Utility Reliability for Effective CRM

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You walk into your office and flip a switch and the lights go on--we expect a utility like power or water to simply be there, at your fingertips, at all times. Information technology has now reached "utility" status just about everywhere--at least from an expectation standpoint. Just as the utility of power is required to run your lights, your network infrastructure is required to run your Internet access and other mission-critical applications that you just cannot function properly without. Richard Pastore of CIO Magazine recently wrote about this issue by citing convergence as the new buzzword. This replaces, he explained, the age--old mantra of alignment since IT can no longer be treated as a separate entity just trying to fit in. Instead, your communications systems must be viewed as an integral cog of every aspect and every strategic goal. CRM today needs to function with utility-like reliability. Your Web-based CRM system must work all the time. Clients who want to submit orders online, change their address or contact preferences--or whatever--don't want to read: "This function is currently unavailable. Please try back later." They want results now, and if you can't do it, a competitor will. Customers who don't get an instant response are very unhappy customers. So what is the significance of this new utility mindset? For one thing, it means that most customers have high-speed Internet in their homes and expect to be able to seamlessly connect to your company at any time day or night. This not only includes large corporations, but businesses of all sizes. Not only is expertise required to design, implement, and maintain your network, there is an ongoing need to secure it against e-vandals as well. What does it really take to make your network a continuously fully functional, expeditious, and safe "utility" network? It first takes a solid commitment. You need to invest with wisdom and confidence. Investing with wisdom means engaging a team of experts from your staff, or a consulting firm or vendor, to align your business objectives with current technologies. Someone has got to do some research in order to cut through marketing fluff and determine what is real and practical and what will drive your business today. Investing with confidence means that once you have the road map, you have the right people design the integration of that technology into your existing network, swiftly and effectively complete the implementation, and then provide active support. The design takes the utility approach in that the best products are chosen, they are configured for full redundancy, and every necessary security risk is considered and mitigated. A professional project manager must manage the implementation. True project management coordinates all the necessary resources, assures timely product delivery, effectively plans and communicates necessary down time, and assures proper documentation. The project plan holds people accountable at every stage of the process, to do all the necessary work to meet the project's milestones and deadlines. A critical step in the project is the transition from implementation to ongoing support. The project manager will clearly define this transition and all the necessary steps to make it as smooth as possible. Ongoing support used to mean "You have a problem, you call IT." It was largely reactive. This does not, however, qualify as utility. One executive I met with recently was concerned that a contract for support guaranteed callbacks within 30 minutes of any initial request for service. His firm conducted massive advertising campaigns on weekends, he explained, and so its IT network of phones and Internet servers had to be up and ready to go for the Monday morning load. But what he really was describing was a need far better served by proactive monitoring. A team of experts should be monitoring those critical devices all weekend and on Sunday night to assure they will still be functioning on Monday morning at the moment customers started calling or hitting their Web site. That's what I mean by utility service. The next generation of support involves synthetic transactions generated by software that continually runs fake transactions to assure that all your CRM applications on the Web are working as advertised all the time. Reactive support is a thing of the past if your network is to truly become the utility that it needs to be. Take a few minutes to imagine your entire staff waiting around to get your firm's email system back up. Do a quick calculation of the cost of that waiting time. Think of the customer and orders you've lost. It won't take long to realize that nothing less than a network that is always on is well worth your company's while. About the Author Charles Nault is CEO at Atrion Networking Corporation. He can be reached atcnault@atrion.net. Please visit www.atrion.net
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