July 17, 2018

Customer Relationship Management

Cautionary Tales: Enterprise Software Edition

A few weeks ago, I was talking about CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software. Essentially, CRM should help a company (as Dennis Howlett – business software blogger put it), “sell more stuff.”

I don’t have a problem with that result. We can argue all day long abo really “needed” as opposed to “pushed”. That’s a philosophical debate, indeed, it’s a MORALISTIC debate. In Obama’s address to the USA (re: BP oil sands) he prayed for a “hand to guide us.” Was he talking about the hand of god, or the invisible hand? … But I digress.

My point about CRM was much less lofty. CRM systems are simply about attempting to know your customer. How much data can we collate and analyze in order to maximize our value proposition? Or, if you’re a cynic – how can we, as Homer Simpson would say, “cram one more salty treat into America’s already bloated snack hole?”


Sidenote: Back in the heyday of the SUV craze, there was a great interview on 60 Minutes with some analyst/pundit who described the motivation that seemed to underlie the populating of these beasts. He described it as “reptilian.” The term stuck with me and I find it helpful to think about in around any purchasing decision of consequence. A well executed CRM can create a veritable “Jurassic Park” of suckers if that is what one is so inclined to create. Although, it doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be evil.

My point this week though is less about CRM per se and more about what happens when an enterprise software implementation goes awry. A different kind of evil. There have been two big stories recently detailing lawsuits being leveled against firms who had been contracted to install an enterprise system and had allegedly failed to deliver on the contract.

In one case, EDS (now owned by Hewlett Packard) just agreed to pay British Sky Broadcasting $460 million for a failed CRM implementation. This was from a project undertaken in the year 2000 and abandoned two years later. The settlement is four times the value of the budgeted project cost.

In a second case, Marin County, CA is suing Deloitte Consulting for an alleged failure in rolling out an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. Marin County is seeking $30 million. Their contention is that Deloitte didn’t have the technical skills on the software in question. That’s an important point. This type of technical skill is of the “use it or lose it” variety.

So, is that the answer? When a software implementation goes awry, you sue everyone? Well, sometimes.

You see, buying an enterprise software system isn’t like buying a vehicle. You can’t just hand the wheel over to your reptilian brain and pray for the invisible hand to hook up financing and you’re on your way.

There’s work involved, normally a third party, that is paid to configure the software and integrate it into your organization’s existing infrastructure. In a complex business model, the process of defining and integrating all the business rules, data flows, and connections can be daunting… sometimes, impossible. Failure, unfortunately, is always an option.

These recent examples deal with alleged failures on the part of the third party implementers, but failures can occur anywhere within “hell’s half-acre.”

I’ve seen examples where it was clearly a management failure to provide project leadership that created an implementation failure. The example I am thinking about resulted in the company taking a $2 million dollar charge then having to start over. When I went to see them, it looked like they were heading right back down the same road. Making the same mistakes. Me? I can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

Some folks point to Saas products as a way to alleviate these nightmare scenarios. If only it was that easy. Wherever a business has an existing IT architecture, there is the possibility of an integration problem (assuming you want integrated systems which I have to believe that you’ll want). There is another company I can think of who, when I met them, had been working for at least 6 months on an integration with a Saas ERP system and their back office. For a number of reasons, it really just didn’t seem like it was going to work. And the red flag for me was that the CFO and the Director of Finance had vastly different views as to how the project was going.

These are just a couple examples I can name from my own experiences and I’m not even in the software implementation game!

The moral of the story is know the statement of work inside out. Understand the terms of the contract. Technical skills are finite. Be very clear on the desired outcomes.

And beware of the reptilian brain.

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. You can see more of his posts for GC here.

Customer Relationship Management – Know Your Customer, Know Yourself

The first rule of business is “know your customer.” So, how do you do that?

This is the question that brings you into the field of CRM (Customer Relationship Management). I remember working in a tax firm back in the early 2000s and all client correspondence was hardcopy in the file. Our “CRM system” was rows of filing cabinets.

A sales forecast? rked at a company where the sales forecast was an excel spreadsheet that physically gave me vertigo just looking at it. Updating that thing was like a game of Tetris.


A “real” CRM system consolidates all of your company’s customer interactions and sales activities into one database. It enables sales and marketing to detail the entire sales process from Lead to Close. And now it’s the difference between “knowing your customer” and living in the dark ages.

I only started seeing these systems spring up in mid-sized businesses a few years ago. How much are you guys seeing CRM out there now? Does your CRM system integrate with your other business systems? Or is it more of a Contact Manager?

For example, I have seen an instance where the CRM software operated as its own sphere of information. Then, we had the company financial information as its own separate sphere. To connect the sales pipeline info (from the CRM) to the financial results was a manual task.

I’m throwing it out there because my own experience with CRM in the SMB/SME space is limited to using Salesforce.com. I spoke about them briefly when I introduced Saas and Cloud Computing a few weeks ago. I must sound like a Salesforce salesperson but I’m not. I just found that Salesforce 1) put CRM on the radar for the SME I was working for at the time and 2) was inexpensive and easy to deploy.

The other main Saas CRM play is Sugar CRM. Both Salesforce and Sugar CRM have free versions. A very small business could probably operate on the free version for ever. Most mid-sized businesses could use the free version to test the fit of the product’s process flows before committing to rolling it out throughout the business.

