Friday, June 15, 2007

Accenture Paper Offers Simplified CRM Planning Approach

As I’ve pointed out many times before, consultants love their 2x2 matrices. Our friends at Accenture have once again illustrated the point with a paper “Surveying and Building Your CRM Future,” whose subtitle promises “a New CRM Software Decision-Making Model”.

Yep, the model is a matrix, dividing users into four categories based on data “density” (volume and update frequency) and business process uniqueness (need for customization). Each combination neatly maps to a different class of CRM software. Specifically:

- High density / low uniqueness is suited to enterprise packages like SAP and Oracle, since there’s a lot of highly integrated data but not too much customization required

- Low density / low uniqueness is suited to Software as a Service (SaaS) products like since data and customization needs are minimal

- High density / high uniqueness is suited to “composite CRM” suites like Siebel (it’s not clear whether Accenture thinks any other products exist in this group)

- Low density / high uniqueness is suited to specialized “niche” vendors like marketing automation, pricing or analytics systems

In general these are reasonable dimensions, reasonable software classifications and a reasonable mapping of software to user needs. (Of course, some vendors might disagree.) Boundaries in the real world are not quite so distinct, but let's assume that Accenture has knowingly oversimplified for presentation purposes.

A couple of things still bother me. One is the notion that there’s something new here—the paper argues the “old” decision making model was simply based on comparing functions to business requirements, as if this were no longer necessary. Although it’s true that there is something like functional parity in the enterprise and, perhaps, “composite CRM" categories, there are still many significant differences among the SaaS and niche products. More important, business requirements different greatly among companies, and are far from encapsulated by two simple dimensions.

A cynic would point out that companies like Accenture pick one or two tools in each category and have no interest in considering alternatives that might be better suited for a particular client. But am I a cynic?

My other objection is that even though the paper mentions Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) several times, it doesn’t really come to grips with the implications. It relegates SOA to the high density / high latency quadrant: “Essentially, a composite CRM solution is a solution that enables organizations to move toward SOAs.” Then it argues that enterprise packages themselves are migrating in the composite CRM direction. This is rather confusing but seems to imply the two categories will merge.

I think what’s missing here is an acknowledgement that real companies will always have a mix of systems. No firm runs purely on SAP or Oracle enteprise software. Large firms have multiple CRM implementations. Thus there will always be a need to integrate different solutions, regardless of where a company falls on the density and uniqueness dimensions. SOA offers great promise as a way to accomplish this integration. This means it is as likely to break apart the enterprise packages as to become the glue that holds them together.

In short, this paper presents some potentially helpful insights. But there’s still no shortcut around the real work of requirements analysis, vendor evaluation and business planning.

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