Posts Tagged ‘CRM’
We’re hearing a great deal these days about Big Data and related terms, one of which is Big Data analytics. There are many definitions of this term and here’s one as good as any:
Big Data analytics is the process of examining large amounts of data of a variety of types (Big Data) to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, and other useful information. Such information can provide competitive advantages over rival organizations and result in business benefits, such as more effective marketing and increased revenue.
You’ll get no argument from me on the importance of defining key terms, be it Big Data, analytics, platforms, etc. Many blown IT projects or corporate initiatives can trace their failures to people not being on the same page from day one.
And this is why I’m a bit skeptical of the term Big Data analytics. Is the focus on Big Data? Analytics? Both?
Where’s the Focus?
I’d actually argue that it should be neither. That is, “BDA” is just a means towards the normal business end. To me, the entire point of capturing, storing, and analyzing any data (Big or Small) is to move the needle. Period. Or, if you like, consider the simple diagram below:
How many of us take the chain to the end? Or do things stop prematurely? I worry that the focus on either analytics or Big Data is misplaced. They are all merely means to the traditional business ends: increasing sales, decreasing expenses, etc.
I’ve written thousands of reports in my consulting career and, lamentably, far too many of my clients would want the report for the sake of wanting the report. I can recall several occasions in which I’ve stumped my clients by asking a simple question like, “What do you do with this information?”
Simon Says: Don’t Forget the Endgame
I have no doubt that the analytics available from unstructured data can augment our understanding of customers, users, employees, and just about everyone else. At the same time, though, data for the sake of data is meaningless. Consider two organizations, A and B. The former effectively utilizes Small Data and routinely makes decisions based on analysis, tested hypothesis, and fact. The latter doesn’t touch the vast troves of data at its disposal–both big and small.
All else equal, I’ll bet on Organization A any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
What say you?
In my last post, I discussed the sin of pride and information management (IM) projects. Today, let’s talk about envy, defined as “a resentful emotion that occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement or possession and wishes that the other lacked it.”
I’ll start off by saying that, much like lust, envy isn’t inherently bad. Wanting to do as well as another employee, department, division, or organization can spur improvement, innovation, and better business results. Yes, I’m channeling my inner Gordon Gekko: Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.
With respect to IM, I’ve seen envy take place in two fundamental ways: intra-organizational and inter-organizational Let’s talk about each.
This type of envy takes place when employees at the same company resent the succes of their colleagues. Perhaps the marketing folks for product A just can’t do the same things with their information, technology, and systems that their counterparts representing product B can. Maybe division X launched a cloud-based CRM or wiki and this angers the employees in division Y.
At its core, intra-organizational envy stems from the inherently competitive and insecure nature of certain people. These envious folks have an axe to grind and typically have some anger issues going on. Can someone say schadenfreude?
This type of envy takes place between employees at different companies. Let’s say that the CIO of hospital ABC sees what her counterpart at hospital XYZ has done. The latter has effectively deployed MDM, BI, or cloud-based technologies with apparent success. The ABC CEO wonders why his company is so ostensibly behind its competitor and neighbor.
I’ve seen situations like this over my career. In many instances, organization A will prematurely attempt to deploy more mature or Enterprise 2.0 technologies simply because other organizations have already done so–not because organization A itself is ready. During these types of ill-conceived deployments, massive corners are cut, particularly with respect to data quality and IT and data governance. The CIO of ABC will look at the outcome of XYZ (say, the deployment of a new BI tool) and want the same outcome, even though the two organizations’ challenges are unlikely to be the same in type and magnitude.
Envy is a tough nut to crack in large part because it’s part of our DNA. I certainly cannot dispense pithy advice to counteract thousands of years of human evolution. I will, however, say this: Recognize that envy exists and that it’s impossible to eradicate. Don’t be Pollyanna about it. Try to minimize envy within and across your organization. Deal with outwardly envious people sooner rather than later.
What say you?
Next up: gluttony.
In my last post, I talked about greed as it relates to IM projects. Long story short, for different reasons, people actively refuse to share information, train employees, or generally cooperate with others.
