Oh I See! Getting CIOs to view their jobs from a different angle


July 13, 2010  12:16 AM

Outsourcing travails



Posted by: Arun Gupta
facilities management, infrastructure management, ITIL, outsourcing, RIM

Almost every mid to large size organization now outsources the basic maintenance of desktops, laptops, printers and other end computing devices to service providers under the broad framework of facility management. Some have also given away the tasks of managing servers, backups and networks. As far as I remember, this practice is definitely more than 15 years old, considering that the first time I came across this concept was in the early ‘90s. So by now, one would assume that the vendors and service providers (along with the CIOs), would have fine tuned this basic support activity to a level where it does not require significant management time and attention. However, recent discussions bring out a different story.

Essentially, outsourcing of the basic break-fix and first level support (typically personified as the IT Helpdesk), broadly constitutes a centralized number, email or web based form for users to log their calls. The person at the other end is expected to acknowledge the call, and attempt troubleshooting via phone or remote control of the computing device. If this is not feasible, he’s then supposed to provide desk side support through an Engineer. Track progress of the call until completed, repeat ad infinitum. Sounds simple enough!

Add a dash of best practices, frameworks like ITIL, service level agreements, and periodic reviews—everything should be hunky dory?

As computers get ubiquitous, cheaper, sturdier, and easier to use, the expectation levels have also risen. Today the expectations veer towards near instant resolution, which reflects the high level dependence as well as time pressures that are typical of today’s workplace. Mobility adds to the complexity, while security concerns mount—new and old threats challenge existing solutions, and compliance add to the challenge. To add to this, budgets are shrinking, and attrition is on the rise. So is it fair to expect service levels to sustain and improve, quarter on quarter?

CIOs with reason are right in their expectations from facility management, as this is what the enterprise demands in a hyper competitive environment. On the other hand, service providers have been struggling to rise up to these challenges and seize the opportunity. A few CIOs mentioned that they were reviewing alternatives, even though the contract period was far from over. In these circumstances, root cause analysis points towards many reasons that contribute either singularly or collectively. 

Key amongst these factors remain people (See Challenges of an upturn), where service providers did not plan for attrition, with growth coming back; thus the pipeline dried up, and customers saw an adverse impact. If the person exiting is a Project Manager, it can take up to six months to recover. And we are not yet talking about quality of resources on the ground, which is deteriorating slowly and surely. Most new hires were fresh out of institutes, with very limited or no soft skills orientation. Customer service is not just about fixing the problem, but also with respect to addressing the person behind the computer and his downtime.

The second big issue is process compliance, with or without ITIL. Every outsourcing engagement has a plethora of checklists and processes which need to be rigorously followed to ensure success. However, for the person on the ground, this is a distraction, and sometimes seen as policing. Inconsistent data and incomplete checklists lead to increasing grievances with the users.

Weekly, fortnightly or monthly review meetings are at best a post mortem of the issue; instead, daily exception management between the vendor and customer Project Managers is required to ensure that these do not get discussed at the Management table. CIOs need to conduct periodic assessments to remain connected to the process, a practice which also keeps the teams’ focus on deliverables.

July 5, 2010  7:22 AM

Cyber commute



Posted by: Arun Gupta
business continuity plan, cyber commute, disaster recovery, force majeure, mobile workforce, work from home

Every Monday, the chores begin—to get up a little earlier, get ready and off to the place of work. Every Monday, the average person gets the blues as he thinks about the week ahead and its pressures, timelines, political issues, performance, and many more. These are worries that are unique to everyone, but common in a way that they manifest themselves universally. But, this Monday is different. The majority of us did not travel, and decided to stay at home rather than risk a limb or broken glass on the vehicle. This Monday, there was a call for strike, bandh, and disruption; all to evoke the response of empathy.

Establishments either declared a day off with compensatory working on another weekend, or left the choice to employees just for safety. Rail and road transport saw very few utilizing the facilities, thus running almost empty. News channels searched for news on empty roads, and declared the empty roads as news. Impact to productivity in a blue collared environment was moderate to high; however, the white collared worker was not to be denied.

