Tech Guide: Growth by Technology

The first generation of CRM didn't live up to the hype. Thankfully, today's systems are built to fit your real needs

Written by Rick Spence

Know your customers better! Anticipate their needs! Put all your client data in one place, focus your marketing and never forget a birthday again!

Who could resist CRM? In the late 1990s, customer relationship management burst out as a brave new tool that combined centralized data processing and powerful software to track every interaction with your customer. With CRM, a company could understand client behaviour and forecast its needs with the accuracy and personal touch of an old-time pharmacist in a one-drugstore town.

But at $300,000 to $1 million or more, CRM systems proved costly and complex. Between 50% and 75% never met user expectations. Some salespeople refused to use them; some managers never understood them. After the initial surge, CRM sales fell 25%. CRM was “overpromised and overhyped,” says Toronto-based Augustin Manchon, Accenture’s lead consultant for customer strategy and pricing. “Technology got ahead of the problem.”

New technology, however, is breathing life back into CRM. Big players such as Siebel, SAP and Oracle are introducing more modular products aimed at smaller businesses and specific sectors. The one-size-fits-all approach of CRM’s early days has given way to staged applications that grow as the user’s needs do, specialty wireless applications, a wide variety of built-in “help” tools and customizable front ends that work the way your employees do — not just the way the vendor thinks they should work. And purchasers now are examining not only the systems they are buying, but the training and user documentation that go a long way toward determining how well the system will be adopted.

Above all, everyone agrees that business objectives must come first. The best solutions will depend on whether you wish to retain customers, boost sales or reduce costs. Says Manchon: “You have to know what you want.”

One firm that did its homework well is Geosoft Inc., a Toronto developer of geophysical software that went shopping for a CRM system in 2000. Its five global offices had five separate databases, and salespeople were spending up to half their time maintaining separate client files. “We were missing opportunities because we weren’t able to disseminate customer information through our own offices,” says president and CEO Tim Dobush.

Geosoft invested both time and money in finding the right CRM system. Aware of the implementation failures that had plagued so many CRM installations, Dobush took charge of the search himself. “There has to be a significant corporate sponsor playing change agent,” he says. Geosoft also allotted six months to its search, and spent $25,000 on a consultant to conduct a needs analysis.

With the consultant’s help, Geosoft narrowed the field to just four vendors. It also learned its new system would cost about $500,000. Fortunately, Geosoft was able to identify cost savings and new business that CRM would generate, says controller Howard Andrews: “We did a lot of forward thinking to justify the investment.”

Geosoft sent its 44-page request for proposal to four vendors. Comparing the responses against its five key criteria, Geosoft narrowed the list to two: Bellevue, Wash.-based Onyx Software Corp. and Vancouver-based Pivotal Corp. Eventually, Geosoft chose Onyx — mainly because its solution incorporated a centralized database, while Pivotal proposed synchronized databases in each office. “If something went down in the regional offices, we had no resources to fix it,” says Dobush. Geosoft also checked references, calling customers of each vendor to find out more about its capabilities and approach.

Still, Dobush found all four bidders hard to pin down on installation schedules and costs. In the end, Geosoft hired an implementation team from KPMG Consulting, and Dobush asked Andrews to oversee the process. “It’s a significant investment, and should be treated as such,” says Dobush. As well, Andrews proved well placed to balance the sometimes competing interests of sales, marketing and technology staff.

Another hurdle: getting employees on the system. People who had been manually collating information looked forward to CRM, but some staff were cynical. Besides investing in staff training, says Dobush, “We continue to make sure that there is buy-in and that people use it.” Geosoft rolled out the new system one office at a time, learning from each experience. Still, Dobush warns entrepreneurs to expect some downtime and revenue loss during the transition, as people learn new ways to do business.

Thanks to Geosoft’s planning, three years later its CRM system is having a “profound and positive impact,” reports Andrews. For instance, the firm can pull together complex proposals in response to RFPs much more quickly now, resulting in fewer missed opportunities. It is also better able to track customers that haven’t recently purchased from Geosoft, and target them with specific promotions. One recent promotion that was based on data gleaned in half a day, versus the months it would have required under the old system, is expected to generate a $100,000 gain.