Today’s topic: sloth, defined by Wikipedia as:
…spiritual or emotional apathy, neglecting what God has spoken, and being physically and emotionally inactive. Sloth or lut can also indicate a wasting due to lack of use, concerning a person, place, thing, skill, or intangible ideal that would require maintenance, refinement, or support to continue to exist.
To be sure, on information management (IM) projects, the ultimate effects of sloth often resemble those of greed–i.e., work just doesn’t get done in a timely manner, if at all. Alternatively, work is just sloppy. However, the motivations behind sloth and greed are typically quite different.
Greed inheres a certain defiance and even anger. For instance, consider Barry, an employee who isn’t happy that his job is changing. No one asked him what he thought. Maybe he has to learn a new skill or application. Either passively or actively, Barry expresses this anger in the workplace. Take away the change in Barry’s job and he would not have been problematic.
By way of contrast, sloth lacks the same type of precursor. When sloth manifests itself, an employee doesn’t necessarily feel aggrieved. Nothing is changing with Lillian’s job and she’s actually pretty happy. Maybe her boss asked her to look into Big Data. However, for whatever reason, she just doesn’t feel like it. She’d rather play Angry Birds while no one is looking.
Now, sloth should not be mistaken for an employee with conflicting and diverging priorities. For instance, on my ERP projects in my career, I would need to meet with the Director of Finance or the Payroll Manager for different reasons. The organization was deploying a new CRM or ERP system and my job involved activating that new system. (Of course, I couldn’t do it alone.) Unfortunately, I would often have trouble scheduling time with individual clients because they often had to deal with emergencies. By definition, these issues trumped any “future plans” that I had to discuss with them. Consequently, my meetings were sometimes canceled.
This isn’t sloth; this is just reality. A problem with testing or training in a new system always loses to an immediate organizational crisis. Consultants need to get used to this. It’s an occupational hazard.
Sloth is often a function of knowledge, curiosity, and personality. Consider the following problem: similar but not identical customer or employee data from two different spreadsheets has to be married–say, 2,000 records.
Sure, there are people who believe that this has to be a manual exercise. Because of this, they just don’t feel like doing this type of monotonous work. But plenty of people are naturally curious; they know that there just has to be a better way to do this. Adventurous and inquisitive folks are rarely lazy. They either know about Excel’s VLOOKUP function. Alternatively, they will search the web or ask others if there’s a better way to marry data. JOIN statements come to mind.
Understanding sloth is the first step in preventing or minimizing it. Ignore it at your own peril.
What say you?
Next up: Pride
In my last post, I discussed the impact of wrath on IM projects. Today’s topic is the second of the deadly sins: greed.
Note that greed and sloth (to be discussed in a future post) are very different sins.
Now, let’s start off by getting our terms straight. By greed, I’m talking about the need for certain employees, groups, and departments to hoard data that ought to be shared throughout the organization. These folks are keeping for themselves what others want and/or need. For instance, consider Steve, a mid-level employee at XYZ who keeps key sales or customer data in a spreadsheet or a standalone database.
Or consider ABC a company that implemented a new system that, for different reasons, was never populated with legacy data. Barbara in Payroll holds key payroll information and will not willingly provide it to Mark in Accounting.
To be sure, organizational greed is hardly confined to data. I’ve seen many employees over the years refuse to train other employees or lift a finger to help a new hire or perceived enemy. Maybe they refuse to meet with consultants hired by senior management to re-engineer a process.
Understanding the Nature of Greed
I could go on with examples but you get my drift. Almost always, greed emanates from some fundamental insecurity within the offending employee. What’s more, at the risk of getting myself in a whole heap of trouble, I’ve found that more senior employees are more likely to be greedy. Now, this is a broad generalization and certainly does not apply across the board. I’ve seen exceptions to this general rule: young employees who wouldn’t share information and near-retirement-aged folks more than happy to show others what they know.
