Customer Relationship Management (CRM) remains one of the hottest topics in today's market place and its reasons are not far-fetched. It promises to help companies boost profit margins by drawing them closer to customers.
Using CRM as a case for system integration (SI), this module exposes issues surrounding the implementation of CRM by undertaking a company, Aluxtel, wishing to implement one.
The module was delivered by module leader, Dr. David in concert with Deloitte team and lasted for five weeks with various deliverables after each stage. During this period, with adequate guidance, we were divided into eight syndicate groups (consultancy companies) and delivered a final systems implementation strategy (SIS) for Aluxtel on the final day of the module.
In this reflective report, I share my experience starting from my company's inception to its final presentation to Aluxtel, our approach towards providing a SIS, the rationale behind our decisions in each stage and how I was instrumental to the success of my company. I also share a review of our strategy providing references to materials used and lessons obtained from the module. Finally, I make recommendations on improving the module.
INTRODUCTION TO BSIC MODULE
Information is vital in every organization with various units having access and making use of it. It therefore becomes necessary to formulate a strategy to allow for integrating information for organizational benefits.
The BSIC module provides insight in developing a SIS for organizations. Since organizations vary in purpose and business strategy, so also should their SIS. The module explains how to align SIS by investigating and providing tools and frameworks that can be tailored to the organization.
The module started with an overview by Dr. David explaining to us about it's content and structure. Paul also explained how Deloitte was to take part in the delivery of the module. Some of the previous cohorts were around to share their experiences about the module. The class was later split into various syndicate groups (with a mentor from previous cohort) and expected to come up with a company profile. It was a good thing we had a mentor assigned as he was able to guide us and provide tips that could help us win the bid.
The first issue in our company was finding a suitable name. Several suggestions were raised but I was not satisfied with them because we needed a name that accurately reflected the company's business areas and not one depicting us doing something rather different or partial. Finally, we came up with the name, ICG (Intech Consulting Group). The next issue was finding a company slogan. I wanted a slogan that would be appealing to our clients and have them have a sense of assurance. I came up with the idea, “Your Success. Our Pride” and it stuck. It was agreed that it would be beneficial if individual strengths and/or past work experience were taken into consideration before a role was allocated and I was appointed the role of business analyst and spokesperson.
REQUEST FOR INFORMATION(RFI)
Paul, sales director and David, business development director, briefed us about Aluxtel's interest in selecting a company that could provide a SIS for implementing a new CRM system. Companies were required to submit a document in response to the RFI and have a ten minutes presentation to key officials in Aluxtel.
ICG's response to the RFI was portraied as a marketing strategy. We branded ourselves by researching how companies like Accenture and Deloitte position themselves as world class consulting firms. Our ideology was how to stand out from our competitors. Our vision was to be among top consulting firms and mission was to assist our clients achieve excellence. Our logo showed a “connection of people holding hands” symbolizing cooperation and coordination that transpires between us and our clients. Our company profile highlighted our experience in Aluxtel's project demands which includes business process reengineering, systems integration, customer relationship management, project management and change management.
It was a good thing we showed individual capabilities and strengths because asides Aluxtel seeing our staff competencies, it gave us the responsibility of evaluating and developing ourselves in those areas.
From the press release, it seemed departments had various unsynchronized systems resulting to poor communications. Hasselbring (2000), discusses about various units in organizations having their own business, application and technology layers and the need for inter-organizational business processes. CRM involves integration of organization units, business processes with technologies to provide a consistent and versatile interface of customers (Meyer and Kolbe,2005). This was what Aluxtel was looking for in other to gain competitive advantage but Carr (2003) argues that no competitive advantage can be derived. Finnegan and Willcocks (2007,p.3) counters this claim because “he underestimated both the importance and complexity of IT implementation, and also the degree to which implementation capability could itself be a differentiator in terms of IT performance, and the market place”. It became apparent that “how to implement” was crucial if Aluxtel was to derive any business benefits.
REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL(RFP)
ICG was shortlisted along with other competing companies to the next phase which was responding to the RFP which contained more detailed information about Aluxtel's requirements. All participating companies were to provide an extensive approach towards their implementation strategy.
