Getting things right first time is not always possible, and this is as true of implementing IT systems as anything. The problem is that mistakes can prove costly.
Installing a bad or ill-suited IT system can seriously damage the prospects of a business, draining resources and hindering competitiveness. For new companies, the consequences can be fatal. Although the thought of shelling out for a replacement system and going through the whole migratory process can be galling, sometimes it is the only option. This was the situation faced by print technology and services firm Printmountain, a small company with 10 employees based in Staines, Middlesex.
The company, which was formed in 1999, embraced e-commerce and customer relationship management (CRM) from the outset, so having the right IT infrastructure in place was crucial. However, as a new business, it was difficult to know exactly what it wanted from a system or to predict how it would be used in the future. It soon became clear that its first choice had not been a good one.
Printmountain wanted a robust, best-of-breed product, so it chose a system from CRM mainstay Siebel, which it set about implementing in mid-2000. Almost immediately the company started to run into problems.
"Siebel ended up being far more resource-intensive than we had anticipated," says Printmountain's director Tom Kharl. And because of difficulties in tailoring the system to its needs, the company never really managed to get it fully implemented.
The main problem was that the company was unable to make changes to the system itself and was reliant on expensive consultants. This inevitably led to delays in implementation. Awareness of these factors made the company reluctant to make changes, putting them off until absolutely necessary and ultimately exacerbating the situation.
As a result, says Kharl, the implementation time increased threefold and the number of internal staff engaged in the project doubled. "It was very frustrating," he says. "Siebel has a great reputation but boy, did we get stung. We simply did not need the level of complexity Siebel imposed. It proved a major distraction from our core business, taking on a mind of its own."
Printmountain had invested £100,000 in the Siebel system but decided to start looking for a replacement. After looking at a number of products, it chose Goldmine from CRM software firm Frontrange. Kharl says the system met a lot of the company's requirements, such as forecasting and managing its sales requirements, from the outset.
Another benefit was that Frontrange's partner Prior Analytics, which implemented the system, was experienced in migrating data from Siebel to Goldmine. Retraining was kept to a minimum as the interface stayed the same. It was also cheap, costing about 10% of the cost of the Siebel system to implement.
The migration took about two weeks. According to Kharl, this was "a relatively straightforward procedure" and the company got more data transferred than expected. It took another two weeks to get the business processes set up on the new system.
The company was determined to learn from its mistakes. According to Kharl, its major mistake in implementing the Siebel system was going for a complete build before it knew how the system would be used. This made it difficult to tailor it to its needs further down the line. Another mistake was failing to get buy-in from the sales and telemarketing staff in the early stages of installation. "One of the reasons CRM fails is because they are not consulted early enough," says Kharl.
For the Goldmine system, the company decided to go for an 80% build. "We didn't want to flesh it out straight away," Kharl explains. "One of the most important things for us was not to turn it into a beast that we serve - we were much more interested in keeping it lean."
A fundamental aim was to enable non-specialists to use the system and access weekly sales reports. The company still holds regular briefings with its sales staff and, on the basis of these meetings, decides whether to make "enhancements" to the system.
These changes can be engineered by Printmountain staff. Kharl himself is a "superuser" and can alter the fields on the CRM system, which is based in the company's offices in Staines. "We can adapt the system as we learn and make more real-time enhancements," says Kharl. This has helped the company to become more proactive instead of reactive to the markets.
Another mistake the company made was believing that the more data it put into its CRM system the better. "One of the biggest traps of CRM is looking at it as a database of everyone you have ever contacted," says Kharl.
Some data has a shelf life and a lot of the information in the Siebel system, such as contact details and tables, was no longer relevant. This, along with Kharl's belief that "moving everything over is a cop-out", led the company to use the changeover as a data cleansing exercise; an opportunity "to tidy things up". Obsolete and less valuable information was left in the Siebel system, which can still be accessed on a read-only basis for research purposes.
"We are very pleased with our relationship with Prior Analytics and Frontrange," says Kharl. "They suit our needs much more and the relationship we have with them is much more relevant than we had before."
Kharl says the company knows more about its target market than when it started and, as a result, has tried to simplify both the CRM system and its product offerings. And the main lesson? "Ultimately we discovered that less is more," he says.