As employees become less secure about their jobs and themselves, they naturally start to think about the future–their futures. It’s just human nature. Many people understandably don’t want to be looking for jobs today. (This feeling increases as we age, what with many familial and personal responsibilities.) We realize that the grass is not always greener. For some of us, this manifests itself in a tendency to attempt to protect our jobs, departments, budgets, fiefdoms, and headcounts–at least until the perceived threat diminishes.
But there’s a critical and countervailing force at play for the greedy: Information wants to be free. As open-source software, open APIs, and open data sources continue to sprout, people are becoming less and less tolerant of employee bottlenecks. Those who refuse to play ball may be able to temporarily stall large-scale information management projects, but eventually, by hook or by crook, those damns always break.
I wish that I had a simple solution for resolving employee-related greed issues. I don’t. Many tomes have been written about managing difficult employees. At a high level, organizations can use two well-worn tools: the carrot and the stick. Consider rewarding employees who share information and knowledge while concurrently punishing those who don’t.
What say you?
Next up: sloth.
An oft-used metaphor in the project management arena is that of an airplane. Put quite simply, enterprise systems (read: ERP, CRM, and others) are supposed to be implemented and activated in a way that allows for a smooth landing. See below:
At least, that’s the theory. Lamentably, because of a cauldron of reasons, delays and cost overruns force most organizations to attempt to “land their planes” as follows:
The result (more often than not): a crash.
The Tension between Short-Term and Long-Term
As I know all too well and have seen far too often, many short-term sacrifices are made to make a go-live date (hence the term package slam). Band-Aids are liberally employed. Data is bastardized. Issues are put on the back burner to be addressed in the future.
Unfortunately, however, those issues are all too often left unaddressed, making them exacerbate over time. Overworked and stressed-out employees often view data considerations as pesky annoyances. (This problem is particularly pronounced in organizations that have yet to recognize the importance of data governance.) Day-to-day realities trump intelligent long-term information management. The future never comes and organizations have to scramble to respond to an internal crisis, legal challenge, or regulatory inquiry. Consultants are called in. Meetings are held. Blame is cast. Consultants are fired. Software vendors are sued.
Simon Says: Don’t Attempt the High-Risk Landing
I completely understand the pressure for an organization to activate a new system–even if prematurely. (The same holds true for upgrades and enhancements.) Resist the temptation.
The drawbacks with the high-risk landing approach are two-fold. First, there are the immediate consequences. These include incorrectly paid vendors and employees, manufacturing gaffes, and the like. These are messy enough.
Long-term, however, the consequences are often more severe. As we learned once again with Knight Capital, some bells simply cannot be unrung; some errors just can’t be fixed. The very confidence that employees, partners, investors, and creditors have in your organization may erode because they don’t think that the organization can effectively carry out its operations.
Don’t make that mistake.
What say you?
The 1993 documentary The War Room tells the story of the 1992 US presidential campaign from a behind-the-scenes’ perspective. The film shows first-hand how Bill Clinton’s campaign team responded to different crises, including allegations of marital infidelity. While a bit dated today, it’s nonetheless a fascinating look into “rapid response” politics just when technology was starting to change traditional political media.
Today, we’re starting to see organizations set up their own data war rooms for essentially the same reasons: to respond to different crises and opportunities. Information Week editor Chris Murphy writes about one such company in “Why P&G CIO Is Quadrupling Analytics Expertise”:
[Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo] Passerini is investing in analytics expertise because the model for using data to run a company is changing. The old IT model was to figure out which reports people wanted, capture the data, and deliver it to the key people weeks or days after the fact. “That model is an obsolete model,” he says.
Murphy hits the nail on the head in this article. Now, let’s delve a bit depper into the need for a new model.
The Need for a New Model
There are at least three factors driving the need for a new information management (IM) model in many organizations. First, let’s look at IT track records. How many organizations invested heavily in the late 1990s and early 2000s on expensive, on-premise ERP, CRM, and BI applications–only to have these investments ultimately disappoint the vast majority of stakeholders? Now, on-premise isn’t the only option. Big Data and cloud computing are gaining traction in many organizations.
