CRM Vendors Promise Rapid Rollouts

Some of the leading names in CRM are betting that if you didn't like their CRM solutions before, you'll love them in three months flat. They have been aggressively promoting packaged versions of their software, often with a 90-day guaranteed implementation. Particularly because CRM success often hinges on carefully matching a company's business processes and incorporating data from a wide range of internal systems, critics have expressed concern that rapid CRM deployments will fall short of delivering real value.

Dubbing the category of rapid CRM implementations "lifeboat exercises," Forrester Research principal analyst Bob Chatham says that the constraints involved are not necessarily negatives. "They force companies to limit customization and offer little or no integration to other packages [out of the box], but in general, this can be a good thing," he says. "It forces companies to build a user community first, then figure out how to adapt the products over time to a firm's processes and peculiarities."

Surprisingly, vendors are not shy about admitting the built-in constraints of rapid CRM packages. "It is a defined scope, because you can't go out and say 'I want to buy a Ferrari and I only want to pay $50 for it,'" says Jeffrey Read, general manager of PeopleSoft's midmarket division. Still, he claims that the input of hundreds of installed CRM customers has provided the necessary information for his company to build predictable templates of corporate workflow.

"We're not talking about integrating all of your channels, all of your lines of business, and all of your CRM strategies [in 90 days]," says Lisa Arthur, vice president of CRM marketing for Oracle. "We're talking about certain pieces of CRM that can help companies get quick wins." Oracle's 90-day program offers nine "process flow" applications, including contact-to-resolution, contract-to-renewal and click-to-order. None of these constitutes a full CRM suite.

Reasoned Rollouts
Meta Group Vice President Liz Shahnam believes the arrangement is logical. "From a technology perspective, it typically makes more sense [to use rapid deployment] when an organization is implementing a function-specific or point solution."

She says that the lessons learned by ERP firms who rolled out cookie-cutter implementations a few years ago set the standard now being applied in the CRM world. "Everybody is complaining about lengthy implementation times, which is what they did with ERP, and once vendors get their accelerators completed, they won't be marketing it as the 'speedy' approach," Shahnam says. "In 24 months, we're not going to differentiate between 'fast-track' and 'regular' implementations."

Rapid CRM deployments are a boon to those who have identified problems that simply won't wait. "We realized there would be an outlay of time and money to go to an enterprise-caliber [CRM] provider," says Steven Greenberg, vice president in charge of development for Banc of America Capital Management Group. The company recently turned to YOUcentric to revamp a CRM architecture that had grown very confused after a series of mergers and a consolidation. Although the company considered traditional CRM implementations, they also felt that retiring dozens of independent ACT databases and several barely-integrated Outlook databases and Excel spreadsheets was a top priority. "We realized that the myriad contact management systems used in production were risky and weren't being professionally managed. By retiring the legacy systems [quickly], there would be positive ROI, so we were motivated to do that."

Vendors agree that simply waking up one morning and writing a check for a quick-start CRM project will not deliver success three months later. At barest minimum, a company's customer data repositories need to be well documented, organized and available to the new CRM application.

"There needs to be a customer-centric data warehouse established," says Adam staelin, industry director of NCR's TeraData CRM division. The division is about to launch a line of industry express marketing solutions tailored to the specific needs of certain industries, in the hopes of attaining ROI on highly tuned marketing campaigns with a few short months of effort. "Nobody out there is saying they can put in a CRM application and data warehouse in 90 days."

Clear, concise goals, as always, are a great help. "We originally had been given 90 days, and would have easily met that, but we had a sales manager change a business model in the middle of implementation," Greenberg says. The ensuing changes to the application and data model caused a delay of roughly one month--well within Greenberg's tolerance, but a stark reminder of the consequences of a mid-course correction.

"[Quick-start customers] have to have assessed their readiness and CRM capabilities to understand where the risk areas are going to be," Shahnam says. Regardless of the complexity or time commitment of a particular CRM implementation, "you have to have buy-in from the lines of business, training and positioned metrics of success. You don't want to say 'we're successful' just because you got it done in 90 or 120 days."

The demand for CRM today rather than next year is real. "We're seeing this more and more...particularly where firms have been burned by too much customization, which complicates software upgrades," Chatham says. Faster doesn't necessarily mean a lot cheaper, however. Oracle still charges healthy six-figure sums for each of its nine CRM processes, for example.

"In general, they shouldn't be charging more, but a lot of implementation dollars are going to go to integrators whether it's fast or slow," Shahnam says. "Expect to see this netting out...the difference will be in time-to-market," rather than bottom-line costs.

If for no other reason than their piecemeal nature, which allows companies to realize some benefits while spreading out costs over time, Read believes that rapid CRM implementations will be easier for chief financial officers to swallow. "No one will fund those big-bang projects anymore," he says.

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