Depending on which IT professional you ask, full integration of CRM and field force automation is either already here or lies just over the horizon. And everyone agrees that combining the two entities into one big, happy family provides the ultimate in functionality and, by extension, the best profit margin.
This "second generation" of CRM is poised to become a significant part of the CRM worldwide marketplace that is estimated to reach $64.3 billion by 2005, according to Gartner-Group research. By that same year, the integration service marketplace will emerge as one of three major B2B
e-marketplace trends, according to a separate Gartner report.
But the upsurge in cross-pollination among CRM, field sales and field service software applications has already changed the way business is being conducted.
The lines between the particular applications provided by individual companies are already blurred. Some larger "traditional" CRM companies, such as PeopleSoft, Oracle and Siebel, claim that their integrated business suites contain a multitude of functions. But most CRM vendors achieve their all-encompassing status by partnering with other software makers that transform client companies that had relied on paper-based or selective automation systems.
It's not just a matter of making work life easier, but one of market survival, according to consulting firm Dynamis Solutions' Scott Sbihli. "I think in the sales force, wireless handheld computing will not be an extra. Right now it is, but [in the future] it's going to be integral."
Alexandra Ferguson, marketing manager for Versatile Mobile Systems, says that that future is already upon us. "The world is becoming more and more mobile. A fully integrated staff--field service, field sales and customer service--is crucial," she says. "You have the customer's order history right there, and you don't have to research it."
Bumps in the Road
But truly "elegant solutions" are still at least one year away, cautions Dynamis senior manager Dennis Ephlin, who finds problems with current CRM packages--be they stand-alone, customized integrations or e-business suites. "There are currently a lot of niche-focused CRM/SFA products on the market, but they tend to be very marketing-only focused--meaning there has not yet been a great holistic and integrated CRM application that can serve as an 'insight engine' for the enterprise." And future IT strategies must allow customers to manage the relationship through the channel and in the manner they desire to a greater extent than is currently available, adds Elphin..
Nevertheless, Gartner Group research indicates that the numbers are certainly there for massive adoption. The consultancy group asserts that 40 percent of all U.S. adults are using mobile telephony services, a must-have tool for the modern, mobile workforce.
Simply put, according to PeopleSoft's Ralph Yarnal, anybody with a browser, anywhere in the world, can run software of an integrated system--like PeopleSoft's Web-based Vantive e-business suite--joining CRM and field force functions.
Being Web-based eliminates the need for hard-copy software distribution, says Yarnal, Instead, "employees simply log on to the Web site, [where] customers can get an entire picture of the customer experience. The system knows where the technicians, salespeople and customer service reps are."
The ROI for PeopleSoft's application varies based on the company size and desired implementation. The average installation time runs four to five months but can get up and running in as little as six weeks. PeopleSoft's Jim Littlefield asserts that few smaller vendors delivering Internet-based systems can offer the breadth of functionality and deep integration across products.
But iMedeon CEO Joe Mediate points out that his 80-person company does possess the "right stuff"--an expanding customer list plus significant backing from part-owners GE and Enreon.
According to Broadbeam's Esposito, some companies, mostly larger corporations, purchase an application and have an in-house team integrate it into their present system.
This high-level of innovation will make traditional facets of CRM, such as the call center, unrecognizable, says Amit Saran, chief technology officer for TriVium Systems, whose eCRM product, SimpleRM, caters mostly to the fast-growing midsize market. "What's likely to happen with call centers is that they will evolve into more interactive centers," he explains. By having easy access to a customer's trends and habits when that customer calls, "we can do cross-selling, upgrades, or even problem-solving, so that service can follow up."
E-business suite pioneer Oracle has been riding this trend for more than four years, says Juliette Sultan, vice president of CRM Product strategy. "We've turned something that was a cost to the profit margin into a selling opportunity for the company." Corporate cultures have also been transformed since it has become easier to share information and communicate. "The more the corporation agent knows, the better they can generate revenues."
