CIOs: Guilty of CRM!

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2003-05-12

CIOs: Guilty of CRM!

Who else besides me is tired of hearing CIOs blame everyone but themselves for their organizations IT failures?

CIOs have three purposes in life: to define the vision, work with the CFO on the budget and communicate the vision to the staff. Finger pointing is not included. But invariably, CIOs decry everything from expensive software licensing schemes to buggy software and then end up firing huge chunks of their staff in desperate acts of self-preservation.

CIOs demonstrate their technical incompetence most flagrantly in packaged business applications. CIOs are awful at CRM.

CIOs gained much of their current stature in the mid-1990s when they were charged with implementing CRM systems that bridged business and technology. But faced with ballooning costs two years or so into the deployments, CIOs began blaming vendors.

Sure, the Big Three CRM vendors at that time—SAP, PeopleSoft (more of a human resources solution then) and Siebel—were expensive, and their products took 18 months to three years to implement.

Well, guess what? Thats the CIOs problem. They picked the applications in the first place, knowing ahead of time how long business re-engineering takes. They did it because thats what people did back then. The sheep!

I have been looking at CRM solutions for years and just completed an . I also evaluated the architectures of three more, including solutions from SAP, PeopleSoft and Siebel. There is, and was, absolutely nothing wrong with the big CRM systems. The problem was that CIOs failed to grasp how their own businesses were run. Blaming a CRM system is like blaming a word processor for poorly phrased letters.

Most of the early blame from the CIOs targeted vendors for cost overruns. CRM software is expensive, but its cost is fixed. Therefore, those cost overruns were the result of systems integration problems. The choice of a system integrator was the CIOs responsibility.

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Next, and most ironically, CIOs blamed their own IT departments for failure to implement the products correctly. But in the enterprise, IT departments typically spend huge amounts of time reverse-engineering spaghetti code left by the CIOs long-gone predecessors rather than implementing the vision that the new CIO has failed to communicate to them.

Finally, the CIOs blame end users for not being able to handle new software implementations. Most likely, the end users had no idea of the process in the first place because the CIO failed to communicate that there would be new software deployed and that theyd need to change the way they worked. In September, Accenture, a major integrator, said that 75 percent of CRM systems failed because of flawed execution plans. The No. 1 problem with a flawed execution plan, according to many studies, is failure to garner the support of the staff.

CIOs as communicators? The only thing they communicate is how necessary they are to the CFO. But that doesnt keep CIOs from being little more than pawns of the CFOs. The average tenure of CIOs is 18 months. CIOs are supposed to fix things, but more often than not, they leave a mess behind for the next CIO to clean up.

It will be interesting to watch how the CIOs deal with the new batch of CRM systems, which are hosted by ASPs. These applications are more flexible, can be implemented faster, have at least some integration capabilities and are generally less expensive.

In fact, the goal of most of the hosted CRM systems we tested is to be implemented and usable in two weeks to four months. Believe me, four months is taking it leisurely. A product like should take no more than six weeks to be up and running—and that includes training time.

Could these applications save CIOs from themselves? I doubt it. In many cases, departments in large organizations are bypassing the CIOs and using the applications on their own terms. When CIOs are involved, the hosted CRM applications are used as point solutions—solving some tactical problem without concern for the future. Its only rarely that the CIO considers how a hosted CRM solution may be a strategic asset to an organization.

Strategic? What we really need are chief architects, not misinformation officers. Maybe its time for organizations to evaluate just how strategic CIOs are.

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