Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Entellium Selection Guide Asks the Wrong 100 Questions

Who could resist a paper entitled “100+ Questions CRM consultants get paid to ask”? Certainly not a sometime CRM consultant like myself. As I downloaded the paper from hosted CRM vendor Entellium (www.entellium.com), hope and fear wrestled inside me: Would I learn something new? Are they giving away all my trade secrets? Would this be heaven or would it be hell? Whatever happened to the Eagles anyway? Didn't I see they were on tour recently? The Rolling Stones are touring again. Now there's rock band.

Then the download finished.

The paper seemed promising. It offered a “simple 6-step methodology to deliver speed and savings into your buying cycle.” Great – I love methodologies. And six is such a friendly number: enough steps to be interesting, but not so many that I can’t keep them all in my mind.

Step 1 was reasonable: “determine requirements and share them with potential vendors.” But Step 2 seemed curiously accelerated: “expect the vendor to prove they can really meet your requirements”. Isn’t there an intermediate step to decide which vendors are qualified? And isn’t it unrealistic to expect the vendor to do all the proving: don’t you have to take some of the responsibility yourself? Step 3 raced ahead still faster: “finalize other considerations to get a complete understanding” of costs, service levels, and the vendor’s business model. What could be left after “finalize”?

Not much, it turns out. Step 4 is “expect a vendor presentation of the final solution to your full buying team (senior management, etc.)”, step 5 is “agree to deployment schedule and resources” and step 6 is “deploy your chosen solution”. In other words, you’ve have pretty much made your choice by step 2, finalized it in step 3, and moved on to deployment after that. I guess it’s okay to load all the hard work into steps 1 and 2, but somehow I didn’t feel I got my full 6 steps worth.

Oh well, on to the questions themselves. Most of the paper is a checklist of 104 items (yes, I counted), spread among 13 categories from “A) Solution Depth & Deployment Options” to “M) Support and Help”. These were not really questions, but functional requirements along the lines of (and I choose at random) “Automatically generate and publish reports at regular intervals to management, with no manual intervention.” Each item is followed by brief notes explaining why it’s important and checkboxes for priority: Must have? Nice to have? Not important?

Now I’m worried. Early in my career as a consultant, I took a requirements survey of that sort and—this is true—96% of all answers came back as “must have”. Maybe that won’t happen with Entellium’s list because it is so broad that users will in fact be able to rule out some areas. But don’t count on it.

More to the point, don’t count on gaining any real insight from this approach. The list of functions seemed generally reasonable, although I didn’t compare it with my own checklists to see what had been left out. You can bet it’s not complete: surely Entellium does everything that’s included, and no matter how great Entellium may or may not be (I’ve never looked at it), it can’t do everything. In fact, when you start with lists like this one, 104 is a tiny fraction of the possible entries.

My real complaint is that Entellium is encouraging users to make the mistake they love to make anyway, which is jumping right into functional checklists and vendor comparisons. The essential preliminary step, which any good consultant will insist upon, is to understand the business issues and how the proposed new system will solve them. In particular, you have to ensure the new system will fit with existing structures (people, processes and technologies).

This is such a basic point that I almost feel I should apologize for making you read so far just to reach it. But it’s also an error that I’ve seen two fairly sophisticated companies make in the past month alone. Clients suspect this initial analysis is make-work that consultants invent to pump up their billable hours. Au contraire! It’s as necessary as having your doctor do an examination before prescribing treatment. You can’t expect the software vendors to do this work for you: they lack the inclination and, in most cases, the skills. Yet rest assured that without a serious situation analysis, no list of functional requirements, regardless of how many questions it contains, will lead to an effective result.

No comments: