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Consular Special Report – Embassy 49

Consular Technology

Using technology can help consuls to be more responsive even with fewer resources

Consular case management

Gordon Wilson, President of WorldReach explained to consuls how consular case management solutions can assist consuls

Consular case management services help consulates modernise their operations by consolidating consular information in a way that is easily accessible both to consuls in post and management at headquarters.

Efficiency and responsiveness
Case management creates a more efficient consular service by:

Reducing the volume of requests from headquarters
Concurrent management of a case by headquarters and missions
Establishing standard practices/procedures and service levels
Improving responsiveness and service orientation
Improving management decisions and reporting
Reducing the risk of fraud or misuse of funds
Supporting legal reviews of consular actions
Providing data for operational costs/fees and resourcing decisions
Increases overall work satisfaction

Organising information
Consular Case management solutions can also organise information in a variety of ways depending on what it is needed for, such as:

A person view, pooling all information on services rendered for that individual
A relationship view, showing the relationship between travellers, their companions, those making inquiries
A case review, displaying all information relating to a case
A services view, organising information according to services provided across cases or for a mission/country or region
More effective crisis response

Using consular software also offers a way to gather information and create a database over time, through day-to-day assistance and outreach which can be deployed effectively in a crisis when alerts or messages need to be disseminated to nationals via text, email, telephone or social media.

Modes of consular modernisation
Ministries have three options:

Custom-built
Build a custom system, unique to the ministry and run on its own IT infrastructure. The benefits are that the system is tailor-made for the specific needs of the consular service but the costs and up-front investment can be very expensive.

Licensed commercial software
Built to meet needs of many foreign ministries, developed over many years. It is run on MFA IT infrastructure or hosted externally on dedicated equipment. This is less expensive than a bespoke solution but still requires up-front costs.

Software as a Service with Cloud
This combines commercial software with Cloud hosting. This is a pay-as-you-go service that is scalable, allowing ministries to concentrate resources where need is greatest. No large up-front investment required. This is geared towards countries with a modest number of posts where a large upfront investment is not cost-effective. It also works on the MFA infrastructure.

World Reach has developed this software solution over 20 years and works with seven foreign ministries in more than 900 posts. Day-to-day interaction with these ministries means the software is tweaked constantly to ensure it meets the evolving demands of a modern consulate.

For more information, visit www.worldreach.com

Twitter as outreach tool

Allison Suddaby, the Digital Consular Manager at the Foreign Office reported on the early findings of the FCO using Twitter as a new channel of communication

After a successful pilot in May, the FCO’s global twitter account @FCOtravel was launched officially in July.

Twitter as information channel
Twitter is used to offer precautionary travel advice ahead of specific events and is an additional channel to broadcast the FCO’s preventative campaigns (such as Know Before You Go).

It also offers a responsive and cost-effective two-way channel of communication for consular enquiries, to which the FCO aims to respond within 30 minutes between 09.00-18.00 daily.

Around 80 consular staff in London are trained to monitor and respond to enquiries. Out of hours, the Twitter feed is monitored by the Global Response Teams so that urgent enquiries are responded to immediately.

Training and resource allocation
Assistance staff receive training on Twitter and follow a detailed style guide in terms of the tone and language used in responses.

Social media management tools, such as HootSuite, are used to collate and analyse the data so that resources can be diverted to areas where assistance is needed most.

For instance, if Tweets are received pointing to a potential consular emergency, these are escalated to crisis teams.

Consular emergencies
Following the military takeover in Egypt over the summer, there was a surge in enquiries. Learning from this experience, the FCO is integrating Twitter into crisis response procedures, and will ensure there is enough capacity in the system to cope with a high volume of enquiries and to disseminate critical information.

Added to that, in November the FCO signed up to Twitter Alerts, a new service which can be used in consular emergencies to alert British nationals via text message and a mobile push notification on their smartphones. Tweets marked #alert will also appear on the user’s Twitter timeline with an orange icon and will rise to the top of a user’s timeline.

Future plans
In future the FCO plans to extend its Twitter channel to a 24-hour service, using the global contact centre model already used for telephone enquiries. Consular assistance teams are also exploring a more proactive approach by joining relevant discussion forums where they can engage in conversation, answer questions or provide information.

Conclusions
Data such as follower growth and engagement with content (such as retweets) suggests Twitter is a mode of communication that British nationals increasingly favour, and customer satisfaction levels are higher than on other channels.

Suddaby concluded that even after a few months of the service, Twitter is proving a powerful tool for consular engagement.

To see how the FCO uses Twitter for yourself, follow @fcotravel or for more information about the FCO’s digital strategy, visit the Digital Diplomacy blog on http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/digitaldiplomacy


Gordon Wilson of WorldReach outlined the efficiency benefits of consular case management software

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