CRM projects continue to inspire caution, users say

Despite several years of technology evolution, rollouts of customer relationship management (CRM) software still pose challenges that are causing many companies to proceed with caution.

Corporate IT managers continue to face considerable pitfalls on CRM installations, according to Scott Nelson, a Gartner Inc. analyst who spoke at the consulting firm’s CRM Summit Spring 2003 conference here this week. Nelson said Gartner last year surveyed hundreds of companies that have installed CRM applications, and about 55 percent of the respondents characterized their rollouts as failures.

Several conference attendees acknowledged that adoption of CRM tools by end users can be very slow. Many users are interested in CRM capabilities, but the technology “causes fear,” said Shawn Kaplan, director of marketing and business development at New York-based financial data provider Reuters America Inc.

Reuters has rolled out Siebel Systems Inc.’s CRM applications internally and is now looking to provide CRM functionality to financial advisers who use Reuters data. But if CRM tools are provided as stand-alone applications, many users aren’t going to bother to launch them, Kaplan said.

With that in mind, he added, Reuters plans to use Web services integration technology developed by CRM vendor Onyx Software Corp. in Bellevue, Wash., to develop customizable application screens that present CRM capabilities alongside its financial data. That way, financial advisers won’t even know they’re using the technology, Kaplan said.

Fairchild Semiconductor International Inc. is using a bottom-up strategy on its CRM project by getting feedback from end users after each rollout of a tool, said Phaedra Bond, lead strategist for sales and marketing at the South Portland, Maine-based maker of electronics products.

Even so, the company is moving slowly.

Fairchild began rolling out PeopleSoft Inc.’s sales force automation software early last year. More than 350 end users are live on the software now, but Bond said it’s expected to take up to three years to complete the project. “We’re taking a sniper vs. a shotgun approach,” she explained.

The company also is using a combination of techniques to encourage use of the software, Bond noted. On one hand, it’s giving sales workers some flexibility in the way they use the CRM tools after a minimum amount of required customer data is entered into the system. But use of the software is being tracked and is required for compensation. If companies treat CRM projects solely “as a technical implementation, you’re going to fail,” Bond warned.

Starting Small

Because of management concerns about the challenges of implementing CRM software, American Trans Air Inc. (ATA) also started small, according to Robert Ellison, director of e-business and network services at the Indianapolis-based airline.

Since July, ATA has been rolling out a set of data warehousing and CRM analytics tools developed by NCR Corp.’s Teradata division for use in such areas as managing e-mail marketing campaigns for its frequent-flier program.

But the Teradata software is still being used by only about 10 end users, Ellison said. “We have been taking baby steps,” he noted. “In fact, it was probably more like a crawl.”

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