DCX/CRM: Avoiding Failure (2)

In the first part of this series, I pointed out that IT centered programmes that involve the term “transformation” tend to be complex and tend towards failure – failure to deliver the desired outcomes to time, to budget, to end-user expectations.  And, I dealt with that which I consider as one of the most important sources of failure – inserting business analysts between those who will be using the technology and those configuring/building that technology.

Integration: The Formidable Challenge of Getting Systems to Work Together as an Ecosystem in a Transformation Programme

Today, I wish to consider, the most troublesome cause of failure: transformation programmes necessarily cover multiple functions, lots of business process, many end users from across the business, and these necessarily require many discrete IT applications (from different vendors) that must talk to one another fluently.  Fluently! Nothing less is acceptable to the end users – whether customers of the business or those in marketing-sales-service who are charged with facilitating the interactions/transactions with these customers

How big of a challenge is this?  Let’s consider this in terms that all of us, especially those not familiar with technology will understand. Imagine a board of directors meeting – there are seven people there, each speaks a different language, and none speaks/understands the languages spoken by the others.  How are these seven directors going to communicate with another and thus work as one to generate that which is expected from a board of directors?

The same is the case for IT systems!  There is a multiplicity of systems none of which ‘talk’ to one another yet they must ‘talk’ (integrate) to one another such that ‘conversation’ (data) flows easily/quickly across these systems.  How to arrive at this – an integrated solution where all the systems ‘talk’ to one another?  How one approaches this challenge determines whether one avoids failure or not.

Here’s One Way to Approach The Integration Challenge

1-Get a bunch of folks together whose title usually includes ‘architect’ as in “solution architect” or “enterprise architect” and get them to agree upon a design and publish a document to the rest of the players – those responsible for configuring/building the individual systems, and those responsible for connecting these systems with one another;  and then

2-Walk away sayings something like “Now, you vendors get together amongst yourselves as and when you see fit and figure out the specifications for the interfaces/integrations” thus neither facilitating nor overseeing this vital matter of working out how the interfaces/integrations are going to work (protocols, data that will flow across systems, direction of travel of this data, the mappings between one system and another, error handling…) and dealing with unexpected complications that always arise.

What Happens When You Take This Approach? 

If you take this approach then I guarantee (as I have seen it with my own eyes) that you are guaranteeing failure. What does failure look like?

1-Many errors are picked up in the Systems Integration Testing phase, and/or the User Acceptance Testing phase. Considerable rework is required from multiple ‘vendors’.  This takes time and effort resulting in Go-Live pushed out further and further, and increasing costs.

2-The ‘vendors’ dodge responsibility and point at others. The client team, including those with ‘architect’ in their title, scapegoat ‘vendors’ instead of taking responsibility for their failure to own/orchestrate/oversee the business of integration – often the most complex piece when you look at transformation in technology terms.

3-End users involved in the User Acceptance Testing rightly become concerned about that quality of the solution. This concern tends to be shared in the wider Business community thus making the challenge of ‘winning heart & minds’ that much greater as few of us have the time or the inclination to give up the familiar and learn the unfamiliar.

4-The Go-Live having been pushed out once, has to be pushed out again. And perhaps again. Then again. And when politics intervenes and the solution must Go-Live then most likely the solution will not be that which was envisaged. It falls short of delivering the desired outcomes: functionality, ease of use, and usefulness to those who use it.

5-Those who make the decisions promise that the deficiencies in the Go-Live solution will be addressed in phase 2.  This promise is rarely kept – at least not in the timescales that matter to the end users. It’s rather like sex: after climax, the passion/desire dwindles to nothing – the parties to the game are satiated.

Is There An Alternative – An Effective Approach To Dealing With The Challenge Of Integration?

Yes. What does this look like? I can only tell you what it looks like for me:

1-With regards to that which truly matters to me, I take full ownership – always, no exception- as in I design the play, I orchestrate the play, I facilitate the conversations/thinking that matters, I oversee to ensure that all are doing that which they are responsible for doing;

2-In the domains where I lack expertise, I bring in the experts as in those who have handled the challenge that I am facing and proven themselves. By “bring in the experts” I do not mean the organisation that claims this expertise – rookie mistake. I mean those individual human beings who embody the expertise either as individuals or as individuals that have worked together with one another as one team;

3-Put in place practices that allow me and those who are supporting me in the challenge of handling integration to keep in touch with individual teams/systems – on a weekly basis. Why, so that we know what is happening on the ground and pick up early if team A is doing something regards to system A that is going to mess with that which Team B is doing with system B.

