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Why Alliances have gained prominence?

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Over last few years, Alliances have gained more prominence than the regular route ot mergers and acquisitions. Monetary considerations have played an important role but, are not the sole reason for organizations going in favour of alliance formation. I have listed below a few important points that have driven forces for organizations going the “Alliance Way” :

1. Core Competence:

Companies tend to build on their core competence and this very fact can give a differentiating  edge on other competitors. Thus, leaving one’s core competence and getting into a new field can be a disaster unless handled very carefully. Aligning to one’s core competence and creating an ecosystem around the core competence is the right way for expansion. The creation of ecosystem can be done through acquisitions, mergers or alliances. Mergers and Acquisitions may lead to diversifying into new territories and may dilute the core competence of the company. Thus, unless handled carefully, alliances should be the first choice for expansion.

2. Affordability:

Not every company can afford an acquisition or a merger. The costs of M&A are both in terms of tangible and intangible resources. Some companies might not have money or scale for M&A and other might not have scope for M&A.

3. Government regulations:

Sometimes government regulations prevent mergers and acquisitions. For example antitrust laws in the US or anti-Monopoly laws in other countries may hinder the M&A process. Thus, forming an alliance is the most favoured way out.

4. Entry Barriers:

Some markets and sectors have entry barriers due to favours by the home governments, access to raw materials, access to distribution channels etc. In such a case also forming an alliance with an existing player in the market or sector  is the most favoured way out. 

5. Competitive Landscape:

Companies do not operate in isolation. The company takes actions in response to the changing market dynamics and for any action that a company takes, the market forces respond to it. In a competitive environment, sometimes companies bleed to death fighting each other. Over time companies have realized that cooperation gives better results than competition. 

For example when Air Tel entered Sri Lanka, it signed a pact with the biggest telecom player in the market to use its towers and some other infrastructure.

6. Role Play in Value Chain:

All companies have been playing a particular role in the extended value chain. Sometimes the strategic role that the company plays in the value chain prohibits it to go for M&A, hence the Alliance route.

Another big factor in avoiding the M&A option is that only 43% or M&A are successful. The failure rate in IT-ITES is a staggering 80%. This can be because of many reasons. Most important out of which is that companies do not have compatible cultures and even compensation issues.  In an Alliance the companies work together to achieve the desired results, but as separate entities tied by the common goal. The cultural issues and compensation do not hinder the process.

Competing on Analytics: Part 2

December 13, 2009 1 comment

We have seen in my earlier post on Analytics that how and which companies are competing on the basis of analytics. The next questions that a person is bound to ask is that what type of companies or companies in which industry sector make the best use of Analytics?

The answer is ANY. Yes, any company in any sector can compete on the basis of analytics. Analytics does not mean that one has to have hoards of data and numbers. Analytics can also be use on transactions that involve verbatim details. Companies even make use of the analytics in analyzing words, phrases, the sentiments etc.

So now we know that any company can implement analytics. But, to make use of the analytics framework and to derive the desired results, the human component is as important as the mathematical model and IT component driving it.

There are a few more questions that arise in the implementation of analytics:

What data to capture?

This question has no straightforward answer. The executives driving the implementation should decide on what data will enable them to achieve the insights required. Some executives try capturing every bit of data that they can lay their hands on. It is good to capture as much data as one can because you never know what will be required at what point in time. But al J.L. Distinguished Prof. of Kellogg University puts it “It may lead to data obesity and knowledge starvation”. There no measure to determine the “optimum” amount of data or the “optimum” parameters on which to collect data. Thus, it is a pure Human component of the implementation that decides what to capture (unless one is implementing a package which requires mandatory fields to be captured). The capture of data also depends upon the requirements of the “downstream” systems and channels. For example in the CRM system may not require all the data for itself, but has to mandatorily capture it for the downstream systems such as Billing and Finance.

Correct: The data captured should be correct in all respects. Incorrect data will spoil the quality of results and may even lead one to wrong results.

