The CRM Evolution
Companies must build on CRM excellence to become real-time enterprises.
For the rest of the April 2002 issue of CRM magazine please click here
Despite the recent technology downturn, things are looking up for CRM. Well, almost. In a recent conversation I had with the vice president of a leading PABX telephony switch vendor, he touted his firm's ability to seamlessly integrate voice and data through its switch. He was proud to inform me that "customer service center agents can now respond to customers either by phone, electronically via the Web, or both at the same time." Yet, when I asked the executive whether an agent could also access the results of recent face-to-face visits to customers by the sales force, he said that this integration had not yet occurred. I had a similar conversation with an executive from a supply chain management software vendor, who was proud to inform me that its offering seamlessly integrated with ERP systems--but not all the way through to the end-users who ultimately drove demand through the supply chain. My conclusion: Despite the tremendous accomplishments of the CRM industry to date, it has realized only partial business functional integration, and not the complete integration that buyers, companies, and suppliers desire. Complete integration is indeed critical to overcome today's classical responses, such as "please hold while I check on that" and "let me get back to you with that information." There are, however, some exciting developments toward the realization of complete integration. Over the past few years new software companies have emerged offering an entirely new set of tools that support "business in an instant." These companies are helping to build what is called the real-time enterprise. The real-time enterprise occurs when all of a company's departments, channels, and partners are connected electronically in such a way that all communication in any and every direction throughout the supply and demand chains is instantaneous. This allows a real-time exchange of such information as changes in customer demand, inventory, profitability, and competitive situations. It is through real-time computing and e-business technologies that this strategy will lead to sustainable gains in productivity and profitability, and to a reduction in costs. In other words, there will be a permanent economic change within companies that transform themselves into real-time enterprises. Many companies--including Cisco, Dell, Amazon.com, and WalMart--already are en route to becoming real-time enterprises. Their current real-time efforts have led to significantly reduced costs, significantly higher revenue generated per employee, as well as increasingly sustainable, competitive leadership positions. Other companies, such as General Electric, are using real-time wireless solutions to help their technical service reps in the field meet support-level agreements. These reps report savings of one hour per day as needed information gets delivered to them wirelessly in real time. So where is all this heading? CRM systems already offering functionality to link together companies, customers, and suppliers form the basis for achieving the real-time enterprise. I am suggesting new, Web-based CRM solutions, the emerging Web-services model, and new integration tools will make the real-time enterprise the business story of this decade. Now more than ever is the time for you to understand this new direction.
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