Dobush still has a wish list of changes he would like to make: automate the quoting process, link more closely with partners and customers, generate more reports. “We’re still continuously improving things,” he says.

Best of all, CRM has provided solid ROI, says Dobush. “Finding and sharing information is no longer an issue. And since we’re not worrying about the fundamentals, we can devote more time to growing the business.”

Access that’s awesome
Remote-access software lets you stay at the office and still go home

In the beginning, there was Hotmail. When business travellers needed to make contact, they opened a Hotmail account on any Web-connected computer and e-mailed colleagues or clients around the globe.

Within a few years, businesspeople were accessing slow but functional Web-based versions of their office e-mail systems. But what if you get to Tokyo and realize that a vital presentation is still sitting on your desktop? And what if you need to access networked programs or databases while you’re away?

Globetrotting businesspeople are in luck: a powerful new generation of remote-access software programs let you access your desktop PC from just about anywhere. Developed by big names such as Symantec and Citrix Systems, these programs let you retrieve the latest documents while on the road, or finish that game of Battleship.

And that’s just the beginning. The first wave of remote-access products — designed to help you get more done away from your desk — is giving way to a new vision of centralized computing, in which remote access becomes a strategic part of business operations, not just a tactical tool. Organizations from the Salvation Army to the U.S. Air Force are adopting remote-access systems to empower far-flung field personnel to tap into entire archives of resources, files and forms — quickly, easily and securely.

But even as a tactical tool, remote access is nifty. Last summer, this writer used GoToMyPC Personal, an entry-level product from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Citrix, to share files between two desktop computers — one at home, one at the cottage. The award-winning service is convenience personified: simple to use, easy to buy online and quick to set up. After installing the program on your host computer, there’s no additional software needed; you can access your documents and files from any compatible PC or mobile device, as long as the host is switched on.

Once you’re signed in remotely, the GoToMyPC registration layout gives way to the familiar terrain of your desktop computer screen, showing up as a screen-within-a-screen on your local monitor. The image is fuzzier than you’re used to, and there’s a brief lag as you move the mouse around and click on documents, but these are minor complaints. Manipulating your home or office computer from miles away is sheer magic. You can call up applications, print documents, manage e-mail, copy files — everything you could be doing back in your office except raiding the fridge. The system is made to connect through network firewalls, protected as it is by 128-bit encryption and multiple password challenges.

The price? US$19.95 per month for access to one computer. You can also access additional computers, at about US$15 each per month, up to a total of 20. At that point Citrix presumes you’re ready to upgrade to GoToMyPC Pro or GoToMyPC Corporate, where per-user costs drop to about US$13 a month. Those systems include centralized administration features that let you manage and track employees’ remote-access activities and privileges.

For those who prefer to pay once for a box of software, GoToMyPC’s main rival is Symantec’s PCAnywhere (individual list price: US$199, with “business packs” available at about US$160 per seat — although discounts abound). While originally introduced as a telecommuting tool, PCAnywhere is now being marketed as a powerful business enabler, supporting “help desk” applications for customers and enabling IT administrators to troubleshoot PC problems at remote offices.

Indeed, the remote-access market is becoming all about remote control, as users and developers explore the potential of full, fast access to corporate networks and information resources. In London, Ont., insurance agency Paradigm Financial Advisors uses PCAnywhere to serve a dispersed network of brokers. Providing one software server that’s accessible by employees and outside associates has reduced the need to manage technology in separate offices, and empowered brokers to do more of their own research and order processing. Paradigm also uses PCAnywhere to maintain all the computers on the network from a distance, saving time, travel and techie costs.

For Martin Carsky, CEO of Cryopak Industries Inc., a Delta, B.C.-based producer of ice packs and other temperature-control products, remote access offers one big payback: time. Some 20 sales and administrative staff at Cryopak use Citrix NFuse Classic, which lets them sign in to a dedicated private worksite from the office, home or on the road. Carsky uses the system to extend his working day and still make time for his young family. For instance, he can get to work early in the morning without leaving home, and thus help his children get ready for school. “I get all my work done, and no one knows if I’m in the office or not,” he says, “which is awesome.”

