Modern Middle Manager
Primarily my musings on the practical application of technology and management principles at a financial services company.
When Good Technology Goes Bad.

Thursday, December 26, 2002  

The cliches are numerous. Technology is a liberator, a catalyst for change, the fulcrum in re-engineering your business. To do that you must change your mindset, your culture, your paradigm. And it all goes down best if you use consultants for the implementation...

Which brings us to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) -- the technology that solves the question, "What do I do with my staff's time and the organization's net income?" Sarcasm aside, we implemented CRM three years ago. It has gone from "transforming the enterprise" to nearly being thrown in the dust-heap to currently surviving only because of grass-roots efforts to keep it.

The initial impetus behind our CRM implementation was "how do we get a single organized database of all of our clients, prospects and vendors." It ended with the organization overreaching, attempting to use it to solve workflow and process quality control issues in addition to the original goal after spending quite a bit of money on (worthless) consultants to implement that grand vision. Our Chief Operating Officer at the time wanted to re-architect the company. The rest of senior management, while publicly assenting while costs went up, privately assailed the project.

A year later that COO left and a number of "simplification" projects were introduced, tearing up most of the workflow and process quality controls. A new CEO and partially turned over management team wanted to throw out the system because they'd "heard negative comments about it," probably from existing senior management. Interestingly enough, the rank-and-file front office people who had the loudest complaints started singing the praises of the system. Largely due to their efforts the system remained in place.

Looking back on what the organization did wrong, I think I can identify our mistakes. Here are the big ones:

1. Don't create one massive project, do mini-projects and stick to a rollout schedule. We changed too much too fast and tried for too many payoffs at once (in sales, client management, operations). That's the number one reason the end-users got irritable and the reputation of the system was trashed almost immediately.

2. We spent too much on consultants. Our organization mixes both outsourced and in-house expertise. Because of the initial overreach we had to rely on the consultants to implement it all instead of growing our own talent. By the time our in-house talent had gotten to the point where they could understand the system, we began to realize that the consultants were performing poorly.

3. Even if you think you have executive backing, line up your ducks. If the executive champion goes away it is possible for a large project to come apart. In this case, the rank-and-file saved the technology from being thrown out the window.

We're now at the stage where small, guerilla projects are enhancing the existing system and will hopefully deliver on the initial promise of CRM, even without an executive champion. This is a case where middle management and staff can define the outcome of an organizational decision and actually make it useful. Where vision is lacking, communication between department managers can create one that brings IT closely aligned to the organizational goals -- and actually deliver something that works.

posted by Henry Jenkins | 12/26/2002 11:21:00 AM

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