Many research conducted speculates high failure rates of CRM projects (Tafti,2000; Meyer and Kolbe,2005,p177,178). To come up with a successful strategy, it is necessary to understand causes for these rates and avoid them. Most problems in implementation are not technical (Finnegan and Willcocks,2007,p3; Schwartz et al.,2002). Common problems include organizational change and fluctuation (Schwartz et al.,2002,p3), bad project management and poor collaboration (Badgett and Connor, 2003; Kale, 2004), inadequate support from top management and failing to re-engineer business process (Kale,2004). From all these, it appeared causes of failures were more human oriented.
Taking all these into perspective, the following had to be undertaken;
a. Stakeholder analysis: to identify right personnels to form the project team, their roles and how to sustain relationships.
b. SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis: to identify key internal and external issues.
c. Value chain analysis (Porter,1985): to better understand the activities through which Aluxtel develops a competitive advantage and separated the business system into a series of value-generating activities.
d. Current business process analysis: to identify lapses and proffer a re-engineered business process.
Using the conceptual model in the EPS (Finnegan and Currie, 2008), we identified departments in the front office in direct contact with customers and those at the back office, the process flow, their purpose of interaction and impact with the CRM system.
Based on Ciborra and Failla (2000), our proposed SIS revolved around these areas; people, process and technology.
Understanding people within Aluxtel that will adopt the change is crucial. Understandably, with the success currently enjoyed by the marketing department, they would be most reluctant for change. ‘Opinion leaders' can be employed to promote the benefits (Finnegan and Willcocks,2007) and using Kotter (1995) eight-step model as a tool, it is possible to influence change by driving Aluxtel staff towards the common goal of embracing the CRM system and becoming more customer-centric.
To ensure ownership by end users and exploit the window of opportunity in technological adaptation (Tyre and Orlikowski,1994), user acceptance tests and trainings have to be done at the pre-implementation, implementation and post-implementation phases. By allowing Aluxtel staffs test the system this way, major problems would be encountered beforehand which may be difficult to change in the future.
Aluxtel staff having to check various databases for a single view of cusomer data can be burdensome and time-wasting. Data needs to be integrated to a central database in which all departments can have a consistent view.
The business process needed to be re-engineered. Automation should be imbibed for repetitive tasks and customers should have more flexible avenues of transacting with Aluxtel (Set Top Box, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to the call center, or an online portal). Customers should be given an account no and PIN that would be used to authenticate them when they call or make use of the online portal.
Our project outline was applauded by David and Paul. The project team structure comprised of a Steering committee; to maintain control, a follow-up committee; to supervise the normal execution of the project and project team; to ensure end-user ownership of the system. A Gantt chart “S-S with a lag” relationship (HBS, 1997,p22) showed the schedule of the project for 6 months.
BEST AND FINAL OFFER (BAFO) PRESENTATION AND REPORT
ICG's response to the RFP was extensive and the feedback we got was to emphasize how our strategy will immediately cut operational cost and accommodate growth. Initially, I thought this was ridiculous. From discussions, they needed more than the automation and IVR promise and were not willing to hire more staff or spend any extra penny. It was like wanting to eat one's cake and have it. Later, I realized it was feasible and they wanted us to think deeply about those ‘grey areas' in their organization that could be transformed.
We had the challenge of fitting relevant points into the 20 minutes presentation slot and possibly left out some relevant details. Our agenda was to have a quick overview of Aluxtel, share our implementation strategy and why ICG should be the best company for the bid.
At this stage, we had more detailed information about the data migration. Due to acquisitions of CallCall Telecom and Cheep Surf, in Aluxtel's CIO's words, “the old data sucked”. Mergers like this accounts for failures in CRM implementation because of different data sources of customer information (Schwartz et al.,2002). Not planning for this before implementation can be problematic (Finnegan and Willcocks, 2007). It was resolved that the data needed to be cleansed both automatically and manually. Data migration should be carried out during off-peak hours (e.g. weekends) so as not to disrupt ongoing business. The below shows our data migration and cleansing process.
The cost of outsourcing the manual data cleansing based on data given could be as high as £300,000. Although outsourcing offered some benefits, it could bring more harm than good. Security concerns, quality control and high cost restrained us from suggesting this. Rather, the cleansing should be carried out by an in-house team. This team can be formed by placing reward for set top box or online portal purchase and with the IVR in place; some redundant staff can be selected. This approach had some issues such as overburdening staff with extra trainings and longer duration but as this was 5-6% of the total data, the delay can be accepted. Cost of in-house cleansing was calculated to be £45,000 (using 30 staffs at the rate of 66,000 records per month).
