CRM + BPM: A Match Made in Heaven?

Feb. 6, 2008
How is CRM like a house? (Besides that both are essential for your corporate survival?)

There was, once, a simple choice in CRM software, buy off the shelf, or self-build. Today however, there is a third option, BPM engine-driven CRM. Sounds impressive, all those acronyms. Acronyms aside, this third new option is impressive as it boasts the advantages of both previous options, with none of their drawbacks.

A number of industry analyst firms have recently noted the value of process-driven CRM. According to analysts, by aligning CRM strategy and business process management (BPM) initiatives with an emphasis on customer processes, companies can deliver better customer value. Moreover, it is recognized that traditional customer-facing applications are being superseded by process-driven applications from BPM vendors and, furthermore, that this can result in faster decision-making and more flexible information processing while ensuring compliance with corporate policies and reducing the cost of changing applications.

This is generally the way with new and emerging software. Company insiders, thanks to being immersed in it, believe the truth to be self-evident while research analysts, by dint of their objectivity, recognize that it is not self-evident, and endeavor to enlighten.

However, not everyone reads research papers and those who do read them and encounter such phrases as "customer data integration options," "revenue enhancement justifying the investment," "tiered hierarchy of interlinked metrics" or any number of such terms, may fail to understand them, and those who do understand may struggle to pass the message along to those who matter.

So, for simplicity's sake, let us compare CRM with houses. Buying a house is an expensive disillusionment, as you never get exactly what you want. If it is built, moreover, by a developer as part of a new subdivision, then you, like all your neighbors, will have to settle for what you are given. Your houses will be identical and therefore not aligned to your individual and unique needs. While customizing your property is an option, it will take considerable time, effort and additional cost. No doubt, you and your neighbors will suffer the same, similar or complementary grievances. Perhaps you will all meet up by your own initiative or upon invitation from the construction company, where you will together lambaste the builder or the architect about their shortcomings. (In CRM circles, these are known as user groups and user conferences, respectively.)

In comparison, the build option looks promising -- no middleman, built to your specifications and nobody to blame but yourself. In reality, building boasts a host of regrets of its own, the loudest gripe being that it is a seminal nightmare. Whether you undertake everything from foundation digging to wiring yourself, or share it with a lackey (consultant) or two, the job of building your own house remains, at its core, a nightmare. After all, chances are you are not a builder.

And the nightmare never ends. There are upgrades and maintenance to think of. And heaven forbid you should want to add another room after the city has signed-off on your house.

So, in summary, choosing CRM reflects the old buy-or-build dilemma -- you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

However, as mentioned earlier on, there is now a third option, one that analysts and a large and growing handful of visionary businesses are turning to. To continue the analogy, you can now buy a house ready-made, but which, importantly, you help design. So it ticks all the boxes you have at the start. You also have planning permission granted and the tools and training to expand and modify your house at will and with ease, whilst the builder maintains the underlying structure for you. This is the attraction of BPM at any level, but it sits particularly well in any customer-centric enterprise where dynamic interaction with their customers is key.

It is now widely held that BPM can be honed to enhance the customer-centric areas of a business and improve the overall customer experience. Why? Because through intelligent process design, organizations can eliminate waste and reduce cost to serve, as well as the associated fulfillment days. A process model itself can carefully weave together departmental specialties to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken at the appropriate time without burdening the customer with the internal complexities of the operation. Consistency of experience and effectiveness of the business operation across all customer-facing channels can also be harnessed and achieved by sharing common processes, procedures and business rules. Finally business innovations and regulatory changes can be adopted more quickly by choosing a business process-based framework.

For all of these reasons, BPM-driven CRM presents today's enterprises with an opportunity to build a technology structure that delivers the most efficient and flexible approach yet seen in the industry to managing customer interactions.

Clare Dorrian is head of product marketing at Graham Technology. She can be reached at [email protected]

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