The Road Less Traveled to Successful CRM Projects

In the past several years there has been a deluge of trendy acronyms and anagrams that take old ideas for doing business and make them new. Customer relationship management, with renewed focus on the customer, and business intelligence, with emphasis on making better business decisions, are perhaps the most noticeable.

The corporate bourgeoisie is influenced by the promises of these philosophies, and many have initiated projects to attain the Shangri-La and rightfully so, because the promise is greater profits and reduced costs.

Bringing CRM and BI initiatives to fruition to achieve that promise often can be a massive undertaking and seldom is understood in its entirety. The result often has been to put the cart before the horse with the focus on effectively deploying an application. Most companies adopt an application that facilitates CRM and BI only to realize that the application is only the beginning of a long, long, journey.

The road most traveled by … The path down the proverbial road to build a CRM or BI system is trodden by the multitude and littered with many failed projects, many more frustrated information technology departments, and dubious investments with no clear metric pointing to success or failure.

There are many reasons. The most notable is that the internal technical infrastructure of many companies may not be optimized to support such an effort. Contending with this situation alone can cause grief and challenge. Yet, there is one obstacle to a successful CRM and BI system that most do not consider and which can make a tremendous difference — the importance of information management.

Until now, customer information ran through the digital arteries of corporations with little consideration to its importance. The main reason is that information was not considered important to selling more widgets. Things changed only when philosophies such as CRM and BI suggested that all things being equal, more widgets could be sold if a company could manage what it knows about the marketplace and customers. The ability to organize and manage information is perhaps the greatest challenge of bringing CRM and BI to fruition.

CRM and BI are difficult to achieve for most companies because the anatomy of their internal systems is often a federation of loosely connected operating environments with information repositories scattered about, which is contrary to requirements for making CRM and BI a reality. CRM and BI depend on a company's ability to wield information with accuracy and precision, which is impossible in such an environment. Most that embark upon a CRM and BI project learn this after the fact, which often leads to a painful realization that implementing and integrating an application is only the beginning of a CRM and BI project.

The need for customer information management. The ability to quickly make the correct decisions involving customers and the business is one of the most coveted of all skills promised by CRM and BI. It is dependent on the quality of the underlying information gathered from various parts of the organization.

A decision made under a CRM or BI system is always predicated on the quality, organization and accuracy of the underlying information, ostensibly. Thus, without an information management practice in place to provide for the quality, organization and accuracy of information, a company cannot attain the promise of CRM and BI.

Customer information management is about creating and establishing the underlying information management practices and tools that support CRM, BI and all enterprise applications. CIM is focused on getting the right information, to the right place, at the right time, on the right customer and in the right form to make a decision. The application and resulting decision are predicated on the context and not related to CIM. CRM and BI are not synonymous with CIM.

You might ask, “What is the value of CIM according to this definition?” Customer information management allows companies to decide with confidence by providing an information management practice to ensure that the information at hand within the context of CRM and BI is adequate.

CIM as a strategy can mitigate the problems of information management and information quality related to CRM and BI that has haunted many organizations. To develop an effective CIM strategy, a company needs practices and tools to ensure the quality, organization and accuracy of customer information as already stated. A philosophy is necessary to guide such efforts.

The philosophy of customer information. Management philosophy for how information should be treated in an organization is critical to develop CIM and, thus, make CRM and BI endeavors successful. Information is a byproduct of a transaction that holds tremendous value to downstream knowledge workers.

Thus, each step in the capture, communication, storage and recirculation of information should be designed to ensure a quality product that users can rely on to make decisions. In the future, information quality will be even more important because companies will rely on automated response mechanisms and enterprise decisioning techniques.

Companies should be focused on ensuring the correctness of customer information as a perpetual quest. This approach is crucial to thwart the effects of information decay, input errors and customer information inconsistency.

The adoption of customer information management as a strategy should lead most to ask, “What customer information and knowledge is needed for decision purposes within CRM and BI?” Once this question is answered, the next steps are to build processes that help provide the appropriate information and the maintenance of that information so that the appropriate decision can be made.

A good CIM strategy will result in the creation of a customer-information-value chain that provides a quality product usable by a CRM and BI application. It is imperative to remember that information drives the whole concept of CRM and BI. It is not enough to buy a CRM or BI package with the hope that it will be the cure-all solution. By thinking critically about information needs and information-management techniques first, the chances of making CRM and BI applications a success are greatly improved.

The road less traveled by … Many companies unwittingly open Pandora's box when they decide to pursue a CRM or BI endeavor. These strategies often require significant process re-engineering and extensive integration of legacy systems and information located around the organization that may have never been considered or fathomed. Yet, by focusing on CIM as a strategy, many such experiences can be minimized if not quelled because they would have already been taken into account.

Wielding information to make decisions is now the greatest competitive advantage a company can have, yet few have such an advantage. There is an opportunity for the prescient to create the foundation in support of the future developments such as CRM, BI and the next generation of decision automation. However, it requires taking a different road than most to be adequately prepared.

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