In large enterprise, the CRM is probably big enough to just be called “the system”. Let’s say you are working for a bank or an insurance company. “The system” knows things. Next time you are speaking to a call center representative, ask for a summary of your own history. You might be surprised what details are lurking within the system. These can be simply contact histories or can also incorporate decision-making capabilities (i.e. loan or credit card approvals).

Retailers capitalize on this technology through the use of Loyalty Programs.

The real power behind CRM, for those not currently using this type of software, is the ability to clarify the sales pipeline and to consolidate customer interaction. You can detail right from Cold Call to Close and you can get the analytics to visualize the process too.

We’re right on the cusp of even bigger innovations in this field. Just look at some of the things Google is doing right now with respect to data and data visualizations (Google TrendsGoogle public dataGoogle Analytics). Sentiment analysis is appearing to gain traction as well. To blow all that out into the CRM realm means really powerful insight into customer behavior.

The success or failure of the CRM is linked directly to the quality of data in the system. This is where the “know yourself” bit comes into play. Where you can automate, do so. Trusting a salesperson to voluntarily do data entry is like trusting your road-trip navigation to a poet. Not good. Again, great strides continue to be made here. Between the increasing migration of transactions and activities online, and the tools allowing for Salesforce Automation (SFA), the direct maintenance on this type of system can be minimized.

For those of you unfamiliar with CRM technology, maybe you’re working in smaller companies or companies with a legacy of paper-based CRM, Saas solutions like Salesforce and Sugar CRM are worth checking out. It’s a place to start. And it’s free to start.

We would really like to hear from you on this issue as well. What has your experience been with CRM?

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. You can see more of his posts for GC here.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…or: Cloud Computing and SaaS Briefly Explained

Figuring out how to sum up Cloud Computing and Software as a service (SaaS) in the space of ~800 words would absolutely require the biggest, puffiest, most cumulus metaphor that ever precipitated understanding over the dry, barren plains of ignorance EVER! Something like….

king Business Applications By Storm, or
– Burning off the Fog Around Cloud Computing, or
– Cloud Computing goes from Light Showers to Torrential Downpour, or even
– Quit Jiiiivin’ Me Turkey, You Got to SaaS it! (a Turkey is a bad person)

Why?

Because this thing is growing like a Class 5 Hurricane sucking up warm air over the Gulf of Mexico in mid-September, and you’re in the eye of the storm baby!


Enough! I can’t… I just can’t brew up another hackneyed metaphor!

All joking aside, Cloud Computing and SaaS are now “required reading” if you’re even remotely involved with technology (i.e. you use a computer). I can help you understand this stuff better, but first some disclosure:

I work for a SaaS company. My paycheck depends upon acceptance of this technology.

If you can accept this embedded bias, I’ll try to suppress any overt advocacy while providing a synopsis of this space over the course of the next few weeks. Call it Saas 101.

So, what is it?

We’ll get into this in more detail soon because there’s more to it, but very simply:

Software as a Service – A software application that you access online without having to download anything to your computer.

Cloud Computing – Provides computing power and data storage on an “as needed” basis much the same way as a public utility provides electricity.

Why should you care?

At the very least, you should care because you are already using this stuff for personal web activities (e.g. Facebook – think privacy, Twitter, LinkedIn, Gmail, etc). And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the next software sourcing project your company undertakes will include Cloud and Saas representation.

This is a bet I’ll win because even the big, established players in the software world like IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft are running to try and get in front of this thing on the business side.

You want to know about this.

Where did it come from?

How did Software as a Service and Cloud Computing as we know it come about?

Well, what’s in a word?

Again, there’s more to it, but without rekindling the internecine nerd-fighting I think tracing the roots of this movement back to Marc Benioff, the founder, Chairman & CEO of Salesforce.com is not unreasonable for our purposes. He was arguably the most vocal advocate for looking at software delivery in a new way back before this stuff HAD a name. Salesforce.com launched as an unknown start-up back in 1999 and is now one of the leading CRM (Customer Relationship Management) products Cloud or otherwise and is traded on NYSE with a market cap of over $10 Billion.

Along with another early entrant, Netsuite, these guys let the genie out of the bottle. Interestingly, both companies have deep, deep roots back into Oracle Corp., Oracle, a company that, according to Oracle, “would change the face of business computing forever.” I don’t dispute the claim though. And I would take it one further saying, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The Rain Fell in Torrents…

The creation of Salesforce and Netsuite were both extremely capital intensive. In order to host their customers (i.e. users of the software), tens of millions of dollars were required to build the data center infrastructure. You’re not required to buy servers and hardware, so where do you think all your data is residing? In a cloud? We haven’t advanced that far.

But we have advanced.

Today companies building Cloud apps don’t tend to build their own data centers, at least not right off the hop. Another important innovation in Cloud comes from companies like Amazon. Apart from books, Amazon has a whole other line of business providing computer infrastructure on a rental basis. It’s like a power grid for computing.

This changes the business model for companies who build software in the same way these Cloud app companies are changing things for you.

Suddenly, your IT goes from being a Fixed Cost to a Variable Cost.

More next week.

Enjoy!

Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. He regularly attends and contributes to the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city through the Vancouver Enterprise Forum, guest blogging on Techvibes.com, and as a mentor with ISS of BC. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. He is currently working in a marketing/social media role with Indicee, a Saas Business Intelligence company, bringing B.I. to mere mortals.