Speeding up the CRM race

Speed of implementation has become a point of contest for CRM software vendors looking to differentiate their products. Business customers, however, will take a lot more time to adapt to the implementation.

Software companies searching to differentiate their products for managing customer relationships have started pitching speed of implementation

When Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said recently that he could give a business customer relationship management globally in 90 days, San Francisco software consultant Eric Kintz was skeptical. The typical time for installing CRM systems has been more than a year.

While a vendor might be able to implement the technology in 90 days, the business customer is going to need a lot longer to adapt, Kintz believes. "I haven't seen a company that can truly implement CRM that quickly," he said.


But the temperature of the CRM market is comparable to Las Vegas in July, with no sign of cooling down anytime soon. A recent report by eMarketer said that spending on CRM will expand to $10.4 billion by year's end, a 167 percent increase over the amount spent in 2000.

With new software recently released from Oracle and E.piphany, and more on the way from Kana Communications, PeopleSoft and Siebel Systems, companies are looking at quick implementation to break from the pack.

"The vision is to give customers 80 percent of what they need [in 90 days], and that figure is improving," said Valerie Borthwick, senior vice president of Oracle's consulting division, which is taking much of the responsibility for seeing that vision through. "However, it may not be 80 percent of what [customers] want."

What Oracle calls "CRM in 90 Days," PeopleSoft calls "Accelerated CRM" and NCR's Teradata division calls "CRM Industry Express." Essentially, these are programs designed to get a company running some kind of CRM app in a very short time, as opposed to the year to two-year projects that have become standard.

But with customers of long-term projects complaining that they don't get much of what they want now, what can someone expect from three months of work? "You could install any one of these packages in 90 days, but how much flexibility are you willing to give up?" asked Bob Chatham, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "CRM is important because this is about how you're going to express your company to your customers and business partners."

Rob Eklund, vice president of CRM product marketing at PeopleSoft, said that an accelerated path to CRM should only be considered by midsized enterprises. "This is a solution that says: This is the 30 pieces of functionality that we're going to implement, and by doing that you can control costs and time frames," Eklund explained. "That doesn't work for larger companies that need to customize, so they need longer time frames. It's not for everyone, and we wouldn't represent that."

Soltre Technology, an applications service provider that runs on Oracle's platform, recently began running Oracle's call center and Internet self-support applications, taking only two months to turn up the software. However, Vivian Chow, Soltre's president and chief operating officer, admitted that little integration work was required, since most of Soltre's systems are Oracle anyway.

But quick-fix CRM solutions can help companies get a foot in the door, said Peter Heffring, president of Teradata. "With the bad press surrounding CRM and the state of the economy, if I say it'll take a year to implement this, customers don't want to take the financial risk of it not working," Heffring said. "But for 90 days, it's not difficult to give it a try."