Russell Loarridge of Firstwave Technologies argues that the age of true end-to-end Customer Relationship Management has finally dawned.
CRM is dead. Or maybe it's alive. Or possibly it's just been biding its time waiting for a chance to rise from the ashes of failed implementations. After years of hype, CRM has been through every conceivable phase of fashion and development, and currently lies in a state of limbo between saviour and
CRM has suffered more than most technologies because it has been the least understood. Emerging as a panacea, it soon became a pariah as organisations realised less than impressive improvements and zero return on investment
after collectively spending tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in order to build more revenue from their customer base.
Two main issues have conspired to relegate CRM to its current predicament. The first is the technology itself, originally designed on a client-server architecture, ultimately a departmental model with little ability to scale and an equally debilitating capacity to communicate with other departmental applications.
Secondly, CRM has suffered more than most by events outside its sphere of influence, and that is the age-old inability to communicate between sales, marketing and customer service, with each of those unable to communicate with IT and vice versa. Regardless of the technology and specific products,
CRM simply can't work without the cooperation of these key operations.
That such a situation exists is ludicrous. In the second-last decade of twentieth century, it had become clear to anyone with an ounce of sense that the existing chasm between IT operations and the rest of the company had to be bridged if any benefits were to be made by the millions being poured intocomputer technologies.
This realisation led to the emergence of a new middle management position, ahybrid technology and business manager able to translate businessrequirements into messages IT departments could understand, and in turn explain in layman's terms to business managers the application of certain
technologies to meet those objectives.
Today, the merest glance at how UK organisations operate should be enough to convince that this noble creature never saw the light of day, remaining forever an academic exercise in optimism. And the manifestations of this non-appearance are equally obvious to the casual observer: failed projects
wherever you look, and particularly where multiple business units and IT have been forced into uneasy relationships without even a common language on which mutual trust could be forged.
Crumbling data warehouses, unfinished ERP implementations, and innumerable high-profile government project failures simply reiterate the point. No wonder CRM in its turn has been vilified and now languishes in a kind of techno fashion purgatory.
But ironically, just as the spotlight on CRM has been dimmed just a tad, a curious situation is emerging: a steadily maturing technology whose capabilities are now outstripping expectations. In short, just as the world rightly turned away from CRM after years of unmet promises, that same world
is now ignoring the opportunity to embrace a range of solutions that aretried and tested, and increasingly interoperable with existing businesssystems and processes.
What's more, the general shift to a highly scalable browser-based approach has finally blown away the limitations of a client-server legacy which for over a decade prevented CRM from being anything more than a glorified departmental system vainly trying to call itself enterprise.
This move has been mirrored with a belated, albeit gratefully received, acknowledgement that CRM is not a product per se, but rather an integration of software, hardware, network and processes that provides relevant customer information to suppliers and useful supplier information to customers. Best
of breed has replaced any notion that one size fits all, and, as a result, interoperability, integration and workflow capabilities now rise above the functional checklist as businesses look to bring all aspects of customer data to all possible sales opportunities - reaching in the process the long sought-after goal of personalised campaigns.
Why? Because that's what consumers want. We want and increasingly need a 24-hour business and commercial experience, regardless of source. Queues in supermarkets are no longer tolerated, five rings is all it takes now to hang
up the phone, and porridge-like Internet connections are being replaced faster than the latest Shakira ringtone.
And what we also want, in the face of an information glut fed by the Internet, digital TV, SMS, direct mail, telemarketing - the list goes on - is something that will make choices easier, that will understand our unique requirements, and will make us an offer we cannot refuse, in the way we want
to receive it.
We want companies to want our business, and we want them to show it. What's more, the first company that tries - and I mean really tries - to truly interact with us on a personal level, will be given a lot of rope. Not so the companies who remain in hiding behind the battlements of their departmental data silo's.
That in turn means companies need technologies that match these consumer requirements, that by definition have to interact across all departments. Client-server it most definitely will not be. Instead, the new wave of
browser-based CRM front-end applications, and tools such as XML and business process automation engines, are changing forever the mechanics of communication, integration and automation.
In so doing, tools are being provided today that bridge the cultural gaps between sales, marketing, customer support and IT. It may not be a self-perpetuating cycle, but it's better than a slap in the face with an unsolicited credit card application.