Who Really Owns the CRM Initiative?

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During the past month I've been doing my best to mediate a brouhaha at a global high-tech manufacturer. The struggle is between the two CRM cosponsors: the vice president for global sales and service and the global CIO. The CIO insists on owning the users' desktop--this translates into the CRM application being run within a portal controlled by the IT shop. The vice president views the CRM application as the essential tool for implementing the day-to-day work of many thousands of internal users, and thinks the application will be optimized only when these internal users have direct or native access to it, i.e., not run within the proposed portal. Both perspectives have merit, but the president of the company has made it clear that only one of these two options can go forward, and that the cosponsors need to work it out. In building their cases the cosponsors have relied to some extent on input from their respective software vendors, which have their own, potentially incompatible agendas. For example, during one demonstration the portal vendor showed the CRM application working seamlessly within the portal; however, the vendor had incorporated an old version of the CRM application--the current version would require substantial customization to work within the portal, if it could work at all. The portal vendor also claimed that other global companies were using the CRM application within the portal without incident. Yet when the vice president contacted one of the reference customers, the customer emphatically stated that the CRM was not being run from within the portal owing to potential response-time delays, but rather was being run natively. On the other hand, the CRM vendor suggests that running its application within the portal is not optimal, but has not produced hard facts supporting this argument. Nor has the CRM vendor documented response-time delays or produced hard costs required to customize the CRM application under the portal scenario. The CIO and the vice president are pushing their respective vendors for better answers, of course, but the decision to move forward with the proposed portal solution versus the proposed direct-access solution will not be resolved by either vendor on a technical basis. Here's why: The heart of the issue is, who really owns the CRM initiative, business or IT? For me the resolution of this issue rests in the business camp. I can understand why the CIO is opting for the portal solution (e.g., one desktop user interface to maintain, one set of development tools to learn, one workflow tool to apply, etc.), but at the end of the day the vice president must own whether or not the users perceive value from the CRM application. And this value will be based on business-function richness perceived by the internal users, not on perceived technical wizardry. Moreover, as CRM software vendor workflow tools become increasingly sophisticated, there is a strong argument to use these CRM-application optimized tools to build needed customer-facing business processes from within the CRM software application. This also implies that when designating roles and responsibilities for a CRM initiative, considerable thought should be given to the business side, owing to the development of or enhancement to customer-facing business processes. So who will prevail when the brouhaha is over? My guess is that a compromise will be reached in which both sides agree that the CRM application will be launched from the portal, but will not run from within the portal. And I hope the decision comes soon: This company is poised to reap tremendous reward from its CRM effort. Barton Goldenberg is president and founder of ISM Inc., a CRM and real-time enterprise consulting firm in Bethesda, MD. He is the author of CRM Automation and the publisher of
The Guide to CRM Automation. Contact him at bgoldenberg@ismguide.com
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