Carsky says his staff also appreciate the perk. “They’re constantly online after hours,” he says. They don’t mind, because the flexibility means they can feel free to leave the office early when need be, or come in late to miss the traffic. The Citrix service isn’t cheap, says Carsky, but the benefit is huge: “Productivity is high, and so is job satisfaction.”

Way more than a phone
When the Internet and telephone converge, powerful business applications are born

The Internet has transformed procurement, car buying and blind dating. Now it’s taking on the telephone.

Here’s what you can expect when the traditional business phone meets Internet Protocol: cheaper equipment, reduced costs for moving office phones (no more tool-belted techies rewiring the phone cupboard), lower long-distance rates and call-management features that would make a believer of Alexander Graham Bell.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) brings true convergence to your computer and Internet-ready phone or wireless device. “The locus of communications is no longer your phone; it’s your browser,” says Jon Arnold, a telecom consultant with Frost & Sullivan in Toronto. “There’s one inbox for everything.”

VoIP systems put e-mails, voice mail and faxes on the same screen, converting phone messages to audio WAV files. That creates incredible flexibility, says Frank Panza, director of marketing for Telus’s IP-One VoIP product. Users currently on the phone can see who’s calling and direct calls to the appropriate person. You can scan your voice mails at a glance and process them in any order. You can forward voice mails to anyone you like, or save messages on your computer. (VoIP also makes recording and archiving entire calls easier than ever.)

Users can customize automated responses, depending on who’s calling. You can forward calls to any lines you want, and you can access your message box from anywhere; no one needs to know you’re not in the office.

As well, Internet bandwidth enables more collaborative business calls that will involve images, video and interactive data. Think of teleconferences with live video feeds, a real estate agent guiding clients through a virtual house tour, doctors swapping medical images or marketers “pushing” detailed product information to clients. Overall, says Arnold, “VoIP is all about applications”-and the most exciting applications probably haven’t been thought of yet.

You’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve heard all this before. In the 1990s, vendors first started flogging “integrated messaging” — proprietary platforms allowing computer users and road warriors to access e-mail and voice mail together. Some systems could read your e-mail to you, or let you dictate your e-mail messages. But the technology left much to be desired, and business wasn’t buying. “It was the perfect example of a telecom service product that was poorly explained, badly understood and incompetently sold,” says telecom consultant Henry Dortmans of Toronto-based Angus Dortmans Associates Inc.

Today, in place of various competing proprietary systems, the software-based IP technologies all use common standards. That reduces acquisition and maintenance costs, as well as technology risk. “Independent products are more readily available,” notes Dortmans. “You don’t have to lock yourself in to one vendor’s system.”

So what’s slowing the VoIP revolution? There is still a lot of confusion about the technology. Many potential users are familiar only with the concept of using IP to save money on long-distance calling, and don’t understand the productivity potential. Plus, even though the systems being sold now by telcos such as Bell Canada and Telus use secure dedicated networks, many businesses still remain wary of audio quality, reliability and security problems. According to Telus’s Panza, many of these concerns arise from the fact that the noisiest players in this market so far have been consumer-oriented firms whose lower-end IP services involve quality and security compromises that few businesses can afford to make.

The other problem? Most businesses have PBX systems — many of them bought in the run-up to Y2K — with years of operating life left. But as vendors get better at articulating the benefits of IP and as business’s “legacy” systems become fully depreciated, the phone companies are looking forward to a sales surge starting in 2005.

Before investing in VoIP, Panza suggests grilling potential vendors about what their system can do for you. How will VoIP impact my company? What applications do you offer? How will I benefit from them? He also suggests you make sure your supplier has ample experience in voice, data and Internet services.

To get the right network, Arnold recommends asking questions such as these: How secure is your service? How scalable is the technology? How do I know my service will stay running 24/7? Service standards — not technology — are now the key, he says. “VoIP is not a gamble. It’s understood that this is the way of the future.”