Next up: time to respond. Beyond the poor track record of many traditional IT investments, we live in different times relative to even ten years ago. Things happen so much faster today. Why? The usual supects are the explosion of mobility, broadband, tablets, and social media. Ten years ago, the old, reactive requirement-driven IM model might have made sense. Today, however, that model becoming increasingly difficult to justify. For instance, a social media mention might cause a run on products. By the time that proper requirements have been gathered, a crisis has probably exacerbated. An opportunity has probably been squandered.
Third, data analysis and manipulation tools have become much more user-friendly. Long gone are the days in which people needed a computer science or programming background to play with data. Of course, data modeling, data warehousing, and other heavy lifting necessitate more technical skills and backgrounds. But the business layperson, equipped with the right tools and a modicum of training, can easily investigate and drill down on issues related to employees, consumers, sales, and the like.
Against this new backdrop, which of the following makes more sense?
- IT analysts spending the next six weeks or months interacting with users and building reports?
- Skilled users creating their own reports, creating and interpreting their own analytics, and making business decisions with minimal IT involvement (aka, self service)?
Building a data war room is no elixir. You still have to employ people with the skills to manage your organizations data–and hold people accountable for their decisions. Further, rapid response means making decisions without all of the pertinent information. If your organization crucifies those who make logical leaps of faith (but ultimately turn out to be “wrong” in their interpretation of the data), it’s unlikely that this new model will take hold.
What say you?
For many years, I worked implementing different enterprise systems for organizations of all sizes. At some point during the project (hopefully earlier than later), someone would discover that the core application had no place to store a potentially key field. Against that backdrop, the team and I had a few choices:
- customize the system
- store the data in a standalone spreadsheet or database
- add and use a custom field
While a custom field was often not an elixir, it often solved our problem. At the very least, it was usually the lesser of the three evils mentioned above. A custom field would not tax the IT department nearly as much as tweaking the code, and functional end users enjoyed being able to see that information in the native system–and report off of it.
In this post, I’ll review some best practices associated with custom fields.
Tip 1: If necessary, make it required.
Some systems I’ve seen lacked fields for specific information related to employees or vendors. Perhaps the company had to track whether an employee received a laptop or if a vendor required particularly unusual payment terms. (I’m using fairly generic examples here). In that case, adding a custom field made all of the sense in the world.
While optional fields can be beneficial, understand that there are perils associated with not requiring users to enter data for them. In the examples above, requiring a “Yes/No” response theoretically guarantees that someone selects one of the two in that field. (Of course, it might not be the right entry, but that’s a totally different discussion). Note that you might not want to require a field that only applies to two percent of the population, lest you face mass disaffection from your users–and a good number of errors.
Tip 2: Lock it down.
With custom fields, the single biggest mistake I’ve seen organizations make is to give employees the ability to add their own values. Imagine a drop-down list for employee laptops with the following choices:
- DELL INSPIRON
- IBM PC
- DLL (intentionally mispelled)
Lists like this can explode in no time.
Agree on a predefined set of choices and restrict end users from adding their own, unless you trust them and they have been trained. Remember GIGO. Anyone reporting on “YES” only will not get true results–and incorrect business decisions will result.
Tip 3: Audit.
Creating a custom field by itself means very little. Regularly running audit reports can often nip a big data problem in the bud. In the example above, the purchase of more expensive Mac computers might drive higher procurement costs, although I would hope that most accounting departments wouldn’t need to rely upon a custom field.
But perhaps Macs need a software update and the organization needs to quickly amass a list of those with Apple computers. The possibilities are limitless.
Tip 4: Don’t overdo it.
Creating necessary custom fields can certainly bail organizations out of some pretty big problems, but it’s importnat not to rely on them too much. In other words, if your application requires 100 custom fields, maybe it’s time to look at a new system altogether–either enterprise-wide or best-of-breed. Custom fields are typically the places of last resort. Odds are that systems that rely upon them to a large extent are not terribly robust.
Follow these rules for creating custom fields and you should be able to get more out of them.
