All Hail CRM

April 1, 2002
Customer relationship management vendors can more than their software can deliver.

“If customer relationship management-like systems had been in use by federal agencies before September 11, law enforcers might have had the information they needed to prevent what became the most deadly act of terrorism ever to affect this country.”


Let’s take a closer look at this. Is it:

• Vendors’ attempt to generate “buzz” for CRM?

• A serious, worthy point, but the communication methodology needs work?

• A roll-your-eyes-skyward, shake-your-head-and-sigh moment?

(Pick one.)

I’ve heard a lot of interesting claims from CRM vendors, but this one that they delivered to a congressional subcommittee tops the list for hubris. Talk about over-promising.

And Congress, in its response, found the idea “sobering.” I wonder if they were just being polite.

The message the vendors attempted to deliver was that information sharing is a critical need of any company or organization. No argument here. Sharing data, the right data, is something material handling managers are trying to do with partners up and down the supply chain. And CRM may be one piece of that puzzle.

But I have two issues with the bold, bald statement made by those vendors. First, if you knew a Saudi national had obtained a visa, met with representatives of governments unfriendly to the U.S., received a lot of money, and took flying lessons, would you have concluded that he was going to crash a fully fueled commercial jetliner into a building? Or would you have been one of the few individuals not stunned by the event? (And if you weren’t stunned, I’m sure the FBI and CIA would like to talk to you.)

The point that all this information was available, but through different agencies, is a “so what” point. Until such an event actually happens, no one would believe those pieces of information could fit the same puzzle. And that’s the real issue. The U.S. had a totally different picture of our enemies. No software code could have helped shape a new profile. The plot points may have been there, but there’s no guarantee that anyone could have helped connect the dots.

You can see all kinds of elements, but still not know the compound someone will create from them. No system, no software, no product can show the intent behind someone’s “creativity.” So cut the 20/20 hindsight blame game.

My second problem is with the idea that customer relationship management can save the world (or at least the U.S.).

We’re talking software here. We’re talking about a program designed to solve certain business-related problems. Claiming it to be a solution to world terrorism is reaching way outside the box, and camouflages CRM’s true potential.

CRM is still in the development stages. According to Gartner Inc. researchers, at least half of CRM projects have failed to produce expected benefits. Thus, many executives are taking a hard look at what they want and need from this tool. Adding more unfulfillable promises won’t sell CRM.

Good products that do what they’re supposed to will.

Leslie Langnau, senior technical editor,[email protected]

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