The salesperson’s new best friend
Yes, you can employ the latest wireless technology in your business — affordably

Faster than a speeding bullet, the cellphone-equipped “road warrior” has been an icon of business since the 1980s. Only now, however, has technology enabled mobile businesspeople also to become more powerful than a locomotive — or leap mountains of paper in a single bound.

It’s called wireless salesforce automation, and it may be the best new sales tool since the drive-through. Two technologies have converged to make sure mobile sales folks no longer just talk a good game: the telecom industry’s recent deployment of fast, secure wireless data networks, and the advent of powerful wireless “smart” phones and handhelds that can do almost as much as a notebook computer.

Industry standards are still emerging, so this isn’t a mature — or even stable — marketplace yet. You have your choice of platforms, from specialty products such as Onyx Software Corp.’s new mobile CRM application for the Research In Motion BlackBerry handheld to customized enterprise-wide solutions. The best news? For those just starting out, the cost of entry is falling fast.

Toronto-based FingertipWare Inc. has just developed a salesforce-automation product called Mobile Profit that links sales reps’ mobile Pocket PC devices (such as Siemens’ SX56 smart phone, or Hewlett-Packard’s new Ipaq 6315/6325) to their company’s Simply Accounting back-office system. This lets salespeople carry complete product information with them in a unit that fits in their shirt pocket and link back to their company network to offer clients a full slate of instant services. Reps can review previous orders on the spot, confirm inventory levels, run their own credit checks, prepare quotes, input orders, write up contracts and invoices, and even print them out (if they’re armed with a mobile printer). There’s no waiting till end of day to submit wrinkled copies of handwritten orders (which may or may not be inputted correctly by support staff). Contracts go into the system immediately, so that shipping (and even billing) can begin the same day. The cost of this service: less than $500 a year per user.

That doesn’t include the cost of your new voice/data phone, which will run about $700 to $800. For that price, however, you can retire your employees’ cellphones, PDAs and, possibly, their notebook computers. (Within three years, Intel expects most wireless handhelds to have 3-GHz processors, which is more than most desktop PCs today.) And with the handheld, you get not just a phone but a powerful mini-computer that runs pocket versions of Microsoft Office programs, plays music, takes dictation and snaps photos. The Ipaq also includes Bluetooth and WiFi for instant connection almost anywhere.

But the best part of the mobile technology is the data it puts into your hand. “It’s about having customer information and product data always available,” says FingertipWare president and co-founder Tim Grimes. Working wirelessly, he says, blows away questions about product availability or pricing that often delay a sale, and reduces ordering and shipping delays. “You provide a better service to your customers, and you close more business,” says Grimes. Moreover, “If you can deal with all your customers’ needs right away, they might not bargain as hard.”

FingertipWare, which is also adapting its service to link into Quicken and other back-office systems, is one of many developers working with cellcos such as Bell Mobility, Telus Mobility and Rogers Wireless to create innovative applications for increasing sales productivity at companies of all sizes. For instance, Grimes has just finished building a product database for giant computer distributor Tech Data Canada Corp. Soon, anyone who sells any product repped by Tech Data Canada will be able to wirelessly access complete information on its full line of 63,000 products. “You can go to their mainframe and check to the second what their inventory status is,” says Grimes, “and then you can order it, by handheld, to be shipped the next morning.”

Of course, the same technology driving salesforce automation is also being used to boost productivity for technicians, contractors, installers and other mobile workers. Mobile data allows them to diagnose problems faster (When was the last time this boiler was serviced?), solve problems, order parts or materials, complete the paperwork — and fit more service calls into a day.

FingertipWare has just completed a wireless-data project for a cattle-breeding firm that has 85 field technicians who inseminate cows across southwestern Ontario. Linking their handheld devices to an Oracle/Sun database, the system alerts the technicians to changing conditions and gets them to each job in time to …  well, we needn’t go into that. Automation has its limits.

Fight for your life
When you deploy good technology, take these precautions against the bad

The brave new world of digital communication has turned downright scary. Today, 15% to 20% of e-mail received at most companies is spam. According to studies, your employees spend two hours a month clearing spam from their inboxes. Worse, about 10% of business computers every year are infected with e-mail-borne viruses, worms and “Trojans” that may impair the computer’s operation, delete files, steal data or take control of the PC itself.