Armed with a laptop, Netbook, Blackberry or a smartphone, Wifi at home or at the least broadband, the road warrior was prepared for such exigencies. Finish the morning cuppa and settle down in the corner office with the device of choice connected to his corporate network on a high speed line; working similar (if not better) to the corner office at workplace, with no disruptions caused by the ringing phone. Churning numbers or making presentations, productivity barriers were unshackled, and deadlines appear a thing of the past.

In many countries and companies, working from home is a well accepted norm. This helps reduce the operating costs of space, power and other entrapments associated with office facilities (apart from offering flexibility to the employee to work from their cozy environments). Added benefit is accrued by the green nature of “no travel by hydrocarbon fuel driven transportation”. Many Indian enterprises have provided facilities to their workers—normally for after office hour exigencies and weekend support activities by some functions. The middle and senior managers are driven by compulsions to respond to the next mail, react to the next crisis, no crisis? Then let’s create one for the adrenaline rush.

IT enabled processes and employees with connectivity become a boon in such times of force majeure, when travel is a constraint. CIOs and enterprises which recognize the benefit of mobility and benefits thereof are able to reduce operational impact within the internal ecosystem. The larger environment (if it is cyber enabled) and the connected pieces can work with some efficiency, thereby reducing the potential adverse impact. Business continuity and disaster recovery plans should factor in productivity losses due to such events. So push forth and enjoy the fruits of boundary-less connectivity and empowerment.

One thought troubles me though; what will we all do if we face a cyber bandh some day?


June 29, 2010  4:59 AM

What’s in a name?



Posted by: Arun Gupta
business IT alignment, business technology, evolution of IT, role of the CIO

In recent times, there have been many consultants, research entities and academia discussing the IT organization’s transformation. The proposed concept seeks to rechristen IT to BT to reflect the new nature of the expected role. The rationale is largely around the fact that business drives technology within an enterprise. So the function should be called business technology (BT). Many CIOs like the new nomenclature, and have attempted to adopt this new symbol that represents their purported evolution and alignment.

Flashback to 2002; I interviewed for a Fortune 50 company’s Indian operations. The process progressed well, and I joined the company (which had a federated IT organization). The corporate IT organization was responsible for standards, infrastructure, architecture, and many applications that were supporting the operations. Then we had Manufacturing IT, which focused on the requirements of the manufacturing plants, connecting to suppliers, managing the manufacturing process, and running the warehouses. The company also had an R&D IT function that empowered the large and globally spread research teams with enabling technology solutions that were critical towards maintaining the company’s leadership position. Each IT organization head reported to the respective function head with dotted line to the global IT head; they had the flexibility and independence to create solutions or choose vendors. Last but not the least was the function called Business Technology, into which I was inducted.

Business Technology worked with the sales organization. It existed in almost every country that the company operated in, and reported to the CEO. It was the largest group and also the most powerful, since the sales teams connected with customers, and thus also had the power to garner larger IT budgets. Thus this name signified a closer relationship with business. It provided technology initiatives that impacted life everyday on the field connecting with customers, while competing with others in the industry. Not that those other teams were not aligned to their respective business folks, but the impact of changes was slower, and largely created internal efficiencies or benefit. Thus, every introduction to an outsider required a five minute discourse on why we were called Business Technology.

Was BT any different? We still had our challenges around vendors, change management, new initiatives, budget approvals, technology adoption, political issues, everything that a normal IT organization experiences every day. As the CIO, my role was acknowledged with a seat on the management table, but like every other CXO, it required consistent performance to keep it there. The basic expectation from the CIO was to create business value, challenge status quo, and participate in all discussions around the table that influenced the company’s future direction.

So, what about the role today? The CIO is required to do all of the above, sometimes even fight to get a seat on the management table; in a few cases where the CIO does not report to the CEO, they are dependent on other CXOs to be their voice in the management team meetings. Will the change in name to business technology bring about the transformation and fast track the evolution and acceptance of the function better than when it is plain old IT? I guess not–the enterprise, the IT leader, and the culture largely contribute to its success. BT happened almost a decade back, evolution is catching up.

