It Isn’t Enough

Lots of my posts here will be about the Business Intelligence (BI) industry.  That’s not surprising, since I’ve worked for BI reporting company Noetix for more than 9 years, so my recent professional focus has been all about BI.  I’ve studied the industry, watched our competitors, worked with our partners, and (of course) paid careful attention to our own customers.

The BI sector of the software industry is notorious for failed projects and dissatisfied customers.  That reputation closely matches the reputation that the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and SFA (Sales Force Automation) sectors experienced 5 or 10 years ago.  In fact, for many people, that impression persists, even today. [Hmmmm, before I joined Noetix, I was VP of Engineering for a CRM software company.  I wonder what that says about me?]

Obviously, many BI projects (and CRM projects) are successful, but quite a few are failures.  Why?  There are, of course, many different reasons that BI projects (or CRM projects) haven’t been successful.  It would be foolish to try to generalize with a blanket “here’s why” explanation, however there are some common mistakes that many failed projects share.

When organizations face challenges, technology solutions are appealing.  [That’s good for me – I’ve spent my whole career working for companies that build those solutions]  It’s enticing for an organization to just write a check, acquire some software (and, probably, hardware), set it all up, and wait for magical results to happen.  It doesn’t work that way, of course.  Solving difficult problems usually requires organizational focus, careful planning, process change, and managerial skill.

In the late ‘90s, CRM systems were positioned as somewhat magical.  Vendors (especially industry leader Siebel Systems) presented their software as out-of-the-box solutions that would provide customers with immediate benefits.  “Get a single view of your customers, including what they’ve bought, what they might buy, who the contacts are, what support issues they’ve reported, and more,” the vendors promised.  It sounded wonderful and many customers immediately jumped at the chance to implement these new offerings.

In order for the new systems to succeed, the company needed to make some core business changes.  Sales needed to enter the correct information and keep it up to date.  Marketing needed to track (and measure) their campaigns and initiatives.  Everyone in the company needed to share a common “customer” and make sure the data entered was consistent across the board.  So, if one department entered Acme Corporation and another entered Acme Corp and yet another knew them as ACME International, it would appear that there were 3 different companies in the system, rather than just one.

There were many other changes that these systems demanded as well, but for many CRM customers, the importance of those business process changes wasn’t recognized, so the changes didn’t happen.  As a result, the new (and often very expensive) CRM systems failed and the customer was left with an empty bank account and little to show for it.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Don’t expect a new technology to solve a major problem by itself.

Often, process changes (and attitude changes) are as important (or maybe even more important) as new technology.

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