Study: E-learning, e-business integration yields returns

E-learning and e-business integration projects have generally delivered the best return on investment for companies this year, while customer relationship management (CRM), content management and e-marketplace efforts have fallen short.

That's the assessment of "thousands" of ROI studies conducted by Wellesley, Mass.-based Nucleus Research Inc. on behalf of clients such as Aetna Inc., Pfizer Inc., British Telecom and Lockheed Martin Corp.

For instance, companies that implement e-learning systems for a "modest" five- or six-figure investment typically save money in reduced travel costs, human resources overhead, regulatory compliance and customer support costs, according to Nucleus. Those kinds of paybacks recently helped two Nucleus customers generate 2,000 percent returns on their investments, said Ian Campbell, co-founder and principal analyst for the research firm.

E-business integration platforms such as Microsoft BizTalk Server and BEA WebLogic Integration have helped companies leverage existing investments in their IT infrastructures both through internal and business-to-business integration, said Campbell. Many of the returns result from streamlining the flow of data between applications and accessing a broader set of data. That has helped improve corporate performance and generate new revenue streams, according to the Nucleus assessment.

On the other end of the scale, CRM projects typically fall short of ROI projections since companies typically "overbuy" the amount of applications they need, said Campbell. And because CRM engagements are usually multiyear projects, the business requirements at the beginning of the cycle often change by the time the software is implemented, Campbell added.

The CRM findings track with lessons learned by at least one CIO -- but for different reasons. Rick Peltz, CIO at Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Brokerage Co. in Encino, Calif., has witnessed the shortcomings of CRM systems at two different companies.

Six years ago, when he was working in IT at Bank of America Corp., the bank tried to deploy a CRM system that could share client information throughout its North American wholesale banking division. The system "went belly up" eight months after it was deployed because "no one used it," said Peltz.

"When you're dealing with salespeople and agents, their client list is their lifeline," he said.

That same sentiment helps explain why Marcus & Millichap's 650 agents have so far resisted overtures from Peltz and his team to install a nationwide CRM system to share client information.

"When we try to show [agents] easier ways to communicate with their clients, or show them other tools they can use on a national platform, that's where it's a bust," said Peltz. "They don't want to share client information with each other. That's their leg-up in the marketplace."

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