So many acronyms, so little difference

First, there was CRM. Now, there's ERM, PRM and even EBRM. Ugh. I know there are myriad reasons why such terms come to be. Technology and business need to evolve, and language must develop to define those concepts. But let's slow down and allow everybody to catch up.

That said, raise your hand: do you know what CRM is? (Customer relationship management.) ERM? (I mean enterprise relationship management, not enterprise resource management.) PRM? (Partner relationship management.) EBRM? (Electronic-business relationship management.)I would never condone the use of these acronyms unless or until you happen to be in a room where everyone understands them. And the terms themselves more or less make sense, so I can't ding them in that regard alone. But the systems that are labelled one or the other often overlap where functions are concerned, and I'm not convinced there's enough consistency in their naming to merit so many categories in such a specific space.

Consider customer relationship management. It arose from functions that were first found in sales force automation software, things like a database of a sales rep's conversations with a client that customer service folks, for example, could access when a client called with a question or complaint. But customer relationship management goes much further.

Picture a bank's customer service rep taking calls from clients. As the client's account balances come up on the screen, so do opportunities to sell him other services based on his profile, as determined by a data mining program. The rep can then try to sell the client services before the client realises the need for them. CRM is proactive, not reactive.

Now consider the phone banks at a technical support line, where technicians are able to see not only a full record of all the problems you've called about, but also a record of what the salespeople, customer service folks and anybody else has worked on with you. While you're on the line figuring out why your server won't reboot, you want to check on the status of other equipment you ordered. "No problem," the technician says. "I can see shipment is scheduled for next Tuesday."

That transaction, actually, is what some might call enterprise relationship management because the rep went across departments and across systems to answer your question. The query went not just across front-office functions but into the back end, too -- in this case, the company's order and inventory database. Yet the transaction was all to serve the customer, so it was also CRM.

Yet another subset in this sphere is on the partner and supplier side, but I'm not convinced partner relationship management deserves its own space, either. I recently received some information from a vendor staking claim to this moniker because its system was Web-based (so are many others), its products had server-based pricing (again, not alone) and it served the supplier/partner channel. Similarly, electronic-business relationship management seeks to foster relationships among electronic businesses.

Now I'm not saying all this software has no place in the world. Clearly, packages from companies like Vantive, Clarify and Onyx have customers. And other vendors, like Baan and Oracle, offer extensions that accomplish many of the same things. But let's not make things more confusing than they have to be. To me, they should all be CRM.

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