What is it?
Customer relationship management began as a fancy label for the products telesales and service centres used to link calls with customer records. The CRM boom of the late 1990s drew in products of all kinds, from multimedia portals that blend voice, e-mail and web traffic, to datawarehouses and analytical applications.
The three core applications are sales, marketing and customer service. Analysts warn that businesses failing to supplement CRM with legacy system integration and the redesign of business processes will receive limited returns. This may involve changes to the whole infrastructure, such as data repositories, networking and middleware. This involves a lot of work, and suppliers are moving their products to industry standard technologies such as J2EE and Websphere to make it easier.
Where did it originate?
The roots of CRM are found in helpdesk and telesales products, some of which have been around for 20 years under different names. A lot of different solutions have been called CRM.
What is it for?
Companies that use CRM say it improves customer service. That may be true if the different parts are properly integrated. For example, the call centre agent should have a record of the letters and e-mails the customer has sent to the company. Butler Group says mobile telecoms and cable TV companies could not have achieved their growth without CRM-based call centres.
What makes it special?
The ability to call up all relevant information about a customer and their sales history, so queries can be dealt with in a single call. The same information can also be used for sales and marketing, where the CRM suite can identify potential buyers and dial their number.
How difficult is it to master?
Some CRM products can be used straight out of the box. Most require integration with other applications and databases. Some can be heavily customised to fit the needs of the organisation.
Where is it used?
Butler Group says retail banks have been the biggest spenders on CRM. Deregulated utilities are also big users. There are also versions for smaller businesses, and solutions are available to rent over the web.
Do not confuse...
The person making annoying cold calls with the companies whose products they are selling. Would you like to do that for a living?
What systems does it run on?
ERP suppliers such as SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft offer CRM. Suppliers concentrating on CRM include Siebel and salesforce.com. There are hundreds of others but many have failed, merged or been acquired.
What makes it hot?
According to the SSP/Computer Weekly survey, demand for people with CRM skills increased by 19% in 2002. But while market leader Siebel announced a substantial increase in revenues for the last quarter of 2002, they were down on the same quarter in 2001. David Bradshaw, principal analyst at Ovum, says it is too early to talk of an end to the decline in new CRM license revenue.
What is coming up?
Increasing standardisation on application architectures. Siebel is developing versions of its software to run on Websphere and .net.
See suppliers' websites, such as www.siebel.com
Rates of pay
CRM consultants and designers can receive a similar salary to ERP specialists - £40,000 to £50,000 or more. Data analysts can look for about £30,000
This was first published in May 2003