Search
Close this search box.

Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) Data Systems: Beyond the Limitations of CRM Platforms

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, such as Salesforce, have been hailed as powerful tools for managing customer interactions and improving business processes in various industries. Originally designed for private, commercial organizations to manage interactions with customers, some government agencies have repurposed CRM solutions to automate various aspects of public sector programs, policies, and practices.

In recent years, government agencies have turned to CRM solutions to streamline processes and enhance efficiency. However, when it comes to automating government programs, policies, and practices, CRM solutions often fall short in addressing the unique complexities and meeting the unique requirements of publicly funded programs.

As the name suggests, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, such as Salesforce, were developed for commercial businesses to manage their sales and customer interaction activities.

Managing commercial sales and customer relationships revolves around transactional activities that profit generation, market dynamics, customer satisfaction, and competitive advantage.

Trying to fit the vast array of ECEC program management, regulatory compliance and siloed funding requirements into a CRM solution is asking it to do something it was not designed or built to do.

Variations in Public vs Commercial Sector Purposes and Objectives

Purpose and Stakeholders: Public sector programs serve broader societal goals rather than the profit-motived goals of commercial sector businesses. Managing public sector programs involves navigating complex political landscapes, ensuring accountability to taxpayers, and meeting the diverse needs of citizens. The stakeholders in public sector programs often include government agencies, elected officials, advocacy groups, and most importantly, people who rely on government services.

In contrast, CRMs are general solutions, built to manage commercial sales and customer relationship activities. Their focus is primarily on generating revenue and satisfying the needs of customers to drive profits. The stakeholders and end users primarily include salespeople, managers, customers, investors, and shareholders.

Regulatory Environment: Public sector programs are subject to extensive regulations, oversight, and compliance requirements aimed at ensuring safety, fairness, transparency, and equity in service delivery. Software solutions designed for state government agencies must be capable of monitoring, tracking, and demonstrating compliance with a complex set of multi-faceted federal, state, and local requirements.

CRMs are not purpose-built to manage complex regulatory compliance but rather the sales and customer development lifecycle. Trying to retrofit a CRM for public sector purposes may result in extensive up-front customization and surprise change orders and costs.

Performance Metrics and Evaluation: In the public sector, program and policy success is measured by a variety of outputs and outcomes related to impact on citizens and community and public engagement. While measuring the output of a government program is typically straightforward, measuring outcomes related to program performance and success is multifaceted and influenced by funding requirements.

In contrast, CRMs built to manage commercial sales and communications are chiefly driven by measuring financial indicators such as revenue, profit margins, market share, and customer retention. This evaluation process is notably straightforward, unlike the intricate program evaluation and success metrics required for accountability for public funds.

Below we discuss:

  • Limitations of CRM systems in the context of early childhood education and care (ECEC) government operations.
  • Real-world examples of the limitations and risks of implementing CRM platforms, such as Salesforce, to manage ECEC government agency operations in four states.
  • An approach that better aligns with ECEC unique challenges and requirements.

Key Limitations of CRMs in Government Automation

Complexities of ECEC Government Agency Programs

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) agencies support a complex eco-system made up of multiple, siloed funding streams such as Head Start, CCDF, and Pre-K. In addition, ECEC agencies are tasked with management of complex regulatory requirements, program types, and a wide variety of stakeholders. To effectively manage and report on the cluttered landscape of ECEC programs, the solution must meet the needs and objectives of a wide variety of end users including families, providers, teachers/caregivers, state and contracted partner staff, legislative bodies, and public and private funders.

Because CRM systems were designed to support the commercial sales processes, they lack the flexibility necessary to adapt to the myriad of unique end user needs, leading to suboptimal performance. Worse yet, users may adopt manual processes and workarounds outside of the system to meet their needs, resulting in inefficient processes and poor data quality. Without the nimble solution these users deserve, implementation success is at risk.

The best way to convey these challenges is to cite real world examples. A recent review of public records and news media stories uncovered the following examples of the challenges of implementing complex ECEC data system solutions on a CRM platform.

Real World Outcomes of Implementing Complex ECEC Data Systems on a CRM Platform

State 1:  A state contract was awarded in 2022 for a child care subsidy management system. The proprietary system that is implemented is built on a CRM platform. Following the system go-live, tens of thousands of provider payment issues were reported including non-payment, incorrect payments, and delayed payments. Providers reported that it impacted their ability to pay their bills and their staff. Some were concerned that they may not be able to stay open if the issues were not resolved immediately. The story was covered in local media.

State 2:  A state contract was awarded in 2022 for a child care subsidy and licensing management system. The proprietary system that is implemented is built on a CRM platform. Soon after launch, providers reported that they were experiencing significant issues with payments, including incorrect payments and significantly delayed payments. Providers reported to the media that they may have to close because they could not pay their bills. Other providers reported that they planned to no longer accept subsidized child care families. The story was covered in the local media.

