Will We Ever Learn?

First it was the airlines. Next, insurance companies. Then this business sector. Then that one. And finally it's the CRM industry's turn to attempt to cash in on September 11. We have Experian touting the viability of using credit data to spot potential terrorists. Then we have Siebel Systems reframing its CRM application as a homeland security tool. And others, like analytics vendor Vality, are lining up to show how their wares can identify potential terrorists as readily as they identify potential customers. All are demonstrating that their eagerness to sell their stuff surpasses their knowledge of what makes CRM work--and not work. Anyone who's been in CRM more than a day or two likely knows that database analytics work far better at screening out than screening in. In other words, it's much more helpful for identifying who's not a terrorist than who is, which isn't much help at all. CRM necessitates not only cultural change, but also personal change. Not dramatic, psychotherapeutic changes, but changes in the way corporate denizens do their business inside the company. Take the credit-file approach. It's more profitable to assume that terrorists are too myopic to avoid behavior that will trigger flags in a credit database than it is to recognize how fallible our database-profiling systems remain. Heck, the credit card industry that relies on credit data like a crutch still preapproves infants and pets. And we're supposed to feel safer with these data watchdogs on patrol? Up on the Internet, FairIsaac is already selling consumers (terrorists included) the "code" for scoring mortgage applications, allowing clever folks to manipulate their profiles. As for Siebel's transformation into a homeland security company, well--I guess what kind of company it is depends on which sales pitch you're in. But Tom Siebel did free up some of his valuable time to testify before a Congressional committee about how his software could catch the bad guys. His testimony was so eager and earnest it made me want to pin a sheriff's badge on his suit. But better I should dredge up a few thousand case studies of failed CRM implementations that demonstrate what would happen if the government runs off half-cocked and buys CRM/homeland security software on the spot. You know the case studies I mean. The ones about companies too arrogant to consider what their customers want. And the others about the firms too fearful to step between feuding functional silos to fix their convoluted workflows. Or those in too much of a hurry to reengineer work processes. But all of which spent a gazillion dollars on CRM software only to experience CRM failures of the first order. So what's so different about our government? It has to adopt security policies palatable to citizens, or the policies won't last. It has to bring feuding departments together in order to redesign workflow around these new policies. It has to reengineer work processes to match the new workflow--and to identify specifically what functionality the information-management-automation software has to provide. And only then can it rationally decide which software applications will work and which won't. Instead vendors are trying to persuade government to buy technology as a first step. When will vendors learn? Perhaps the better question is, when will they care? CRM consultant Dick Lee is the author of The Customer Relationship Management Survival Guide and a set of implementers' handbooks titled Self-guided CRM. In addition to consulting and writing, he speaks internationally on CRM topics. Contact him at dlee@h-ym.com
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