End of the stepchild
Among progressive companies, service has ceased to be considered an overhead cost, according to Doug Peters, vice president of e-business strategies at Metrix. The Metrix eProduct Service application suite, Metrix4e, works in tandem with sales and CRM packages to form a fully integrated suite. Peters says clients are demanding a product that can deliver a "360-degree view of a customer" with greater depth perception than that which is available from single-source vendors.
Mediate goes a step further, commenting, "Service is the most profitable part of any company." While iMedion's product, iM:Work suite, mostly emphasizes service, it is very much a sales application, he says. An integrated system increases the accuracy of information at the fingertips of service staff. "It gets fixed the first time because the service staff has the history of the customer, and the right parts." Also, customers are offered a more specific window of time for service delivery. The integrated system also eliminates the annoying experience of being placed on hold by allowing customers to schedule service calls online.
Can the Small-fry Survive?
"Partnerships within our industry are vital. We can't build the hardware for the cost that we can obtain it from one of our partners," says Ferguson of software maker Versatile Mobile Systems, which has partnered with Symbol Technologies. Conversely, Symbol's handhelds run Versatile Mobile's software, Delivery Director, which allows the field worker to sell from the truck, perform inventories, and print invoices at the point of delivery.
"Customers benefit as the cost of handheld computers decrease while functionality increases," adds Ted Moorhouse, Versatile's marketing vice president. "At the same time, we are creating solutions based on open standards that offer massive productivity gains and rapid return on investment."
Ferguson notes that as technology improves and becomes less expensive, it is essential for smaller companies to invest in these approaches in order to remain competitive with larger businesses.
And don't think Oracle is too big for the firms that have big dreams but small IT budgets, says Oracle's Sultan. Small companies can be accommodated because pricing is based on the number of users to the site and various subscription services are available.
Once the decision to integrate is made, the four main watchwords include: executive buy-in, company self-knowledge, employee training and information transfer, according to industry sources.
Executive Buy-in. Get the whole company on board with this change, since linking up these functions means re-engineering your company's business processes. Without executive buy-in, such an attempt at a renaissance between human and computer intelligence will bring about chaos throughout.
Lawrence Byrd, Quintus chief strategy officer, cautions, "Getting the CEO to say 'we'll buy this software,' and then all the people underneath him (or her)... to know they will drive this... is the hard part." Byrd recommends developing a cross-functional implementation team that is headed by a senior vice president who reports directly to the CEO. Finally, he advises that they hire a consultant who knows both your business and your industry, and again, has the CEO's ear.
Know Thy Company. Companies cannot know what to automate or how without assessing which segment(s) of the operation it wants to make more profitable--and which areas have been begging for organization.
Employee Training. The best bet is to appoint an internal committee represented by employees from across departmental lines, so the implementation makes sense to everyone who works there. Bob Gustafson, from the market analysis and research firm AMR Research, concurs. "[When] going into something new like that... there can be a lot of confusion, but that's more of a short-term problem."
Gustafson also cautions that mobile employees might chafe at being tethered to the home office by GPS tracking. "Sometimes people don't want to let other people know where they are during the work day. Companies that educate the workforce on the importance of using mobile devices to track workers' locations in the field can prevent workers from feeling they are being watched."
Information Transfer. Once the uploading begins, employees will have what might seem like an avalanche of information at their fingertips. It's up to the IT team to decide where to send it, experts say. Companies spend millions on market research, for example, without integrating it into their business processes, says Sbihli.
Dynamis' Ephlin echoes this concern. Companies should re-think the way they've been using customer information, even if they're starting with a single module. "Your employees probably have a lot of data that they never had before. Find ways to do more cross-selling or up-selling." But, "do not underestimate the effort involved because [the process is] not seamless." Whether starting small with a bare-bones subscriptions service or going with a Cadillac e-business suite, Byrd sums it up best: "It ultimately remains a business problem, not a software problem."