After all, as the bard said it a long time back, “What’s in a name; that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”!


June 22, 2010  12:54 AM

IT Annual Report



Posted by: Arun Gupta
Annual Report, business IT alignment, communicating business value, communicating IT value, IT Annual Report

Almost a decade back, I met the CIO of Intel, who talked about an Annual Report of the IT organization— similar to the Annual Report published by the company for its shareholders. This report made good reading, which at that time presented metrics around availability of systems, uptime of links, number of problem tickets, budget performance, and a few others. At the turn of the century, a lot of these were indeed deemed relevant, and accepted by everyone. The report’s interesting parts depicted ’Voice of Customer’, discussed projects undertaken with their status, impact to business, and customer quotes. It was a slick report, similar to what a company would create with help from Marketing and Advertising.

Fast forward to 2010, when I was listening to a presentation on “Why should IT create an Annual Report”. The examples quoted were from Computer Associates (CA) and Intel. The audience of about 40 IT leaders listened in rapt attention, made notes, consuming the speaker’s insights, who mesmerized the audience. The KPIs were largely different, reflecting evolution of the IT organization and IT leader. Post the presentation, a debate started off on how many in the room did anything similar in terms of KPIs, reports, transparency, or even the basic weekly or monthly presentation at the management meetings; and if they did, what did they report?

Almost everyone had some kind of report being tabled, though not an Annual Report akin to the one that was presented. These hard copies were typically printed and distributed to the stakeholders, with help from an Advertising agency or Marketing department. A large IT company’s CIO mentioned that he has started working on something similar (with external help). He hopes to emulate the success that we all listened to. The thought that crossed my mind was that are CIOs of IT companies a step ahead of the rest of us in the room who represented other non-computer related industries. It was a disconnect, considering that a fair number of IT companies did not provide a seat on the management table to their IT heads.

Thinking for a long while after that, I kept wondering about why I never took the step (despite having the benefit a decade back) and when it was rekindled from memory again. The thought also wandered around as to why the representative Annual IT reports were only from the IT industry. Where were the examples from the large and successful marquee CIOs as well as IT enterprises (of success stories that everyone talks about)? Don’t they need the Annual Report to publish their success story and present it to their shareholders (CXOs and Board)?

I believe that success does not need an anniversary to present, but is shared within the enterprise on occurrence, during frequent management meetings, and gets acknowledgement. The Annual Report is a vehicle to tell the rest of the world what we do well. But maybe, I am totally off the track.


June 15, 2010  7:25 AM

It’s monsoon time again!



Posted by: Arun Gupta
CIO and clouds, cloud computing, cloud SLA, cloud watching, IaaS, PaaS, SaaS

Yes, it’s raining, and the country is covered with rain clouds for which everyone is thankful; after a year when everyone was worried. It’s as if the economy’s slowdown and lower budgets had a link with the reduced rainfall. You must be now wondering about the relevance of monsoon for a CIO. Please have a bit of patience for the ‘Oh I See’.

Someone is launching a book on the support models and delivery on a specific cloud (amongst the oldest service offerings globally before the term ‘cloud computing’ was coined). This book is derived out of thousands of support threads from customers, analysis of response times, efficacy of the model, and the pitfalls in putting your business on the cloud. No, the book is not about cloud bashing, but more about the reality of what customers faced—either in their ignorance, or due to lack of definitions and omissions.

With enough being said about why everyone (CEO and CFO included) should go cloud watching or about CIOs being beaten to death about adoption of cloud computing, the proponents of this disruptive technology are growing. This often leaves the CIO wondering about why he doesn’t get it and looks up for insight from Almighty—only to see some more clouds!

Recently, I met up with a cloud evangelist from the world’s largest cloud company. He was patiently explaining to the CIOs in a step-by-step way—on how to get started, where to get started from, and what to realistically expect. Now that made everyone sit up and listen with attention! Following the discourse getting into a debate with selected CIOs, the reality dawned on everyone that various XaaS models (where X = application, platform, and infrastructure, for now) do have limitations and challenges for any large enterprise to function in a hybrid model using cloud and internal capability.