Complete: The data to be captured should complete. There should be no missing fields. The missing fields may be considered as “zero” or “null” by the analytical tool. This may again lead to incorrect results.

Current: The data should be consistent with the time line. The data being captured at this moment should be current. Any data that is not current should specify the timeline when it was captured.

Consistent: The data should be consistent along the time line. There should not be huge deviations and fluctuations in the quantity and quality of data. This discounts the cyclicity of the data.

Context: The data being captured should be in line with the context. The context is again defined by the parameters which define the scope and scale of the framework.

Controlled: The data should be controlled and manageable. The control on the data makes sure that the data under analysis is the sample that one wants to analyse. The control on the data also ensures the management of sudden spikes and troughs.

Competing on Analytics: Part 1

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Recently, while reading a book on Analytics (incidentally by the same name: Competing on Analytics, T.H Daven Port, J.G. Harris, Harvard Business School Press), I was astonished at the vast range of companies and industries making use of Analytics. The online movie rental company, Netflix uses analytics extensively to make use of data for ranking movies.  Based on the customer selection and ranking the movies are clustered into different segments, the delivery for various customers is prioritized and the demand for yet to be released movies is forecasted. The data generated is also used to the extent to forecast how many copies of a movie the company should order and what it should pay for a particular movie.

The use of analytics by Netflix is not a one off example. Analytics is being used in some areas where one would have never thought of using it a decade ago. Take the case of Boston Red Sox, who made use of analytics to end an eighty six year draught and won the World Series title in the year 2004. The team used analytics on piles of data that they had collected over decades. They analyzed the pitches, the role of weather, the abilities of different players to handle different situations etc. They also made use of data for various players to decide upon what fee to be paid for the player or how much money to be paid for a player in the event of an auction. This helped them to get the best team in the given constraints of money cap. The result was: the team went on to win the 2004 title of the World Series.

Similarly take the example of AC Milan, the team has a separate arm called Milan Labs which makes extensive use of Analytics for making sure the team puts best efforts for playing and winning matches.

The examples of competing on the basis of analytics are many. Pharma companies have made use of data for shortening the product development life cycles. The retail chains have used analytics for planning their supply chain and designing the store layouts and formats. Manufacturing companies have used analytics for planning procurement, scheduling production and saving on costs of carrying inventory. The list is almost endless.

But, the question is: Can every organization make use of analytics for competing? If yes, How?

Poor Customer Service Costs Billions

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

A new study, “The Cost of Poor Customer Service: The Economic Impact of the Customer Experience and Engagement,” may finally put the damage bad service can create into a language executive boards understand : Dollars and Cents. According to the survey of 8,880 consumers across 16 countries, poor customer service cost an aggregate of $338.5 billion per year, the average value of each lost relationship across all countries surveyed costing $243.

According to study findings, companies in the financial services and telecommunications sectors should take special notice. Statistics reveal that financial services firms lost more than $44 billion, while cable and satellite television providers lost upwards of $37 billion. Wireless carriers and Internet service providers each lost $36 billion, with landline carriers posting $33 billion in lost revenues.

Financial services and otherwise, the most significant reasons for poor service according to the study are:

  • being trapped in automated self-service;
  • waiting too long for service;
  • callers having to repeat themselves; and
  • customer service representatives lacking the skills to answer inquiries.

Consequently, what then ended up at the top of many respondents’ wish lists for customer service improvements included better integration between self-service and assisted service, including voice and Web.

The CRM implementation: Preparing the ground.

December 7, 2009 3 comments

Once the organization knows that it has to implement CRM and has selected the EA Product to implement, the next step is to have the ground ready for the implementation. Along with that, the organization has to form a team for managing and overlooking the implementation. The following is the list of some important components of this phase. The organization is required (or I say MUST) prepare ground to have a long term relation with these components. The effective management and control of these components is important in the making or breaking of the project.