What say you?
I recently had the opportunity to visit four small businesses in a consulting capacity. Along with two other experts, I met some pretty dynamic little companies across the United States. These other experts provided consulting around different types of marketing, customer communications, and product positioning. When it was my turn to engage these small business’ owners, I talked about website design, technology, and data.
No surprise here. That’s my bread and butter.
Here’s another non-surprise: Many small businesses owners–and, by extension, employees at small businesses–do not think in terms of information management. That is, things like managing customer data are typically very informal processes done in a mostly disorganized manner.
Of course, there are some pretty big problems with this. Perhaps the biggest is scale. As these small businesses and their client bases begin to grow, their current manual tools prove far less useful than they had been. For instance, while it may be easy to remember which of your 50 prospective customers responded to an offer in your monthly newsletter, it’s much harder to do the same with 500 or 5,000 prospects. Over the course of these consulting sessions, I suggested that these businesses strongly consider adopting–and utilizing customer relationship management (CRM) applications.
Parallels for Large Enterprises
Remember that small business owners are the antitheses of larger enterprises: the former don’t have nearly as many departments, resources, employees, and the like. As a result, they may be loathe to institutionalize CRM or another data-driven application or process because of the perceived IT resources required.
This is a misperception because, as Brenda Somich points out, hosted CRM is growing. The explosion of the cloud and legitimate alternatives to traditionally on-premise applications mean that small businesses can do a great deal more with fewer resources. They need not break the bank to run a true CRM application–and reap the rewards of doing so.
But there’s a larger point in this post. You may think that small businesses and many proper enterprises have little in common.
And you would often be wrong.
Lamentably, many big companies either intentionally ignore or never get around to developing a future state vision for information management. As for those that have a strategy in place, their daily actions often belie this vision.
As your organization grows, stop and ask yourself:
- Are projects, applications, data, and information being managed in completely random ways?
- Are individual actions are coordinated?
- Is everyone on the same page? If not, why not?
- And how can the different parts of the organization work in concert to maximize compliance, governance, efficiency, and performance?
In other words, ask yourself if it’s time to implement an information management strategy.
With respect to information management, the goal of any organization of any size is not to develop a strategy. Rather, it should be to realize the benefits of that strategy. Alternatively stated, a strategy in and of itself means nothing. Enforcement and diagnoses of that strategy are critical if that strategy is going to actually work.
What say you?
Business leaders often criticize IT for their inability to get with the times. Do the following questions sound familiar?
- Why haven’t we embraced the cloud?
- What’s our open source strategy?
- What are we doing with mobility?
Well, in this post, it’s time to put these criticisms into context–and partially let IT off of the hook.
Learning from the Music Industry
In a recent piece for The Wall Street Journal, Dan Tapscott writes about business models that have yet to adapt to the digital age. The author and co-author of many popular books including Wikinomics, Tapscott knows what he’s talking about.
In the article, Tapscott covers a number of industries, including music. He writes:
Instead of clinging to late-20th-century distribution technologies, like the digital disk and the downloaded file, the music business should move into the 21st century with a revamped business model that converts music from a product to a service.
All music labels and performers should put their music into a commons in the cloud. Instead of purchasing tunes, listeners would pay a small fee–say $4 per month–for access to all the songs in the world. Recordings would be streamed to them via the Internet to any appliance of their choosing–such as their laptop, mobile device, car, or home stereo. Artists would be compensated based on how many times their music had been streamed.
While the particulars above apply to the music industry, that’s hardly the only business struggling with this brave new world. Many industries have yet to get their arms around entirely new economic realities. For starters, I’d put publishing firmly in that category.
So, let’s sayo that you ran IT for SONY Music or Random House. That’s right: You’re the CIO. Would it be fair if your CEO complained about not embracing Enterprise 2.0?