Almost everyone who has adopted the cloud has used it for non-critical applications, test and development environments. In many cases, organizations use the cloud on fringes to connect road warriors or partners. Concerns remain around security, manageability, data retention, geographical statutes, service levels, and the evolving experience around how clouds behave. One point that had me jumping out of the chair after reading the above mentioned book’s synopsis was the gap between perception (and reality) around turnaround times for issues, patching and security management in an IaaS model. With 20+ hours to resolve issues and no patch management service, I would not even bet my test or development environments to the cloud.

Every industry evolution goes through the hype curve, and for now, cloud is still on the rising edge. With the number of companies announcing cloud based services (which do require large investments), I wonder if the future will see a cloud burst akin to the dotcom bubble burst that we experienced a decade ago. 

I would stay cautiously optimistic until then, and learn to live in the rain.


June 7, 2010  6:55 AM

What has market capitalization got to do with customer satisfaction?



Posted by: Arun Gupta
alternative IT, consumerization of IT, customer satisfaction, IT innovation, market capitalization

Recent front page news pieces in many dailies, online media, (and almost everywhere) claim that a tech company’s market capitalization has overtaken the long standing leader on this metric. It’s being written about by many business publications, tech journals, writers, edits, and discussed by everyone as an important event. Now, even as the displaced leader CEO retorted, “We are still the most profitable”, customers like me cringed. Analysts are now creating theories around the dark horse’s upsurge, about a company which was written off by the same analysts—not too long back, if memory serves me right.

Over the last couple of decades, I watched the new leader with interest—wondering why they never had mainstream commercial success, despite having products which almost everyone loved. In the meanwhile, the displaced moved from strength to strength creating a monopolistic era. Everyone hated this practice, but continued to embrace its products as if there was no choice. Choices came and withered away like the autumn flower; a few showed promise, but could not sustain themselves in a hypercompetitive world where big brother came down guns blazing on any who dared a challenge.  All along, our new leader continued to innovate, gaining a small but steadily growing breed of followers—never big enough to raise an alarm, but shunned by IT organizations as too esoteric.

The erstwhile leader spawned many factions seeking alternatives, never really succeeding enough to threaten. Fan following and hate groups alike embrace every news, release, solution and acquisition. Corporate customers experimented, but left with no real choice, continue to grin and bear it. Governments’ attempt to leash the giant bore puny results, as the alternative movement around open source has remained just that—an alternative that few are interested in.

Did customers love this ‘choice’ of one, and the price it came at? A survey will probably show the number of naysayers touching highs on product quality, price, support, or any other parameter that you may want to explore. The challenger scores on all these parameters, but surprisingly continues to receive no traction.

With guaranteed revenues from the ever growing corporate market and almost 90% market share, the fruits of such labor remained the envy of everyone in the technology world. At least, that was the case till a couple of weeks back, when surprise, the giant was belittled. Did the CIOs suddenly realize the value of embracing the alternative and shun the “standard”? Have analysts become wiser, or did the company create a game changing product (or service) that swept the world off its feet?

We all know the answer; the new leader was created by the end consumer, not the corporate world. With the exception of a few industries that discovered its efficiencies, enterprise shops avoided these technology solutions, or allowed it at the fringes with multiple caveats, despite the pains of managing existing solutions.

With increasing consumerization of the end computing device, the future will displace the old and boring, though deemed standard and secure devices of today. Our personal choices indicate that there is a very small place for the past leader. The new hero of today has consumers raging upon every new innovation that has come from its stable.

Over the next few years, I believe that this rapidly growing mindshare will put pressure on IT organizations and the CIO to be inclusive of this trend rather than fight it. The only spanner in the works could be situations where the newfound success becomes an anchor round the neck—one which drags down the innovation pipeline or consumer connect that has become the hallmark for the industry. After all, market capitalization has limited (or null) correlation to customer satisfaction.


