A lack of back office integration is hindering the cost benefits of customer relationship management (CRM) at local authorities, according to research.

A total of 260 senior IT staff at local authorities were questioned about the efficiency of their customer service, and a lack of application integration was clearly blocking efficiency and cost savings long promised by CRM and transactional websites, the research from software development company NDL found.

While 95 percent reported improved customer service with the help of CRM systems, there was less certainty when it came to value for money. Only 59 percent of respondents were confident that the benefits of running a CRM system outweighed the costs, let alone delivered savings.

When asked what would improve the effectiveness of CRM, the most popular answer, cited by 92 percent of respondents, was application integration, which reflects the current lack of integration also revealed by the report.

The findings revealed that almost a quarter of authorities reported that less than 10 percent of processes which go through CRM are integrated with back-office systems, while 68 percent of councils have less than 50 percent of CRM services integrated.

When it came to other forms of channel service technology, the pattern was equally stark, with almost 50 percent of councils re-keying at least 75 percent of the data received via web site e-forms.

NDL managing director Declan Grogan said: “It’s not hard to recognise the inefficiencies here. In addition to making errors endemic, which in turn hampers customer service, retyping information is incredibly resource intensive, and at the very time when many jobs and frontline services are under threat.”

There are signs that councils recognise the role integration has to play though, with 75 percent of authorities planning on increasing integration and 80 percent of councils also claiming they are "likely" to spend money on integration.

Public sector IT managers' association Socitm says councils can save much more cash through more efficient handling of web customer enquiries. Socitm research reveals typical costs are £8.62 per visit for face-to-face meetings, £2.83 per call by phone, and 15p per "visit" via a council website.