CRM analytics: The integration challenge

Having an integration road map is the best way to navigate through the deployment terrain of CRM analytics. With failure rates of almost 50 per cent for implementations of CRM applications and CRM analytic projects, it seems likely that the integration map is the one that many companies leave behind.

Despite that difficulty, the payback of using CRM analytics to identify areas for revenue growth, cost-cutting, customer retention and other business needs will lure more companies to invest in CRM analytics. But the integration effort required to make this possible could cost 10 times the amount of annual sales of CRM analytic software, say some analysts.

CRM analytic software feeds on as much legacy data as it can access, which poses data migration and integrity problems. Data format and middleware standards are vital, as is a rigorous methodology for coding business logic into the software. Failure in any of these areas can doom a CRM deployment, practitioners say.

Success Begins With Girding for Complexity

David Gadra planned for the day when customer relationship management (CRM) analytics would arrive at his US$5.2 billion office products company. So when the multimillion-dollar IT overhaul known as Project E-Ikon was given the green light last year, he was ready.

Back in 1997, Gadra, CIO at Ikon Office Solutions Inc. in Malvern, Pa., hired developers from Infosys Technologies Ltd. in Bangalore, India, to build an Oracle data warehouse to standardize, migrate and store key data from the “literally hundreds of companies” Ikon was acquiring, he says. Having established standards, policies and processes for migrating external data sources has shaved up to 30 per cent off the development time required to integrate analytic tools from Oracle Corp.’s Oracle 11i suite.

Gadra says he learned that if you adopt CRM analytics, you will confront application and data integration problems as well as the challenge of designing business logic into the analytical tools that operate on the data.

He argues that companies that venture into CRM analytics without having their data integration and management strategies in order are “in for trouble.” Gadra is particularly emphatic about making certain that enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are working properly before attempting to use the data with CRM analytic tools. “The CRM layer becomes a giant magnifying glass of an ERP problem,” he says.

Data integration topped the list of steps taken by the Texas Education Agency as it ventured into CRM analytics. The Austin-based agency, which hands out more than US$14 billion to primary and secondary schools in the state, began using analytic tools from Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft Inc. in the fall to report more than 160 measurements about goals on everything from students’ grade-level reading rates to ethnic-group dropout rates.

Dan Arrigona, director of budget, strategy and royalties at the Texas Education Agency, says that before it ran its first report, the agency had to deal with “data coming from different users, legacy student data, financial sources and other multiple sources.”

Joyce Mlakar Smith, vice-president of customer research at Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington Bancshares Inc., has been using analytics tools from Waukesha, Wis.-based NuEdge Systems LLC since 1996. Huntington uses the software to market services to consumers and small businesses.

For example, the tool has helped the US$29 billion-in-assets regional bank identify deposit account holders who have home loans at other institutions, enabling the bank to compete for that business.

After more than five years, the integration work still hasn’t ended. Smith says she is always combining external demographic data sources with her in-house data. And she would like to integrate other data from the bank’s branches.

Building in Business Logic

Whether IT chooses a best-of-breed product or one that’s part of an integrated suite, IT managers still face the thorny problem of business logic.

“On the analytics side, the biggest source of failure has been failing on integrating the business logic into the tools,” concludes Gareth Herschel, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. “One out of two large-scale CRM efforts doesn’t deliver what users expected.” Just charting sales order workflow procedures can be daunting, he says.

And that’s scratching the surface. Gadra says, “To e-enable our business processes, we have had to rethink everything we do from transaction processing to working with customers, employees and vendors.”

Feeding The Data Omnivore

In a perfect world, data from every conceivable internal and external source would pour into a data warehouse dedicated to CRM operations. From there, data marts would capture subsets of the warehouse data and interact with one or more CRM analytical applications. In our imperfect world, however, the problem of integrating data into a usable and responsive data warehouse is fraught with problems and is often the Achilles’ heel of CRM analytic projects.

Analyse Your Staff

Customer data isn’t the only thing analytic tools can measure.

Company workers often have comprehensive and insightful data at their fingertips about the customers who call for sales or service. But management doesn’t always have information about how those front-line employees are handling those phone sessions.

Spherion Corp., a US$3.7 billion recruitment and outsourcing company in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had just that problem. “We had lots of tools about customers,” says Tom Sultenfuss, a vice-president at Spherion. “We wanted a tool that gave employees measurements about how they were doing.”

The company bought Emvolve Performance Manager from Performix Technologies Ltd. in Burlington, Mass. The product delivers a real-time score card on each employee’s call, measuring hard statistics like the duration of the conversation or “softer” quality issues that managers grade from recordings. Workers can see their performance over time in different skill areas.

Sultenfuss attributes Spherion’s 12 per cent gain in productivity to Performix’s software. “There’s no magic,” he says. “People get the information and they adjust themselves to perform better.”

Integrated Suites Vs. Best of Breed

The inherent data integration problem makes the question of whether to use best-of-breed CRM analytic products or ones integrated within application suites knottier to answer. For David Gadra, CIO at Ikon Office Solutions, who was already running an Oracle Corp. data warehouse, adopting the analytics in Oracle 11i “was very attractive.”

Other users argue that the nature of the data needed to feed CRM analytic software, from e-mail to call reports written on personal digital assistants, is too diverse and unstructured to be managed in an integrated way.

“Best-of-breed apps will do best,” says Tom Sultenfuss, vice-president of operations and customer development at Spherion Corp. “There’s just not much of a convergence of data sources, which means a tremendous amount of integration work still has to be done.”

Going with vendors of best-of-breed applications has risks in a technology segment that’s consolidating, but analysts and users agree that IT can minimize those risks by:

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