Straight Talk on CRM and CIS

Putting the organisational complexities of CRM/CIS into perspective is a daunting task. It begins with the need to ensure that the jargon has the same meaning for everyone. 

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a method for maintaining control of the customer from the prospect phase to the provisioning phase to the billing phase to the customer care phase, to ensure customer acquisition, product or service delivery and, most important, customer loyalty and the integrity of the revenue stream. Managing interaction with the customer through all these phases will mean he is less likely to search for a competitor’s product or service. 

CRM is best known for being software driven. There are many software vendors in the marketplace; what do we need to deliver a CRM solution?

Unique organisational viewpoints exist, in addition to the obvious desires to enhance customer satisfaction, enhance the bottom line via lower cost service methods, handle multiple customer maintenance tasks on one screen, use a single view of all facets of the customer’s account, and identify future sales and service opportunities. 

Your Customer (Your Revenue)

Industry-neutral customer surveys illustrate that customers want a system that is reliable, easy to use and flexible. Many companies are becoming aware of the customer retention and receivables management power that an EBPP (electronic billing presentation and payment) component delivers. Customers want the ability to access and manage their account, both electronically and manually, and they want little or no response time while accessing consistent, real-time information. This offers a challenge to the customer care department.

Industry experts argue that customer care actually owns the customer relationship, since it has the most interaction with the customer. This weighs heavily on the need for cross platform intelligence, real-time updates from the billing system, reliability, ease of use, accessibility of data mining/warehousing, and system flexibility. Every organisation lists flexibility as a priority requirement - but how does it relate to the company and the management of the customer experience? 

As an example, customer care requires that the CRM/CIS system allows for direct crediting of customers’ accounts to rectify billing discrepancies. However, there are security concerns at play, which affect finance and the revenue stream, as the CRM system must interface directly with the customer information system (CIS).

The next department with an investment in CRM is sales and marketing, which maintains a continuous link to the customer base. The CRM offers a vehicle for marketing to develop, manage and market products to this customer base. And the sales organisation benefits from an integrated system, as a sales automation tool can be built or customised with data extracted from the CRM/CIS.

All organisations strive for reliability, flexibility and scalability, but at what cost? Commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) is not only expensive, but full integration of software packages increases the implementation cost exponentially. In addition to the finance department’s system requirements, there are capital expenditure mandates such as a rapid return on investment. Finance needs integration between the CRM and the enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, as this is essential to understanding the revenue stream and the cost of revenue. Its task is to accurately report the financial health, trends, and stability of the corporation. The data is normally found in several disparate systems across the organisation, but an integrated CRM/CIS will solve the problem.

In-house collection efforts also can be streamlined with enhanced analysis and measurement tools gleaned directly from the CRM/CIS. Integrating financial, supply chain management and customer information allows for the efficient management of service operations, including forecasting and scheduling, inventory, resource allocation and business intelligence. 

Other essential internal data can be tracked as well. For example, systems integration with human resources (HR) enables automated placement of internal employee skills and experience based on customer needs. 

It and Is

Thus far we have discussed how a fully-integrated, comprehensive CRM/CIS solution is able to streamline an organisation’s business processes. Who will create and maintain all these interfaces and platforms? The answer is twofold: IT and IS.

Many organisations use the two acronyms interchangeably, but a closer look at each group’s focus illustrates the distinction between the two. IT (information technology) creates and maintains the LAN/WAN and hardware environments. It needs to ensure that the selection of the CRM/CIS software is technically sound and fits into corporate standards and existing architecture.

From the IT perspective, simple configuration and installation is a key feature. The number of desktop support engineers required to install the package impacts on the support and service levels the rest of the enterprise receives.

Additionally, ensuring that the new CRM/CIS application is certified and operates within the corporate standard platform is mandatory. Ease of maintenance is also a crucial requirement. When the software vendor releases an upgrade or a systems’ patch, the ease and speed of rollout is essential to continue uninterrupted operations. Another requirement which is often overlooked is disaster recovery - the ability to restore both data and application modules in case of an outage ensures the integrity of your system. The IT department’s performance is judged on delivering this functionality to the client via all platforms (desktop, browser, PDA, and so on).

The IS (information systems) department, on the other hand, is charged with implementing, customising and integrating the actual software package. IS must ensure the system can perform all the functionality requirements. The goal is to stage the integration in such a manner that customisation is simplified to modifying template-driven code. If it is not, IS will face an enormous challenge to meet the overall organisational objective of implementing the system.
The focus must therefore be directed to customisation management and the openness of the systems architecture. Most systems architects and project managers require that the CRM/CIS package vendor has published or standards-based application program interfaces (APIs) for writing information between other stand-alone systems. It is also necessary to mandate hardened security, both internally and externally. Even if an outside systems integration firm is engaged to perform the majority of the work on the CRM/CIS system, the responsibility for delivery falls under the IS umbrella.

CIS - Pulling the Pieces Together

CIS encompasses all the billing, rating and invoice generation for a corporation’s offerings. The organisational impacts are very much the same as those of the CRM, except for the functions performed by the system itself. With CIS, the functionality burden falls less on the ability to manipulate, view, and present warehoused data, and more on receiving, calculating and summarising usage, meter or consumption records. In this case, the CIS is quite simply a rating engine and billing system.

The focal point is to ensure that the billing engine can support the rating of multiple services, in multiple currencies and in multiple languages, producing one convergent invoice. The ever-increasing economic globalisation makes this flexibility invaluable. Consumers prefer purchasing a broad array of goods and services from the same company if there is a convenience associated with the transaction, such as single, convergent invoicing.

The 'Me Perspective' Revisited

The requirements of a CRM/CIS solution are easily defined. The real challenge is the internal paradigm shift that must occur for successful implementation and integration. What is critical from a finance perspective may not even be on sales and marketing’s requirement list. What is required functionality for sales and marketing may not even be considered by IT. For a fully integrated CRM/CIS solution to work, the project must be well thought out across the enterprise. 

What the ‘me perspective’ fails to acknowledge is that all organisational requirements are important in the corporate ecosystem. Once this concept is embraced prior to project initiation, the enterprise begins to realise the potential power, reach and retention that CRM/CIS delivers. The technology horizon shines brightly on the methods and tools that you will provide to service your customers.