• September 23, 2008
  • By Tony Sceales, CTO, Celona Technologies

Dirty Data Blues

Modern CRM systems offer extraordinarily complex and sophisticated functionality for turning information on customer behavior into actionable intelligence. Cutting-edge CRM technology is undoubtedly an important element in creating a great customer experience, but there are other essential components as well. These include well-trained staff, streamlined and effective processes, and good quality and accessible customer data. In fact, data is the essential foundation for an effective CRM application, but one that is easily overlooked.

A great CRM implementation should be seen as a journey for the business, and should embrace all the component elements required for success - not just software. Spending 90 percent of the time, money and effort on implementing and configuring solutions means that there is too little left to deliver the really good quality data needed to support the CRM initiative.

Optimally, CRM requires a wide range of data. But the problem many organizations face is that this data is more than likely distributed across a range of siloed datasets. The trend to outsource and offshore call centers, and the move to managed services of one type or another, has further increased the complexity at the data layer. It is also common for companies to hopelessly overestimate the quality of their data - discovering too late that it is a lot grubbier and a lot more fragmented than they had assumed. While it's understandable that acquiring new CRM functionality that promises to deliver a vital competitive edge is the focus of most projects, it's important not to sweep the dirty data problem under the carpet in the enthusiasm for renewal. In the long run, leaving data issues unresolved will simply undermine all the gains promised from upgrading your CRM solution.

We all know that CRM project failure rates are high, and over the years we've seen the blame shift from technology, to process and organizational problems, before finally settling on data issues. Failure is rarely due to only one issue, but while good implementations might still have their data "challenges," it's rare to see a bad implementation where bad data isn't a big problem.

So how do you boost your chances of success? Firstly, you are better off delivering a narrower scoped project well, rather than attempting to deliver a much wider scoped project and failing. It's always possible to build on what you have achieved going forward, but delivering a less ambitious project successfully enables you to prove your business case and start enjoying benefits faster. Modern third-generation migration tools provide a range of functionality that helps you improve your chances of success by delivering not just data migration but business process migration.

They decouple the technical problem of moving data from the business processes that use this data, which vastly increases flexibility. By defining business data sets (as distinct from database tables, rows, or fields), third-generation tools support much more granular migrations, meaning that it's no longer necessary to perform "big bang" migrations unless you want to. You can move customers over according to the priorities set by you, and in the quantities set by you. If your priorities change during the migration, third-generation tools are flexible enough to accommodate this.

Third-generation tools also provide much more visibility, command, and control, enabling staff to see what's happening, drive what's happening, respond to issues or errors, and set thresholds (such as error rates). Increased visibility puts business staff in the driving seat, ensuring that business and technical goals remain aligned throughout. While bi-directional synchronization capabilities keep your source and target systems in step, enabling you to move data incrementally according to your business need, and thereby achieve a low-risk, business-aligned, "lights-on" migration.

So if you're one of the companies that are in the process of upgrading or consolidating their CRM in the next 24 months and you want to avoid the twin traps of poor user adoption and poor CRM performance then my advice is to really get to grips with your data. At a recent British Computer Society meeting BT's Phil Dance said: "Increasingly our business case is going to depend on how good we are at getting our data across. A bad data migration ultimately means a bad customer migration, and in a competitive market that's very bad news." That's why it's so important to ensure your CRM upgrade delivers against all the benefits promised on your power point slide, and why it's also vital to solve the data migration issues that could otherwise undermine it.

About the author
Tony Sceales is CTO of Celona Technologies. He was previously with IBM and BT, and has spent 20 years delivering major software products for Tier 1 telecommunications firms.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues