The 311 phone number is designated for municipal services inquiries ranging from potholes to garbage pick-up times. Several Canadian cities, including Windsor, Ont., and Laval, Que., have 311 in the planning stages or already operational.
Belfast-based Lagan plans to open a Toronto office within the next six months to take advantage of any new opportunities. The company, which was spun off from Belfast’s Queen’s University in 1994, has hired a local opertative establish the operation.
Britt Oldenburg, who will act as Lagan’s director of business in Canada, has previous experience in the 311 market here. She was responsible for setting up Motorola Canada’s 311 practice approximately four years ago.
Oldenburg estimates there are approximately 35 major Canadian municipalities that are candidates for 311 service. Lagan’s CRM solution is designed to work in 311 call centres, both to impart information about municipal services and log actual requests for service from citizens who call in.
Lagan’s software should be able to adapt to the Canadian market, said Oldenburg. The municipal model in U.K., Lagan’s original target market, lends itself to the way many Canadian municipalities handle business and citizen-based services, she added.
Having someone experienced at the helm will ease Lagan’s growing pains, said Roberta Fox, principal at telecommunications consulting firm The Fox Group.
“The challenge – as it is with anybody else coming into Canada – is, can you get Canadianized?” said Fox. She noted that it can be difficult for any firm selling 311 services to “operate at the speed of government,” since the decision-making process can be slow and the sales cycle long.
“This is a new area. There’s lots of governments that have done their strategies but they haven’t done their assessments. A lot of them are just in the early, early stages,” she said. “(IT providers) are going to have to have deep pockets to finance that sales cycle.”
Lagan’s strategy in Canada will be to partner with larger providers where possible, said Oldenburg. The company partners with Unisys in the U.S. and both Unisys and IBM in the U.K.
“I think our timing is good here,” said Oldenburg. “Most of the major municipalities are studying 311 in some shape or form. I’d say now pretty well all of them have some project underway. Hopefully by now we’re at a point in the sales cycle where they’re actually looking at CRM solutions.”
While municipalities are central to Lagan’s approach to Canada, the company is also looking at CRM opportunities at the provincial and even federal level. “It’s very much our intention to get into other levels of government,” said Oldenburg.
Larger contracts would necessitate partnerships, she said, adding that Lagan has spoken to several Canadian IT services firms that would be receptive.
Lagan already works with about 85 public sector organizations including Birmingham, Blackpool and Newcastle in the U.K., and Minneapolis, Yonkers, N.Y., and Hartford., Conn., in the U.S.