Tap Lotus Notes to Boost the Bottom Line

SAN MATEO (05/23/2000) - Tracking and managing customer relationships have become key issues in today's digital marketplace. E-CRM (customer relationship management) solutions such as Talisma Enterprise Edition usually require additional software and hardware installations, training, and management. Enter Enterprise Extensions for Lotus Development Corp. Notes, an eCRM solution that allows sales and customer service personnel throughout the enterprise to track customer relationships from within Lotus Notes.

Enterprise Extensions integrates seamlessly with Lotus Notes and Domino Server 4.6 and later, leveraging Notes' collaboration and workflow capabilities to deliver e-CRM features at a fraction of the cost of Talisma and other solutions (see "Customer service meets the Web," www.infoworld.com/printlinks).

Furthermore, because Enterprise Extensions is merely an extension of Notes, users will take to this e-CRM solution with little training, and additional administration chores are negligible.

Enterprise Extensions comes in two corporate flavors, the Silver Edition and the Gold Edition, which allow users to share a customer contacts database, a group calendar, customer activity logs, and knowledge bases in which product information, discussion threads, and canned e-mail responses can be stored. By allowing sales and service representatives to share pertinent customer information and to track phone calls, e-mails, appointments, and to-do lists as a group, Enterprise Extensions can boost the effectiveness of your customer service and sales efforts.

Geared for customer service representatives, the Silver Edition is $195 per user and includes the companywide contact database, calendaring, scheduling, and activities features. For sales people, the Gold Edition adds sales-forecasting, opportunity-management, and expense-tracking modules, at a cost of $395 per user. At this time, the expense-tracking module is still in beta. For single users who want a CRM solution, iEnterprises offers their PIM (personal information manager) edition, which is basically the Silver Edition minus the information-sharing features, for $75.

During installation, Enterprise Extensions flawlessly integrated my Address Book and Mail file into its shared databases. Even though nine databases are created, there are three that are core to Enterprise Extensions: Configuration, Group Calendar, and the Address Book. The Configuration database is where all the customization takes place. A menu on the left-hand side of the window allowed me to choose exactly which items I wanted to customize. From this view, mass e-mail forms and Microsoft Word templates can be set up for canned responses that will appear as personalized correspondences with clients, eliminating the need for cc: fields. All this customization is instantaneous, taking place without the added hassle or expense of specialized programming.

The real meat and potatoes of the Configuration database is the User Defined Field Setup. From here, hundreds of fields can be customized through drop-down menus and tabbed pages. One feature that has both pluses and minuses is the Sync feature. Because Lotus Notes performs queries on an individual contact and not a company, by checking the Sync box, that field is synchronized among all records containing the same entry in the field. For example, if a company moves to a new location, instead of going through each contact and changing the address, you can make the changes to one record, and the rest of the records containing the same field will be synchronized.

After customizing my fields, I took a look at the Address Book. Similar to the Notes Names & Address Book, Enterprise Extensions' Address Book is shared throughout the entire organization both easily and securely. There is no need to keep two separate address books to separate personal and public addresses.

When setting up a new contact, you simply choose whether or not the information is private. Double-clicking on established contacts opens a window that allows you to input extensive customized contact information.

The third core database of Enterprise Extensions' CRM solution is the Group Calendar, which integrates soundly with the already-familiar Notes calendar. As with the Address Book, you have the option to choose which entries you want to be made public and which you want to be private.

In addition to contact management and sharing modules, the Gold Edition includes extensive tracking and forecasting modules. Project tracking traces all aspects of specific programs and campaigns enterprisewide. Sales Forecasting and Opportunity Management modules allowed me to instantly populate fields associated with specific customers, to key in information about their purchasing time lines and budgets, and to insert data into customized, predefined fields. Although still in beta, the Expense Tracking module eliminates the need for external tracking systems and will have an automated approval cycle.

The Corporate Chat, Reference, and Product Library features may prove helpful to a start-up company that is implementing Enterprise Extensions from the beginning; however, most companies with well-established Lotus Notes systems most likely already have customized databases that perform these functions in place.

Seamless integration with the Notes client is definitely a smart choice for an e-CRM solution. Enterprise Extensions builds on a system to which users are already accustomed. The vast amount of customization without expensive and time-consuming programming makes this a flexible customer relationship management solution.

Sandra Kay Miller is a free-lance technology writer and a remote access specialist at Elixir Technologies, in Ojai, Calif. She can be reached at sandra_miller@elixir.com.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

Enterprise Extensions for Lotus Notes, Version 5.0Business Case: By improving information sharing and collaboration among sales and customer-support personnel throughout the company, this CRM software should boost customer satisfaction and sales.

Technology Case: Enterprise Extensions for Lotus Notes integrates seamlessly with Notes Mail to provide a companywide contact database, group calendar and scheduling, project and expense tracking, sales forecasting, and a corporate reference library.

Pros:

+ Easy to install and use

+ Fully integrates with Lotus Notes

+ High level of customization

Cons:

- Speed issues with older CPUs

Cost: $195 per user for Silver Edition; $395 per user for Gold EditionPlatform(s): Operating systems: Windows 9x, Windows NT, IBM AIX, OS/2, Sun Solaris, Unix, Mac OS; Client/server: Lotus Notes and Domino Server 4.6 and lateriEnterprises Inc., Berkeley Heights, N.J.; (800) 741-5597; www.ienterprises.com.

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