Talisma attempts to rev CRM engine

Talisma Corp. recently released Version 6.0 of its multichannel CRM suite, updating its base for managing customer relationship basics, including SFA, marketing, and customer service interactions.

New features such as collaborative chat allow service reps to remotely control a user’s browser, potentially improving sales by guiding users to the finish line. Administration is enhanced thanks to delegated responsibilities — good for distributed team environments.

The new architectural improvements, namely moving to a three-tier foundation, may help rev Talisma’s transactional capacity, but several issues raise flags. Talisma v6.0 offers limited options for platform deployment, and in my review of the product, I found its interface clumsy — it delivered little beyond general data tables to promote real-time insight.

The interface I used for this hosted evaluation also relied on a Citrix Systems Inc. back end that, when compared with thin-client solutions in use by companies such as ACCPAC, is hardly revolutionary. With its hosted solution price starting at nearly twice that of Salesforce.com Inc., Talisma may drive small and midsize businesses to take budgetary solace elsewhere.

But Talisma is not without merit; with the available in-house version, which sports an identical feature set, companies can overcome out-of-the-box deficiencies with custom programming. With its highly customizable data framework, impressive provisions for logic-driven workflow, and integrated CTI support, Talisma v6.0 is still a fine starting point for larger companies searching for a solid engine from which to jump-start a custom CRM build out.

Microsoft all over

With the Windows Server, SQL, and Excel underpinnings to its client-side browser and Outlook requirements, Talisma locks you into a Microsoft foundation. Even capabilities such as calendaring and appointments require Outlook because Talisma has no built-in interface of its own for these features.

The WAN-based client that is used to deliver the hosted version of Talisma spawned a Citrix terminal session for data delivery. This client improves on its browser-based predecessor, but it still demands additional licensing and support consideration from prospective customers. Talisma says it also has a DCOM (Distributed COM) over HTTPS PC client.

That said, it took minimal effort to get started. After logging in and receiving the client push — a benefit to administering change management efforts in large groups — I was up and running.

I found Talisma’s highly customizable work spaces and profiles useful in tailoring data to employees’ roles and responsibilities. The opportunity for customizing views extends also to its back-end data framework, which can be amended to fit your company’s requirements.

Administrative functions, such as defining user rights and team assignments, are controlled with fine granularity, although setup was tedious in the separate, browser-based console. I did like the ability to categorize a worker’s skill set, making it easily searchable and accessible to customer service reps.

In my tests, Talisma did well across all channels and provided a good repository for capturing customer histories and for tracking interactions. Every detail of your customer relationship, from e-mail to live Web chat and initial lead to purchases and complaints, becomes accessible for later reference. The admin granularity of control is good, with regard to Talisma’s feature set; unfortunately, the ease-of-use and ability to administrate effectively is hampered by the separate, poorly integrated interface.

Automation power

A key benefit of CRM tools rests in automating tasks and workflow processes, and here, Talisma shines.

The rules interface is a solid means of defining actions and triggers that can build up condition-based process flows across a variety of channels, from incoming e-mail processing to outbound marketing campaigns. The latter also includes a nice tool that graphically defines the flow of campaigns and charts the steps and actions with decision-based routing.

The analytics engine, although customizable and prepopulated with a number of useful reports, offers little more than a gateway to Excel. Talisma does provide access security, and the ability to schedule recurring reports is beneficial in gauging the ongoing effectiveness of your customer relationship efforts.

The chat engine performed well, with an easy-to-digest work space that displays user statistics, including the Web page from which a chat was launched and the name and e-mail of the visitor when identifiable. Other features, such as canned responses and the capacity to push links to users, will improve agents’ productivity and accuracy. I found the co-browse feature solid and the power to launch a proactive chat session with online customers particularly helpful for building rapport in a traditionally passive environment.

The missing linkage

Talisma suffered a bit of a setback with regard to its knowledge base. Recent M&A activity from third-party provider Primus Knowledge Solutions introduced some competitive overlap, sparking Talisma to develop its own knowledge base solution.

Talisma, however, was not able to make the new version of its knowledge base available for this review. The knowledge base integrates into other components such as Chat to allow reps to search for information. I suggest examining the level of integration and support available in the final release.

I was also disappointed by the lack of XML and Web services support for extending Talisma to and integrating it with other systems, although Talisma indicated that it can custom build adaptors and that SOA (service-oriented architecture) support is on the radar for 2005.

In all, I found Talisma to have the engine of a Maserati but the frame of a Pacer: It performed well but was incapable of managing the muscle with style. If you need a CRM engine and aren’t afraid to customize, bringing Talisma in-house is the best way to tap the power lurking under the hood.

James R. Borck is a contributing editor in the Infoworld (U.S.) Test Center.

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