 Mar 2010 04:00 AM

Qatar's Supreme Council for Information and Technology has revamped its callcentre support technology with the development of a new Microsoft Dynamics-based CRM.

It's no exaggeration to suggest that technology has irrevocably transformed the relationship between the citizens of the Arab world and their governments. In the past a resident could expect to queue for hours to accomplish even the simplest of civil services, often having to visit multiple government departments along the way. And if he or she were not satisfied with the level of attention they received - well, there was little they could do in terms of registering a complaint.

But today, it's all change. Across the Gulf, governments have recognised the value of efficiency and stripping out unnecessary bureaucracy. The image of civil servants mindlessly rubber-stamping documents in overcrowded offices has now been banished to the history books, as e-services allow citizens to finish routine tasks without even leaving their homes. If they need assistance, it's just a phone call away.

It's the latter aspect which can be a tricky balancing act, as supporting the technological needs of an entire nation is no mean feat. The emirate of Qatar was one of the first to invest heavily in the concept of e-government - as early as 1999 in fact. Its technological arm, the Supreme Council of Communication and Information Technology or ictQATAR, has recently completed an ambitious infrastructure upgrade which includes shifting its centralised callcentre support to a customised version of the Microsoft Dynamics-based CRM product.

Walid Galal, section manager for the government contact centre and key driver behind the Dynamics installation, explains the purpose behind ictQATAR: "Formed in 2003, it's the highest authority in the country responsible for regulatory issues and the e-government. It's mainly responsible for providing e-services for customers, lots of transactional e-services. For example, we provide e-services related to the Ministry of the Interior, all services related to visas, all services related to residence and exit permits. If you want to renew your residence permit or if a company brings someone to the country, they can do this online."

Previously, ictQATAR used an internally developed system for the callcentre. While it functioned admirably for many years, Galal believes they had gone as a far as they could with it - and with ictQATAR shifting to a more strategic role, it seemed a better move to customise an off-the-shelf package.

"Initially, we had lots of in-house development. But then we found that our focus should be on the strategic articulation of the country's vision. Taking us into day-to-day development and operation and all those things deviates us from the main purpose of ictQATAR. So we refocused again on the main target of putting a strategic vision together, following up, initiating and managing projects. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is now our core engine that we use to handle the inquiries and complaints of the customer. It is our main ticketing system and knowledge base," he declares.

"We've previously had our in-house-developed ticketing system, but we faced some limitations and we were trying to find a more flexible way of communicating. The callcentre is centralised and has to effectively monitor the performance of each entity or each Ministry in terms of reporting. The in-house developer was not able to give us all these capabilities. We made enhancements and tried to make our best with that application but it was not to the level that we want," he continues.

When the contact centre division first began in 1999, it counted only a handful of employees, had less than five published e-services and hardly any support calls to deal with. Today, the unit has more than 300 employees, in line with the vastly expanded service portfolio. At the beginning of 2009, Galal says, the decision was taken to change to a new CRM-based system. With the business backing the project, and Galal's extensive IT background, the project went live with its first service ticket as scheduled on October 24, 2009. Getting to that milestone, he says, was a relatively straightforward process to execute.

"We got one of the vendors specialised in the call centre industry. They were developing the CRM for us plus other things. That vendor tweaked the system according to our requirements. We went through a long discussion and development phase - regular project management phases. We compared between a couple of well-known CRM systems - they were international vendors. The selection criteria were mainly efficiency, how flexible this package will be and how we can use it. None of the packages, regardless of who the vendor is, will be plug and play. You will need to customise it, add and subtract fields, and of course the price," he explains.

 "The evaluation process here usually takes a month to two months. There is a formal committee for evaluation of all packages. We have a lot of parameters from our side and we check their availability in the package. Then each vendor comes and makes a presentation - we ask them questions, then we marked those and got the final result. Apart from the technical point of view, there is a financial part, where we go into negotiation with those vendors shortlisted," continues Galal.

Microsoft Dynamics eventually got the nod from the committee and implementation began in earnest in mid-June 2009, with the help of Egyptian call centre specialist Ecco, which performed the complete deployment of the CRM. While it went live on time, the project was nevertheless not problem-free.

"During the implementation, we faced lots of obstacles. To be honest, we got support from higher management. If you have their support, things are resolved on time. For example, one technical issue was related to the integration between the CRM and the telecommunications system, especially the change between the XP and Vista operating systems. The guys at Microsoft were supportive in helping us to resolve that issue and making sure we could meet our target date," he says.

"Most of the issues were related to the integration. We were trying to integrate the CRM directly into the e-government portal. Instead of calling the callcentre, we wanted the user to be able to login to the portal and then put his complaint which will be directly created as a ticket in the CRM. This functionality will be published in the new version of the portal," adds Galal.

To date, the system has generated close to 18,000 tickets, with 80% of customers satisfied with service levels, according to a January survey. Galal closes with a firm statement that development of the Dynamics platform will not end here.

"We are now in a very stable stage getting what we want from the system. But actually, we are planning to get more and more. We need to integrate the CRM with another package used within ictQATAR for monitoring the services and the systems. If any faults happen in the servers, it will directly generate a ticket into the CRM which is one of our targets soon," he reveals.

"We are also going to implement a service level management system inside the CRM so that there will be different monitoring levels for each party of the same ticket. We also plan to make extra reporting available online so that you can log in to the CRM system from anywhere and see the reports," concludes Galal.

Special Service

ictQATAR's Walid Galal details the contact centre process: "In brief, when a service is launched in the e-government portal, there are two faces for the same service. The informational part and the transactional part. The first describes what the service is, who is eligible to use it, what are the benefits, who the stakeholders are and all those kinds of things.

"The other part is the transactional part which refers to how you can use the service, rather than standing in a long line in the ministry. Users of these services call and ask about those two things, either an inquiry for information about an old or new service, or they call and complain about an incident or issue using the service.

The call centre agents are trained to handle all those issues step-by-step with the customer, checking the configuration of machines and installing the required software," he adds.

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