May 31, 2010  6:39 AM

Online customer service in a connected world



Posted by: Arun Gupta
CRM effectiveness, multi-channel commerce, online customer service, social media and e-commerce

In the last few weeks, I attempted to reach out to various service providers—organizations whose services I had availed in the past via their websites. The objective was to seek help with unsubscribing from their mailing lists, as well as for assistance in resolving problems I faced with a few purchased goods, respectively. While I thoroughly enjoyed the services and products, when it came to problem resolution, the process fell through the gaps (with no resolution).

We know that every business selling services or merchandise has had online aspirations since the Internet and World Wide Web came into existence. These aspirations skyrocketed with the mobile market growing at a fast pace and phones becoming smarter. Today, every business irrespective of size, geography and market potential, has a Website providing information. In many cases, these Websites even provide transactional capability, as they experiment with mobile based engagement models.

Customers have lapped up these offerings, as they have offered convenience (apart from discounts) over conventional modes of buying in many cases, or facilitated anytime anywhere commerce. Information enabled customers are also making smart choices by comparing offerings from various retailers. The industry has grown faster than conventional retailing in developed markets, and in the developing world, growth via non-brick-and-mortar model is higher by multiples.

Now, here are a few examples of my experiences with these organizations:

Case 1: Tried to reach a portal offering match making services to unsubscribe after my nephew found his match. However, the email ID for unsubscribing from the newsletters was incorrect. With trial and error, found the right id, and guess what? The mailbox was full, so the message bounced back. Not giving up, I wrote to the Webmaster and feedback email ids. Three weeks later, I still continue to receive offers to get married!

Case 2: Bought a leading brand’s stereo Bluetooth speaker from a store. All was well for 2 years, until I wanted to install the device on another computer. Unable to find the driver, I found that the website was not helpful. Emails to customer service, the CEO, and Web-forms have gone unanswered for a month now.

Case 3: Used the services of a large domain registrar. The payment gateway failed four times, prompting me to reach out to customer services, which helped me with the process. On the payment gateway screen after providing my credit card details, I get an error! Customer service says in an online chat session that the transaction is successful, and disconnects. I am left wondering if that last the unsuccessful attempts were also charged. Email sent to them evinces no response.

What do you deduce from these incidents? Technology can enable processes, but people have to execute them. If staff does not recognize that a customer is to be served through the Website, email or chats as well as they are served in the offline world, the customer can choose to take the business elsewhere. I am reasonably certain that I would do business with these sites or their associate sites only if I had absolutely no other options. Do they care about the outcome? I don’t know. Can CIOs and IT do anything to improve such a situation?

For starters, CIOs could be the process’ co-owners in the virtual world. The CIO can use his network of friends to periodically test efficacy, provide feedback, or fine-tune the process to achieve desired outcomes. Technology enabled blackholes (such as the outlined cases) are a negative reflection on the organization’s brand value and customer perception. Every customer counts—more so in a connected world when social computing influences consumer behavior; the ripple effect needs to be addressed before it becomes a big wave rushing down.

So, do you know what are consumers tweeting or blogging about your company?


May 25, 2010  2:22 AM

Are you “Open Sourcing”?



Posted by: Arun Gupta
CIO and open source, open source, open source and government, open source and the enterprise, open source strategy

Last week, I had the privilege to meet international thought leaders from different parts of the world. A large number of them worked with ministries, governments, or educational institutes after having spent decades with the industry churning patents for the companies they invested their time in. As the discussion progressed through a myriad of technologies, it was seen that for almost every commercially available technology solution, they had explored, experimented, and in many cases deployed “open source” solutions. Amazed at their ability to implement these solutions, I started digging deeper to understand how I could leverage from their experiences.

Across countries, almost every government function and government funded organization has made bold statements and commitments towards the open source movement. They believe in not promoting or getting tied down to proprietary and expensive solutions to enable processes, citizens and overall functioning of the government. The belief is that tax-payers’ money should be saved to give the biggest bang for the buck. So forget the hugely popular operating systems, office productivity tools, virtualization, management solutions, and almost everything in between, that does not have the open tag. This is a topic that has taken a lot of vendor and system integrator stress levels north in the past.