Understanding the Brave New World
The last five years has seen dramatic shifts in the world of technology. Many consumers have become de facto producers. Erstwhile products have been turned into services–and some physical products have morphed into digital ones. For this, we can blame or credit the usual suspects:
- the rise in broadband penetration
- the decline in the price of storage
- the explosion of mobility and apps
- the ubiquity of the Internet
- the growth of the social web
- and others
Of course, there are those in more mature industries and organizations that wish that these technology “improvements” would just stop. From an IT perspective, thousands of organizations in the late 1990s and early 2000s spent millions of dollars configuring their ERP and CRM systems to work a certain way. When it comes to today’s web-centric world, few CIOs are ready for the challenges associated with transforming their enterprises, especially when you consider the following:
- Most CIOs have to accomplish these goals with fewer and fewer financial and human resources.
- Technology changes faster than ever.
- Regulatory requirements are anything but laissez faire.
And it is here where IT often gets a bad rap. How can IT (as a department and as individuals) be expected to embrace entirely new ways of doing things when an organization’s business model is antiquated–or is in serious need of repair? For instance, moving to a SaaS-based set of applications can be hard to justify when the organization does business like it’s 1990.
No one is exculpating IT departments and CIOs for intentionally dragging their feet. When the business makes a clear decision to get with the times and adopt more modern methods, IT has to quickly follow. By the same token, however, IT is by definition a support arm of the organization.
If your business is behind the times, don’t expect IT to be ahead of them.
What do you think?
What say you?
I’ve written before about the limitations of Band-Aids and other workarounds in the data management space. By Band-Aids, I’m talking about the following:
- Standalone spreadsheets
- MySQL and Microsoft Access databases
- Other temporary tools
To an often surprising extent, these workarounds continue to underpin many key organizational processes. That is, despite what many experts advocate, most organizations and their end users do not keep all of their data in one database or “system.”
To be sure, propagation of excessive standalone tools causes major problems within an organization. I’ve seen the equivalent of data anarchy in my day. The inability to determine key KPIs and arrive at a single version of the truth come to mind. A recent conversation with a friend of mine, however, underscores the need for organizations to occasionally create these tools for one reason: they can most easily solve a legitimate business problem.
Case in Point
My friend Nick works in HR for a very large company. You know, the kind of company that years ago purchased and implemented SAP. His company has headquarters in France and individual offices in 30 or so countries. It’s a behemoth.
It turns out that the US headquarters (where Nick works) had to produce thousands of employee compensation statements. These letters would contain employee salary, raise, and bonus information. Further, they would be sent to each employee’s manager.
From a database standpoint, these data are often contained in multiple tables that Nick simply didn’t know how to access. Nick is much more functional than technical and doesn’t know SQL from Adam. As a result, even if his company had purchased Crystal Reports or a similar reporting tool, he would not have been able to effectively generate data that he needed–in “the right” format.”
You might be thinking, why not have IT modify an existing standard report in SAP? Good point, but customizing systems can be difficult, expensive, and risky. Even holding those issues aside for a moment, customization simply wasn’t an option. Remember that Nick’s company can’t just turn on a dime. IT would have to sign off on the change. Can someone say change requests?
Nick’s boss (call him Pete here) wanted him to produce these letters in a very specific way. Now, Pete’s even less technical than Nick. Unaware of a better way, over the course of a month, Nick and a colleague spent more than 100 hours manually cutting and pasting individual employee data over the holiday season. (Nick’s wife and kids barely saw him last December.)
Because of tight timeframes and a lack of personal knowledge of better ways to create these letters, Nick chose unwisely. Recently, I explained to him that roughly one week’s worth of my time would have been money well spent. Because I know both Crystal Reports and Access, I could have automated the entire thing. Let’s just say that Nick has made a note to call me in November of 2011.
It’s hard to imagine any large company that keeps all of its data in–and gets all of its data from–one system. Tweaking a custom report or standalone database is much, much different than getting under the hood of an extremely complicated ERP or CRM system. Don’t be afraid to use Band-Aids as needed. They won’t solve all of your problems and suture massive wounds. However, if wisely used, they can hold you over until better, enterprise-wide solutions are implemented.
What say you?
TODAY: Mon, April 24, 2017April2017