If, during 2000, the media predicted the rise of customer relationship management (CRM), in 2001 they rejoiced in proclaiming its fall, writes Ross Bentley.
Stories of abandoned implementations, spiralling costs and non-existent return on investment (ROI) abounded - CRM was billed as the IT vision that failed to materialise.
But CRM is not and never was purely about technology, says Alf Saggese, managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at business software house KANA, and IT departments should not have to carry the can for CRM project failures.
It is a business issue that, to ensure its success, must involve the whole enterprise, from the board of directors at the core to the partners and suppliers at the extremities, asserts Saggese. And as a business issue involving a change of culture, technology experts alone cannot drive a CRM project successfully.
"The IT department can only be held responsible for the technology within a CRM suite. CRM software can help a company to communicate with and service customers wherever they may be - it is the IT department's remit to successfully install and maintain systems that enable this - nothing more," says Saggese.
This task alone is no mean feat but to deliver ROI on those applications and systems, he says, using them to engender closer customer relations while reducing churn and cutting costs, requires an unusual union between IT and the business management. "In fact," he continues, "Many CRM applications are not used to their full extent because the culture in the business has not caught up with the technology. Installing and using a CRM application requires change and many [organisations] simply are not ready for that change."
Saggese says that truly customer-oriented strategies are comparatively recent innovations in the UK economy, with firms often seeking assistance from external experts. For this reason, many CRM software suppliers operate extensive professional services networks that consist of consultants well-versed in CRM and in their employers' particular software offerings.
"But their association with the software supplier often limits these internal consultants," says Saggese.
"Their sphere of influence may remain restricted to just one department, be that IT or the marketing department."
"However, a technology supplier with an independent network of consultancies and integration partners has a wider sphere of influence and is likely to be more successful in delivering the benefits originally promised by CRM."
Saggese calls it a "best-of-breed" strategy: the software tools are developed by a dedicated software house and the expert advice to orientate the entire enterprise around the customer comes from a specialist, independent provider.
He says, "The essence of the argument can be reduced to one word: integration - not purely with legacy databases and different platforms, but between technology, strategy and the people who put them into action.
"For a CRM supplier to deliver on its promises, it has to prove that it can bring with it the experts to drive the strategy far beyond the realms of the IT department. Only then will CRM fully realise its potential."