Users: CRM systems require a mixed bag of apps

Despite the complexity of implementing software from different customer relationship management vendors, big companies such as Bank of America Corp., United Parcel Service Inc., Fingerhut Cos. and FedEx Corp. still find themselves hard-pressed to find one package to serve their needs.

Although the CRM space continues to evolve, companies say they're finding it difficult to work with just one vendor, despite the view that CRM applications will one day converge and create a holistic view of the customer.

"For a very large organization to end up with one single solution that solves everybody's problems and challenges is difficult to impossible to find," said Bill Bradway, an analyst at Newton, Mass.-based Meridien Research Inc.

Take Bank of America, for instance. The bank plans to go live next week with a CRM implementation for its global derivative products branch using applications hosted by Synchrony Communications Inc. in Cincinnati. According to Michael Durbin, an e-commerce manager at the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank, the applications will link several previously separate channels, including phone, e-mail and Web chat, and deliver all the collected data via one computer screen for agents.

That's just one of Bank of America's CRM implementations. Last month, it announced that it was developing a set of applications for its consumer business using San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel Systems Inc.'s e-business suite. And the bank has partnered with Charlotte-based Youcentric Inc. to develop highly customized client data management software for 8,000 agents working in its global corporate and investment bank.

"Theoretically, it would be nice to have just one system, but it's not possible," Durbin said. "[Bank of America] expects that not all divisions will choose to work with identical vendors." Still, the bank would like to connect these systems, and one reason it chose Synchrony was because it could be easily integrated with other applications, he said.

Another firm with a varied set of CRM systems is Atlanta-based UPS.

"We're dealing with call center applications, sales-force automation [and] campaign management" packages such as Cupertino, Calif.-based Chordiant Software Inc.'s campaign management software and a Siebel application, said a UPS spokesman. Although UPS isn't planning total consolidation, it is seeking to "provide information more seamlessly across customer touch points," he said.

Managing multiple applications is something you "definitely ... have to watch closely," said Scott Struminger, vice president of corporate headquarters systems at Memphis-based FedEx, which has multiple CRM applications in place.

"You have the trade-off of writing interfaces vs. giving up functionality," he said. "You need to give this area a lot of thought before building one-to-one data relationships that lock your company into one business model."

FedEx may integrate these applications if it makes business sense, said Struminger.

This story, "Users: CRM systems require a mixed bag of apps" was originally published by Computerworld.

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