Then there is spyware, which tracks your online activities and may even transmit data on your computer use to parties unknown. Keystroke-logging programs that monitor every key you type sound like science fiction. But just this fall administrators at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ont., found their network had been infiltrated by a keystroke-logging program for more than six months, putting at risk the names, social insurance numbers and personal information of 7,000 students and staff.

Hacker attacks cost global business billions of dollars a year, both in data recovery and the cost of upgrading systems to discourage hackers. With the “black hats” dreaming up new attacks every week, this battle may be unwinnable, but it’s one you must join. You need to get serious about protecting your systems and your data while you still have a business to protect.

Sadly, computer security is like flossing: everyone knows it’s important, but few do anything about it. A 2002 survey found that 84% of U.S. computer users were worried about security, but 75% never took precautions. A study this year by America Online found 77% of U.S. home computer users felt safe from online threats. But researchers visiting their homes found two-thirds of the respondents using outdated anti-virus software and two-thirds with no protective firewall. Worse, 80% of those home computers were crawling with spyware.

Rosaleen Citron, CEO of WhiteHat Inc., a Burlington, Ont.-based computer-security company, believes small and medium-sized businesses are no better prepared than home users. She estimates that only 25% to 35% of SMEs are properly equipped with a firewall, anti-virus or spyware protection, and policies on data security and privacy.

Unaware employees are often a company’s biggest security problem. Downloading music files, accessing unprotected Web e-mail systems or hooking a non-secure laptop into the company network can all introduce spam, viruses and spyware into an office. To fight back, your company needs a computer-use policy that alerts employees to online threats and prohibits them from installing unauthorized software on their PCs, divulging passwords, clicking on suspect attachments or sharing files on peer-to-peer networks.

Your next priority is a firewall — software or hardware that hides your computer or network from hackers, viruses and worms. Windows XP comes with an entry-level firewall designed to defend against some of the most basic viruses and hack attacks. Most users need additional protection. Firewall software now normally includes anti-virus software as well, and is available from a wide range of vendors. (You’ll find a sample list of vendors, plus specially discounted offers, under the Firewall FAQ at Hardware firewalls may be sophisticated black boxes or your average personal router; they block unwanted files and unauthorized access attempts before they ever reach your computer or network. Generally, the more types of security, the better; check with your IT consultant to make sure you are using the most appropriate system.

For anti-spam and anti-virus software, there are brands to fit every pocketbook, from downloadable freeware to boxed software from industry veterans such as McAfee and Symantec. Again, you’ll find good information on online security and anti-virus solutions at the Microsoft URL above. It also offers links to the better-known products, some of them offering discounts.

But there’s much more to defending your turf than buying stuff. Business owners must ensure that anti-spam and anti-virus software is updated regularly (at least weekly). Your IT person should oversee the regular installation of security patches for your office software — a no-brainer step that most companies still overlook.

WhiteHat, which started out providing computer-security services to big business, has developed a program for small companies. Its Email Guardian is a “perimeter defence” service that filters out 99.9% of incoming spam e-mail and viruses. It also scans hard drives for malicious files and upgrades itself automatically. At $2.50 per user per month, that’s a bargain compared with the time your employees spend clearing out spam or the cost of disinfecting computers once a virus gets into the works.

Citron also recommends having a security consultant do a risk assessment of your network infrastructure two or three times a year. This will identify holes in your system and ensure you meet compliance standards for consumer privacy and data security — a point many insurance companies insist on these days.

Not paranoid yet? Try this. Citron says 10 million undefended PCs around the world are under the control of viruses or Trojan software that let outsiders manipulate the computers. Unscrupulous hackers often use these tools to launch “denial of service” attacks against commercial websites — overwhelming the sites’ servers and virtually shutting them down. The extortionists offer to stop if the companies pay a prescribed sum. Feeling helpless and frustrated, three-quarters of victims pay up, says Citron. “You won’t read about that very often,” she adds. “It’s bad publicity.”

Learn Rick Spence’s Seven essential tips for picking a technology and making it work for you.

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