4-Chair a regular Integration Workshop where ALL involved in building the IT solution attend – always, no exceptions. And, in this workshop I ensure that we actually work as opposed to merely talk. By this I mean, that we deal with that which impacts integration – this may just be issues, equally it could be design changes in one system that may impact other systems, or changes in business requirements that impact the design of the systems and the integrations.  And one output of the Integration Workshop might me that the integration blueprint published a long long time ago by the ‘architects’ has to be re-worked as it turns out to be flawed in one or more areas.

Does what I suggest sound like hard work?  Yes, it’s hard work. Which might explain why it is that so many go for the easier approach – the one I outlined at the start, the one prone to generating a failure.

I thank you for your listening and wish you the best. Until the next time….

 

State of Customer: What I Learned During 2016

Some years I find myself working on matters of strategy. Other years I find myself with ‘dirty hands’ working at the coalface – helping organisations build capabilities, and deal with operational challenges in the areas of marketing, sales, service, and CRM.  2016 has been a year where I have worked both on strategy and operations. What have I learned?

Customer Strategy

Either organisations do not have a clearly defined customer strategy or the folks working at large organisations are inept at articulating it. At best, I have found the customer strategy to be something like retain existing customers and get more new customers. That is not strategy. That is talking about desired outcomes without articulating how the organisation intends to generate those outcomes.  Maybe, I just don’t get strategy.

Customer Loyalty

I have found that the hard work of engendering customer loyalty has been bypassed by putting in place some kind of customer loyalty programme: do X and get Y points. The challenge with these loyalty programmes is that there is no heart in them. Mostly they are marketing gimmicks. Enough customers realise this and drop out of the loyalty programme – too much effort to win the points, and it takes forever to earn enough points to buy anything of value with the points. A sizeable number of customer loyalty members are inactive.

Then there are folks who see customer loyalty as a one way street. These folks see customer loyalty in terms of monetising the customer base. So they are busy figuring out which kind of marketing tricks will entice loyal customers / fans to spend more. Their heart is transactional – through and through. Why do I say that? Because what is missing is commitment to generate superior value for loyal customers and earn a suitable reward for creating that value. It is like noticing that someone is into you and then using that to get your way with that person just because you know you can.

Customer Experience

Without doubt Customer Experience is the latest buzzword. It is everywhere. Anything and everything is being linked to or brought under the umbrella of Customer Experience. Just about anything and everything is being justified on the basis of improving the Customer Experience.

What isn’t happening is this: real substantive efforts to actually improve the Customer Experience not just at specific touchpoints but also across the entire customer lifecycle. Further almost all organisations are thinking in a blinkered manner when it comes to CX. What do I mean by that? Think Amazon Echo.  What an improvement in the customer’s experience. How many organisations are working on new products that create entirely new, delightful, customer experiences?

Why so much talk but so little real action?  Because for many it involves the equivalent of turning the caterpillar into the butterfly. Just about everybody prefers the butterfly to the caterpillar. Yet, rare it is to find an organisation where the folks are up for the effort, pain, time, and risk involved in the transformation process.  There are easier-safer things to do like embracing ‘best practices’ and the latest channel or fad.

Digital Marketing / Marketing Automation

There is real shortage of skills when it comes to digital marketing / marketing automation.    It is easier to buy digital marketing / marketing automation systems than it is to operate these systems with skill.  There are folks with sophisticated content management systems yet the sophisticated features, like personalisation, are not being used.

Or you have organisations with digital marketing hubs that are not being used well. One organisation that I came across was sending out welcome emails, birthday emails, anniversary (of signing up) emails, and weekly/monthly newsletters. Why just these? Because only these emails came out of the box!  No event driven marketing communications. No dynamic content / personalisation. No predictive content… Yet, all of this functionality is there in the marketing automation suite.

Single View of The Customer / CRM

The biggest challenge / hurdle many organisations are facing is that of constructing that much desired yet elusive single view of the customer. The theory was that CRM systems would make that challenge easier by bringing more and more customer-centred data into one system. This hasn’t actually happened. What has happened is that there are more and more systems holding customer related data – each disconnected from the rest.  If anything cloud based vendors have driven fragmentation as it is easy for marketing folks to buy a marketing system ignoring rest of the organisation. What goes for marketing goes for sales, for the call-centre, for field service……

The Core Challenge is That of Integration

My experience is that the core challenge is that of integration. There is the challenge of integrating the various systems (data sources) to provide the single view of the customer. Then there is the challenge of integrating the organisation players around a well defined, coherent, clearly articulated customer strategy. And a clearly defined customer experience across touchpoints / interaction channels, for the entire customer journey.  It occurs to me that it is only worth gluing up the systems if the folks that run the organisation are willing to glue up the organisation itself. In the absence of that commitment, money spent gluing up systems is likely to be wasted.

Until the next time I thank you for your listening and I wish you the very best.