In the second generation hosted-CRM environment, it is the business user who should be able to set the workflow simply by defining his business rules.
Posted Aug 16, 2004
I want to challenge the hosted-CRM industry to a simple question of delivering value to the customer: "Are you really able to offer a high level of value to business without true workflow?" I say the first generation of hosted CRM is over. Second generation hosted CRM is built to deliver enterprise-level functionality to the SMB market and departments within an enterprise, and to do that hosted-CRM applications must be built on a workflow engine constructed to deliver true workflow capability.
First, I'll dispel some common myths about workflow.
Workflow is not the simple use of email to send an alert or notification; it is not just contact management; it is not capturing information keyed-in by a user and read by another party who shares the system; and it is not the ability to email your database from within your sales force application. All these things may be good to some degree or useful to another, but they are not workflow.
Instead, workflow must reside at the heart of a hosted-CRM solution. The workflow engine should automate business processes through which documents, information, or tasks are passed from one participant to another according to the business rules set for your company, and should ensure that the correct sequences of steps are followed.
Most important, in delivering value to the customer in the hosted-CRM environment, it must allow nontechnical business users to easily define their business processes in terms of work queues, thresholds, and ensure the business rules are executed by the process engine.
This is a fundamental point. In the second generation hosted-CRM environment, it is the business user who should be able to set the workflow simply by defining his business rules. Workflow-enabled CRM products that require engineers to implement or program the workflow system would be a backward step.
The workflow system must be able to measure processes as they execute, providing the information necessary to understand how each element of a business process is performing, and how it could be improved.
Workflow enabled by second generation hosted-CRM should fit a framework to provide specific template processes that can be used as a starting point to model a business' specific process needs. For example, all hosted-CRM solutions should be able to provide off-the-shelf customer service processes for their respective vertical industries, or pre-defined stages in a sales process.
Workflow must be able to communicate with other underlying applications (such as an accounting system) and the people who will perform the tasks necessary at each step of the process. It must ensure that a wide range of different applications and technologies can be integrated quickly and easily within the workflow platform to tie the total process together.
Workflow must also be able to connect all users inside and outside the business to your business processes, including remote employees, business partners, suppliers, and customers. Workflow can connect all these elements seamlessly if the CRM applications are built on a true workflow engine.
We can also look at workflow as a process within a process: It first involves the mapping of business processes to define all of the manual and automatic internal processes of your company, i.e., setting your business rules according to the requirements of your sales or customer service departments.
From there you will determine how you want your staff, customers, sales leads, incidents, and processes to interact with each other whether they are person-to-person, person-to-application, or application-to-application types of interaction.
Once this has been established, a second generation hosted-CRM vendor should be able to provide the necessary consulting expertise in your vertical market and assist you in further developing your best practice information.
About the Author
Paul Johnston is president and CEO of Entellium N.A., a Seattle-based hosted-CRM provider. Prior to establishing Entellium, Paul cofounded and managed two workflow software companies, selling one of them to OPTIKA, a US-based workflow provider. His 15 years of experience includes product marketing, sales, consulting, and general management, with a particular focus on imaging, document management, workflow, and in recent years, CRM applications.
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