The luminaries interacting with me had a lot of experience with a variety of open source solutions. We discussed open versions of office productivity tools, open source virtualization, learning management systems, database solutions, operating systems, and many more. They advised that most open source solutions had been adopted by quite a few large IT companies to create their version, and bundled them with charged support services. Thus, corporate entities should not have concerns around support. They work equally well as compared to commercial solutions; maybe in a few cases, the user interface may not be as user friendly—but that should not deter the strong hearted to push its case through.

There were too many questions in my head, so I started what appeared to be an interrogation. Can such solutions still be called “open source”, or should the nomenclature be “originated from open source”? How does the ROI or TCO model change from pure open source to adopted open source? Are these deployed for critical or core functions as well or they are still around the fringes? What is the level and quality of support from either the open source community or the vendors? Did they struggle with or face any interoperability issues? How did they manage the infrastructure and applications? Were there any performance or scalability issues? And so on I kept on rambling (to the group’s embarrassment), which started looking uncomfortable with most answers having a “conditions apply”.

The big realization was that the criticality of applications, infrastructure, service levels, performance parameters, expected resilience, and turnaround times were all dissimilar to what the enterprise CIO is typically expected to deliver. Even in such scenarios, it was evident that critical applications were procured from, and deployed on, commercially available environments—though not always discussed in gatherings. Quiet acknowledgements were also provided on the ROI and TCO cases—as not been significantly attractive for open source solutions.

The reality is that for almost every enterprise solution, there exists an open source alternative. The adoption and usage of these has been to typically support non-core or non-critical activities depending on the industry segment (including government departments and public sector enterprises).

When business depends on any technology, the risk appetite is low to negligible. Is this likely to change as the numbers increasingly inch up for open source solutions being deployed?

Well, my belief is that we will continue to see this divide for a long time. Everyone will talk about it—some will deploy in non-core functions, and the rest will debate.


May 18, 2010  1:38 AM

What enables Business-IT alignment (BITA)?



Posted by: Arun Gupta
BITA, business IT alignment, business IT alignment and profitability, CIO and alignment, IT business alignment

Recently, an international event management company approached me to conduct a workshop on Business-IT Alignment. It made me wonder whether CIOs are really interested in one more presentation on this subject unless these CIOs lived off another planet (or have just been born), and needed to be seasoned with a dose of the much discussed subject. I think, maybe apart from the subject of CIO reporting into the CFO/CEO as well as what next for the CIO (role of the CIO), the most oft discussed topic in the IT industry is definitely IT’s alignment to business.

No event or seminar is ever complete without a reference to the wonderful BITA. Most presentations assume that BITA is indeed an issue for CIOs, and the CIO requires help. In fact, many vendors and consultants project their products or solutions as the key ingredients towards achieving BITA. Now I can’t claim to be an expert on this hallowed subject, but have had my share of contributing to the discussion based on some experience and observation. Based on these, I have a hypothesis on what enables BITA, and where it is a challenge.

Let me first list out the standard assumptions (or ‘Conditions Apply’). A CIO understands the business, and is able to conduct a dialogue where he is understood across the organizational layers. He has good verbal as well as written communication skills, and is able to use these in internal and external meetings. He has the confidence required to debate a business or IT issue without getting so frustrated that others do not understand him. He has a reasonable track record of creating value from projects undertaken which meet (or exceed) expectations most of the time. He has a good network of vendors and partners who provide the CIO with technology advisory based on the domain. Finally, he is a good leader of people, as well as able to motivate and lead large cross-functional teams.

As I wrote the above paragraph, I wondered—if a CIO has all the skills listed above, can he still be challenged with BITA? Many might say yes, that is, if he did not report to the CEO. So let’s assume that a CIO does not report to the CFO. Will all these factors contribute to BITA? My analysis indicates a high probability of success, but I will still give it an even chance, i.e. 5/10 for the combination to lead to BITA. Have we not considered all factors? One might argue that if the CEO is technology friendly, the probability would go up to 6/10. So what can nudge the figure higher to 8/10 or 9/10 ?