Multiple States:  Multiple states have contracts with a vendor to implement ECEC data systems on a CRM platform. When federal policy changed, the platform had limitations in making updates needed to meet a new federal requirement. Multiple states were out of federal compliance for months because the solution was not nimble enough to adapt to a policy change at the federal level.

Cost Considerations and Sustainability

ECEC government agencies are facing limited budgetary resources, new federal rules, changes in state legislation, and a host of competing priorities. Careful consideration must be given to the cost-effectiveness and long-term sustainability of ECEC data system implementations. Implementing and maintaining CRM systems require substantial financial investments, including initial and ongoing software licensing fees.

Adapting a CRM platform, such as Salesforce, to meet ECEC agency needs can inflate implementation costs and prolong project timelines, potentially diminishing the anticipated benefits of CRM adoption. Agencies may believe they are buying a system with “out of the box” capabilities that can take them from contract execution to implementation in a short amount of time. However, the reality is that there is no “out-of-the-box solution” that can meet the extraordinarily complex needs of ECEC agencies. The needed configurations are time-consuming and expensive. To get a system that fully meets the agency’s needs often results in change orders and longer implementation timelines. Worse yet, states may feel forced to change policies, practices, and workflows just to conform to the limitations of the “out-of-the box” solution.

Additionally, once implemented, CRM solutions may not be nimble enough to adapt to the constant changes ECEC agencies face and costly enhancements make the overall fiscal and technical sustainability of a CRM system challenging.

Real World Cost and Sustainability Outcomes of Implementing ECEC Data Systems on a CRM Platform

State Example:  A contract was awarded in 2022 for an early childhood data system modernization on a CRM platform to include, subsidy management, licensing, quality, grants management and data warehouse. The initial award was for $6M. The contract has since been amended to add another $30M and to decrease the scope to complete modernization for the subsidy management and licensing system only. The system is still not in production.

Recommended Approach for ECEC Government Agencies: Avoid the Risks and Limitations of a CRM

TCC advocates for ECEC government agencies to carefully consider and avoid the risks of implementing mission-critical solutions on CRM platforms. Instead, agency leadership should plan for and seek a purpose-built solution, with a project led by subject matter experts.

Purpose-Built Solutions, Led by Subject Matter Experts

Instead of repurposing CRMs designed for the private sector, ECEC government agencies should select a purpose-built platform that is already substantially tailored to their specific needs. Purpose-built solutions are nimble and offer greater flexibility, scalability, and functionality to accommodate the complexities of ECEC government agency processes while ensuring compliance with reporting requirements and regulatory standards.

For instance, purpose-built solutions can provide specialized features like case management and eligibility tracking, support secure data sharing across agencies, and include tools for detailed performance metrics and analysis, enabling agencies to monitor and improve service delivery. By choosing a solution specifically designed for their unique environment, agencies can avoid the costly and time-consuming customization often required with generic CRMs, ultimately enhancing efficiency and effectiveness in meeting their mission.

ECEC agencies who choose to implement purpose-built solutions, led by subject matter experts, will realize the benefits of working with cross-teams of professionals who know the ECEC eco-system and have an experience-based understanding of how to tailor the solution for successful implementation and user adoption success.

Companies who have ECEC subject matter expertise embedded across the organization will have a strong focus on ECEC agency objectives, end user experience, and overall system efficiencies. Integrated subject matter expertise also mitigates the risk of dependence on a few key vendor personnel. Subject-matter led organizations will understand and efficiently identify areas for tailored while offering experience informed insight into the “best way” to tailor the solution.

During the design and development phases, subject matter experts will participate in and leverage agile development methodologies to involve stakeholders throughout the design and implementation process. The result is a tailored, human-centric solution for families, providers, teachers, caregivers, state staff and contracted partners, and is a cost-effective and nimble solution that can be quickly adapted to the ever-evolving ECEC landscape.

Conclusion

While CRM systems have proven valuable in commercial settings for managing customer relationships and improving business processes, their suitability for automating government programs, policies, and practices is limited. Government agencies face unique challenges, including regulatory compliance, citizen engagement, and funding constraints which demand tailored solutions capable of addressing these complexities effectively.

By implementing purpose-built solutions, led by subject matter experts, ECEC government agencies can better align their technology investments with their operational needs and strategic objectives, ultimately enhancing service delivery, end-user adoption and satisfaction, and program outcomes. 

TCC Solutions has over 25 years of experience providing technology and program operations services to state and local ECEC government agencies. We are an ECEC subject matter expert led organization, which includes former CCDF State Child Care Administrators who report directly to the CEO. Our subject matter expert leaders are tasked with aligning organizational objectives and product development strategies with the evolving needs of the ECEC industry.

Highly experienced subject matter experts at TCC Solutions lead the development and implementation of our ECEC purpose-built solutions Ascend and eXpedite which have been successfully implemented in multiple states.

For more information or to request a demo or contact Info@tccsolutions.com.