IT managers pondering vendor promises of what the so-called second wave of customer relationship management (CRM) applications can deliver could do worse than have a hot cup of tea, and a long hard look at their information architecture.
At least that's the view from Paul Downs, general manager of technology and business services for the Royal Auto Club of Western Australia (RACWA). With a century of business on the corporate clock, RACWA offers a range of services to 650,000 customers ranging from roadside assistance to motor and general insurance, loans and wealth management and home security services.
Having just put the finishing touches to a project to consolidate some 18 siloed databases into a single, unified data warehouse, Downs is adamant IT managers need to look hard at their information architecture first, and the various promises of CRM vendors second.
"There's been a lot of talk about CRM, about organizations having a tremendous amount of knowledge and expertise in certain relationships with customers - I just don't see it emanating," Downs told Computerworld.
Rather than buy into CRM vendor hype, Downs says RACWA chose to extract, clean and load customer information from home-spun "systems created in the 1980s and 1990s" into a single repository known as "Cyclops" - because it aims to present a "single version of the truth" for RACWA's 650,000 customers.
Currently running in an offline environment, Cyclops feeds centralized data out to lines of business when and as required and will soon be updated so users can populate the system as they go.
"We broke the whole thing down, not just CRM but all the other systems [like insurance]. We decided to break it down into [contact-based] CRM and analytical CRM [data mining]."
So far, RACWA has chosen architecture tools from Informatica, integrated by local integrator MIP to create Cyclops, and Downs says he will consider individual applications only if and when they fit into the "end-to-end" business process of CRM across the enterprise - not just IT. Otherwise he will do it himself.
"CRM is no more about technology than hospitality is about placing a welcome mat at the front door. CRM is about business - about processes and improvement and technology is an aid to that," Downs says, adding that enterprises aspiring to become customer-centric may need to "re-engineer the fundamentals of the way you do business".
As for CRM vendor offerings, Downs says when he asked numerous multinational vendors for their best Australian case studies "there were blank faces - all were overseas". Meanwhile, of the 10 vendors initially pitching for RACWA's request for proposal, only five remain because of acquisitions or departure from the market.
"CRM has not moved to where it needs to be. Get ready and do your [architecture] homework," Downs says.