My ‘Oh I See’ moment happened in a chance conversation with a CFO. When is an enterprise willing to invest in new initiatives? When are budgets relatively easier to get? When do justifications not get into the realm of fiction? The simple answer is that when a company is profitable. Not just simple profitable, but with good cash flow and available money. If the company is meeting analyst or shareholder expectations, is growing faster than the industry, and has higher margins than competitors, it’s not possible to deny BITA. So every opportunity gets the budget, as well as every employee is charged and amenable to change, as they all understand the dimensions contributing to success.

Unprofitable or marginally profitable companies always struggle to cut costs, reduce (or defer) new projects, and challenge every investment, looking for the lowest cost option. All these challenge the CIO, and keep the focus on business as usual rather than innovation. There will be exceptions to this too, but then they will be the 1/10 or 2/10 driven by the force of the leader or CIO, as compared to the higher propensity of success for a profitable company.

CIOs in business roles or add-on responsibilities are likely to have higher appreciation of the hypothesis. The new normal post 2009’s slowdown may have contributed to a shift in a few cases—in profitable as well as profit-challenged companies—based on the role played by the CIO during difficult times. If the CIO was a key player, the alignment pendulum would have shifted right, if he was not, then it may have shifted left.


May 11, 2010  7:10 AM

The power of CRM



Posted by: Arun Gupta
CRM effectiveness, CRM strategies, master data management

Last week, I was subjected to five calls in a day from an insurance company wanting to sell me a new improved high return insurance cover. The first time round, I listened to the caller, and politely advised her that I already subscribed to the said policy. I interrupted half way through the second time and told the lady I already had the policy. The third caller was not fortunate enough, and as soon as he announced the company name, I told him I had no interest in their products. The fourth could not get beyond the first line, and had to answer questions on how the CRM worked. And the last cut the phone when I advised him that I had taken a policy a few weeks back, and now wanted to cancel it.  These were different sales agents armed with a database trying to “sell” insurance.

How many times do we wish that CRM solutions work the way they are sold to companies by the vendors? Why can’t the stupid CRM tell sales and marketing teams that the customer has already been contacted five times in the last week, and that the last interaction resulted in the customer calling the caller unsavory names for repeatedly calling him? This is despite the customer saying that he is not interested in one more credit card, insurance policy, new personal loans, or whatever the company offers. The problem compounds itself when the harried customer is already a receiver of the service.

Every customer facing enterprise seeks to implement a CRM solution to service the customer effectively, as well as to understand the customer requirements and behavior for tailoring the product or service based on customer preferences. All such initiatives start with big expectations; the processes are sometimes complex and time consuming. In a few cases, these initiatives are not aligned to reality at the front office, thereby rendering usage ineffective.

When data entry ends up being outsourced, the quality of customer information suffers. So when it’s not possible to find the customer quickly, adding one more record is an easy solution. Buy databases, simply upload, and in no time, rest assured that you will figure a dozen times. Attempts to scrub and de-duplicate may bring some efficiency, but as the number of records increase exponentially, the effort starts losing its efficacy.

Successfully operational CRM solutions have little relevance to the technology deployed, but are built on the foundation of strong processes, buy-in from every function which will interact with the customer, technology sizing that can address peaks in capacity, and a simple design that is effectively implemented and executed across the enterprise. The IT organization diligently reviews data quality with the marketing and sales organizations to ensure uniqueness of the customer records. Data quality is never an accident; it requires significant planning and discipline of execution. Despite the best efforts of men and women, we still end up with some challenges when integrating with external data. These are as yet being addressed through innovative strategies, but are not fool-proof. Maybe the unique identification number (UID) initiative will help solve this issue, but that is a long way off for now.

Coming back to my “friendly” insurance company, I called my insurance advisor with the promise of canceling all policies, should I get one more call from his company or their sales agents. He profusely apologized and promised to fix the issue. I am hopeful until the next bought database gets uploaded or a new agency is appointed or the pressure to acquire customers based on month end, quarter end, or yearend pressure begins, and the calling starts again. Sometimes I pity them the barrage they face every day for no fault of theirs, but then companies don’t appear to care beyond a point, as the universe of customers is still probably 1-2% of the addressable market. So who cares!


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