National initiative: The need for more efficient, effective and qualitative provision of services to citizens, is nowadays of utmost importance in all modern states. The inability of the traditional, bureaucratic public administration to effectively meet citizens` needs, has led us to search for new methods with regards to the structure and operation of the public service. To this direction, a strategy plan has been prepared for establishing Citizen Service Centers (CSCs) all over Cyprus, aiming at providing multiple services from one point of contact/ location, thus offering citizens the convenience of meeting their requirements in one stop. The ultimate goal is to have a citizen-centric public service which does not engage its citizens in long-winded, time-consuming and frustrating procedures, but is in a position to effectively meet citizens` needs in a timely manner. Despite the small geographic distribution of the island, the impact on citizens has been remarkable. In less than 3 years from the operation of the first CSC in Nicosia, the 5 CSCs now operating on the island have offered more than 550,000 services and have given information over the phone to 282,088 citizens. At present, the five CSCs operating on the island act as an alternative channel for citizens to deal with the public administration. Further to the continuous expansion of the CSC network, the Public Administration and Personnel Department (PAPD - the competent authority for the CSCs), following a Council of MinistersÂ´ decision, is now in the process of establishing a mobile CSC which will provide eGovernment services to citizens residing in the rural areas, thus reducing geographic exclusion.
The strategy initiative relating to the establishment of CSCs has gained significant political support from the initial stages. To this end, the decision for the set up of CSCs has been taken by the Council of Ministers in 2005, in the framework of promoting measures for improving the quality of services offered to the public and reducing administrative burden to citizens and businesses.
It is worth noting that CSCs do not replace traditional government organisations (Departments/ Services) but they act as an alternative channel for dealing with public agencies /organizations. They offer more than 64 different services relating to the competences of a number of governmental organisations. The majority of these services are offered on the spot, due to the fact that the right IT systems are in place to support the immediate delivery of services. Examples of such services include issuing of birth certificates, Identity Cards, Driving licenses, road tax licenses, Social Insurance Contributions Records etc. In addition, CSCs receive applications for the issuing of Passports, refugee identity cards, registration in the electoral register, grants, allowances, benefits and pensions (e.g. student grant, child allowance, mother allowance, maternity allowance, marriage grant, maternity grant, old age pension, social pension, invalidity pension).
The PAPD is now in the process of setting up legislation pertaining to the operation of CSCs which will include provisions regarding the setting up/ abolishment of CSCs, the mission, competences, organization, operation and supervision of CSCs etc.
The strategy envisages the expansion of the CSC network, the continuous incorporation of new services which are in high demand by the public, the establishment of a Contact Center that will provide another channel for delivery of information and services to citizens and businesses, as well as the systematic expansion of eGovernment services e.g. services provided over the internet.
Every citizen who needs to interact with the public sector is a potential user of the CSC network. Therefore, the target group practically includes everyone living in Cyprus or abroad who needs information or documents from a public organization, the services of which are offered by CSCs.
The PAPD (Ministry of Finance), manages the project relating to the establishment of CSCs and the organisation, staffing, supervision and co-ordination of their operation, with a view to ensuring that they are efficient and effective in their day to day operation. Important players in the whole project are the Department of Information Technology Services, which is in constant co-operation with PAPD, and is in charge of the installation and support of the IT systems / hardware/ software, as well as the â€œmotherâ€ organisations i.e. Departments the services of which are offered via the network of CSCs.
Uniform and homogeneous service delivery across all the CSCs is achieved, since all CSCs have access to the same IT systems that the â€œmotherâ€ organisations have, in delivering services to their citizens.
The operational implementation started as a pilot-project, with the set-up and operation of the first CSC in 2005, in an attempt to assess the citizensÂ´ real needs and benefits. The operation of the first CSC in Nicosia demonstrated tangible benefits to the public, so about a year later the 2nd CSC was established in Limassol (October 2006). In the period 2007-2008 three more CSCs were established.
The efficient, on the spot delivery of services to a great number of citizens, on a yearly basis, has been one of the most immediate benefits. The feedback received so far, mainly from citizens who have visited the five CSCs that are currently operating, is greatly positive. As of December 2005 (operation date of the 1st CSC), the CSC network has provided a total of 553,132 services and has given information over the phone to 282,088 citizens. A large percentage of citizens have benefited from at least two services simultaneously, from one point of contact, instead of visiting two different governmental organizations.
The positive feedback received so far has been confirmed by an official survey carried out by the Statistical Service of the Cyprus Government on 11-27 April 2007, on the quality of services offered by the 3 CSCs that were in operation during that period. More specifically, 91% of the citizens who visited the CSCs evaluated â€œvery positivelyâ€ the quality of services offered by the Centers, and 8,8% of them evaluated â€œpositivelyâ€ the quality of services. It is also worth noting that almost all persons asked stated that they would gladly recommend the CSCs to friends or relatives.
CSCs have had a wider social impact. Certain segments of the population, especially inhabitants of more remote/ mountainous areas, since 2 of the CSCs are currently operating in such areas, became the immediate recipients of the above mentioned benefits as they could avoid unnecessary visits to distant outlets of public administration.
Additional benefits of the CSCs have been the streamlining / reengineering of traditional bureaucratic procedures into citizen-centric services, and the provision of eGovernment benefits to all population groups, including digitally illiterate individuals, as skilled customer service employees who serve citizens at the CSCs in essence use ICT, on behalf of the citizen, to carry out the citizenÂ´s transactions.
The operation of new CSCs and the systematic expansion of the range of services offered by the CSCs already in operation, is a continuous process. Immediate plans include the establishment of 2-3 more CSCs. The network of CSCs will be supported in the near future by:
(a) a mobile CSC that will offer services especially to inhabitants of more remote/ mountainous areas.
(b) a Contact Center which will respond to citizen information inquiries regarding public administration and will receive, over the phone and via other means, requests for a number of services.
The success of the CSCs has created an interest amongst many governmental organizations which have already expressed their interest in â€œofferingâ€ their services via the CSCs. In addition, many municipalities and community councils have already expressed their eagerness to provide support for the establishment of CSCs in their municipality/ community, in an attempt to meet the needs of their inhabitants.
The experiences gained from the set-up of the CSCs have been shared with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism which has, as a result, established a One-stop-shop for the setting up of a company.
It is also worth noting that the CSCs have been nominated for an award by the In-business awards 2008.
The successful operation of CSCs relies extensively on a number of crucial factors, which have been identified from the initial stages of the project`s implementation. They include the following:
a) securing strong commitment by all the stakeholders involved, especially governmental organisations the services of which are offered by the CSCs
b) careful selection of employees/ customer service agents, as well as CSCsÂ´ supervisors. Effective and timely training of employees, not only on issues relating to the delivery of the specific services and the IT systems in operation, but more importantly, on adopting the right behavior and attitude in dealing with citizens on a daily basis. This has greatly paid off, since the CSCs have been accepted by citizens by a very wide margin, and the public administration has gained a new, more positive image
c) simplifying/ streamlining procedures, to ensure the prompt delivery of services, using the IT systemsÂ´ technical excellence
d) Sustaining the positive impact that CSCs have had so far, via monitoring and assessing, in a systematic manner, their productivity, efficiency and effectiveness. This is done via the use of management information systems and surveys to obtain feedback on citizens`s real needs and expectations, and to assess levels of awareness and satisfaction.