Air Canada, paint firm investigate CRM

Air Canada’s plane repair and maintenance arm is implementing a new, hosted customer relationship management software solution in a bid to centralize its data and move away from an environment of multiple spreadsheets and databases.

Air Canada Technical Services (ACTS) will be using technology from Toronto-based Atum Corp., it said. Specifically, ACTS will use Atum’s hosted Luxor CRM software for its marketing and sales department.

The goal is to improve customer service and have centralized access to critical customer information, according to Yves Morin, director of marketing at ACTS. “Customer support is a high priority and it’s getting highly competitive.” ACTS previously used a shared server for sales, marketing and customer support, but it was increasingly difficult to retrieve information, particularly if the units were using a specific piece of data simultaneously.

ACTS functions within an industry that is more regulated than many, so the solution had to allow for customized features as needed, Morin said.

Lukas Szczurowski, sales and channel manager for Atum, noted the made-in-Canada sales force automation and CRM solution will allow ACTS sales staff to maintain and synchronize sales data between desktop Microsoft Outlook data and handheld devices.

ACTS also needed something that could be rolled out fairly quickly and without a lot of training involved. The turnaround time for actual deployment was a month; the benefits of a hosted solution means enterprises can forego the installation and management process, and avoid the costs of software and server upgrades, Szczurowski said.

One of the biggest selling points of hosted CRM applications is the cost relative to the traditional solutions offered by larger ERP vendors. Enterprises may choose to stay with a hosted solution due to the ability to customize the offering on the fly, more so than if they used an on-site solution.

But enterprises should weigh the various options, such as an application’s “best fit,” migration and total cost of ownership before making a decision. According to Warren Shiau, a software analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, the first question for Canadian enterprises is around whether or not they want to give up any control and oversight of their enterprise applications. In general, Canadian organizations tend to have very conservative IT policies; this is a major stumbling block for all vendors who have a hosted offering. That said, hosted CRM makes sense, Shiau said.

“The next issue is generally going to be what’s a commodity-type process or functionality within CRM versus a process that the specific enterprise gains competitive advantage from. Where and when users identify different components of CRM as a commodity is the point where we’ll really see a pickup in hosted CRM in the Canadian market,” Shiau said.


For Benjamin Moore & Co. Ltd. in Toronto, a paint supplier in business for nearly 100 years, the motivation for exploring CRM software was the same — valuable sales data was scattered over multiple databases and spreadsheets.

Sales staff were visiting their retail and consultant partners, “and finding out that someone had called them the previous week. They weren’t even aware of it,” said Howard C. Cadesky, treasurer, vice-president of finance and IT overseer at Benjamin Moore. “We wanted to have a single location to manage information of all the different people we interact with.”

The company runs a J.D. Edwards application for sales, distribution and finance, “and it’s not easy to do mass mailings out of it.” Its retail contacts are still kept and updated manually — but the company must also track consultants and other partners, data it stores separately.

The company briefly considered an off-the-shelf application, but decided it was ultimately too constraining. Thus Benjamin Moore opted for Microsoft Corp.’s CRM software. No sooner than that decision was made, they opted to expand the scope of the project. The company maintains a Paint and Decorations Service (PDS), whereby consumers call a Benjamin Moore call centre in Montreal, and a colour consultant and painting crew can be dispatched to them.

“We needed new software to manage that,” Cadesky said. “Something to manage all input, output and transactions.” That became the first — and ongoing — stage of the project. Benjamin Moore enlisted the aid of Guelph, Ont.-based Microsoft reseller Brodie Computes Inc. The firm’s president, Karen Brodie, admitted that the PDS portion is proving to be a challenge, given that the new software will help revamp the way the business division runs, ensuring that everything will change in the process. “It was difficult to come up with a solution in a vacuum,” noted Brodie.

Still, she said Benjamin Moore had the infrastructure in place — Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, and a SQL database. The completion of PDS and the second phase, tackling the company’s sales data requirements, are expected by December.

Brodie said her best advice to companies embarking on a CRM project is to make sure that all departments first agree on consistent business processes. “That’s the biggest challenge. Each business unit brings some variables to the table [that are] important to them,” she said.

Cadesky said Benjamin Moore management never made stringent demands for ROI at the outset, given that the rollout was bound to at least improve customer relations.

“It’s the same as ERP. Sometimes you have to have faith and know it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

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