To cut cost, organizational restructuring was evident. Call centers had to be mergerd to the Birmingham office. This would avoid infrastructural redundancy and allow for better management. Another consideration was to phase out the Milton Keynes office as this was the most expensive center with mainly customer service operations with some sales staff. By migrating to Birmingham office (which is not far from Milton Keynes), the strategic purpose of having the head quarters at Milton Keynes would still be obtained.
Since causes of implementation failures are mostly human, it is important to review our work through this lens. Most steps we undertook were arguably necessary for a successful outcome of the project, however, it could have been more elaborate.
The culture (perception about doing things) within Aluxtel would obviously be difficult to change (particularly in the marketing department). Also, organizational restructuring plan admittedly might cause “low feelings” and reduce enthusiasm about the change. We could have shown mechanisms of sensitizing people for this change.
We did not have clearly a cultural layer in our strategy (which I opposed in one of our meetings), but rather dealt with issues surrounding this in the people layer. Finnegan and Willcocks (2007,p290) however suggests it should not be taken lightly because sub-cultural integration based on “mutual high obligations” types of psychological contracts increases the successful implementation of the CRM. This means that there must be collaboration of ideas, knowledge sharing and cultural integration among all levels of staffs.
To extend our work, Finnegan and Willcocks (2007,p291) suggests that a more management facilitating style should be imbibed and meetings can be held in non-threating environment to allow for free and open discussions. The essence of this drastic change must be effectively communicated to staff by management and incentives can be given as a way of appealing them to get committed to the change.
As time for the change is short, we could have shown effective mechanism of training that could be used. One obvious process is for proper feedback is to ensure that trainers know the level of progress and competence of trainees.
From our approach, I believe that the collaboration between sales, customer service and marketing department would yield immeditate rewards. However, the break-even time of the organizational restructuring is somehow uncertain due to lots of complex factors. This area can be further investigated but in my opinion, might take between 3-5 years.
We somehow missed including a risk management plan to curb unforseen events. Gibson (2003) approach can be applied by assessing potential risk elements, make mitigations to reduce risk and adjust the project management to cope with the remaining risk.
If we had included all these, perhaps we could have won the bid rather than placing second although it was argued that we had the clearest, most concise and best presentation.
A summary of the revised conceptual framework based on Finnegan and Currie (2008) is shown below;
LESSONS OBTAINED FROM BSIC
It would be expedient for me to elaborate on my role in the project in other to itemize lessons learnt. From inception to completion, I was at the “analytical angle”, positively reviewing and critizing our decisions. For example, a small crisis broke out on the final day that almost made us not wear big badges that was instructed to be worn. However, through my persistence and good team spirit, I was able to contain this crisis.
I drafted the terms and condition of trading and participated in our initial presentation to Aluxtel. As we progressed, I was responsible for reviewing Aluxtel's current business process and re-engineering it. I had some understanding about project management and played a significant role in the project outline. I also participated in forming our SIS, the data migration and cleansing plan and organizational restructuring of Aluxtel. I was responsible in providing and designing some content of our slides and documents submitted to Aluxtel.
The difference in the final BSIC presentation I gave compared to previous presentations I had undertaken was that I had to deliver to distinguished panelists.
A good culture I imbibed was that although I had tasks of my own, I got involved and learnt from other people's tasks.
This report would be incomplete if I did not stress how challenging it was. I had expected more theories in other to deal with real-life scenarios. However, I embraced this unique style of learning and it paid off in the end.
In summary, I learnt the following;
1. A broader perspective of SIS. I clearly saw how the introduction of CRM could bring remarkable changes to an organization.
2. Team work. I developed my team work skills by interacting with my team members. It was interesting to see how individual performances brought overall beauty to our project.
3. Soft skills improvement: time management, keeping to deadlines, preparing for meetings, presentation skills.
4. Consultancy life. I now have a clear understanding of what consultants go through by sieving unclear information, being analytical and interacting professionally with clients.
The most fascinating part was that 3 weeks after completing the module, based on some lessons articulated here, I was able to secure a temporary contract job in a company here in Coventry.
Keen (1981) agrees that implementation should comprise both technical and behavioural process of managing change. We have been exposed to the behavioural process and it would be beneficial also to see some technical aspects, for example, integration of data from 2 different databases. I believe this would make the module “well-rounded”.
The unique feature of this module was that we assumed roles in consultancy companies and came up with a SIS based on tools and frameworks.
The module was initially confusing but with adequate guidiance, our deliverables became clear.
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