 

  1. The Business Case: For every task that involves huge monetary and human efforts, one needs to justify the means and the end. For the same, a business case is necessary that concisely states the end result one wants to achieve by the efforts and the benefit that the stakeholders will get from the exercise. Someone rightly said that if you cannot state the business problem in a single sentence, you have not understood the business problem. I agree with the statement, but, in addition to that, one should put a one pager note to the business case which in brief explains the cause, case and the end. 
  2. The Steering Committee: The stakeholders need to form a steering committee for the implementation. The main task of the Steering Committee is to make sure that the teams working o the project do not loose the direction. The SC works mainly on the line of aligning the implementation with the long term strategy and achieving the same. The SC generally has on board the decision makers from all the partners involved in the implementation. There will be a few representatives from the client, the System Integrator, the vendor and other partners. In most of the cases, the SC is the ultimate decision making authority in case a dispute arises among the partners. The SC also takes care of the mid course correction, if required. 
  3. The Lead: All the teams involved in the exercise have to have a team lead. The team leads act as the POC (Points of Contact) for the teams to coordinate with each other. Also, the Leads make sure that the teams understand their roles and give the required inputs. In case there is ambiguity in the views given by the end users or the team members it is the Lead who gives the final say. Also, the Leads resolve the disputes in case something is overlapping two areas and most of the time is involved in give and take when some functionality can be done by one or more of the teams. 
  4. The Champions: The Champions will be the guys in different teams who have the knowledge of “how things work?” and not only “why something works?” In every organization and department, there will be guys who know which piece fits where in order to make the system work perfectly fine. They will be a great source to know the short comings of the present system. For a successful implementation, the Champions are required at every point in time. But, the Leads should not be too dependent on the Champions as they have the present system imbibed in them, they might not be able to visualise the future system or the future requirements. 
  5. The SI/ Implementation Consultants: The System Integrator (SI) and the implementation consultants come from two backgrounds (one consultant have both the back grounds). One, some of them have in depth knowledge of the domain and are called domain experts. Two, the product experts: Who have the in depth knowledge of the EA product. The implementation consultants work together to understand the client requirements and meet the same through the system capabilities. There are other functions of the implementation consultant which are very vague and may come time to time. Some of these functions might include getting a buy-in for the solution from the Process Owners, negotiation with the clients and the partners etc.
  6. The Vendor Relations: It is a must to have a small team from the client and the SI to keep in touch with the Vendor. This is to make sure from time to time on the customizations and the bolt-on that are being built. Some (read all) of the vendors might not give the support and upgrade required for the EA product in the future.
  7. Feedback Channels: The implementation exercise should have feedback channel for the implementation. The feedback can come from all the stakeholders including the Steering Committee, the Process Owners, Business Managers, Vendors etc. The Feedback is necessary to make sure that the implementation is in line with the “means and the ends”. This also gives a base for the course correction, if any, required.

 

The above listed teams and the functionalities are very important for a successful implementation. Or, to put it in the other way, these are the participants required to “almost” eliminate the chance of a failure.

The CRM implementation: Selecting the EA Product

December 4, 2009 2 comments

The selection of the product for implementation plays a major part in the success or the failure of the implementation. The success or the failure of the implementation is measured in terms of the extent to which the set targets/ goals have been achieved by the implementation. The product selection again depends on a number of factors or constraints that the organization may be facing. I have listed a few of these factors below. The list is an indicative list and does not contain all the factors that might affect the product selection:

  1. Budget: The CRM implementation can cost an enterprise from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred million dollars. The budget allocated for the product alone can be from a 5% to 70% of this cost. There are some open source CRMs available for free downloads (Sugar CRM) where one does not have to pay a single penny for the product. Then there are products by SAP and Oracle which may cost a bomb for the vanilla product alone. Midway the two are some mid range CRMs. Though most of the CRMs claim to address most of the industry requirements, not many (read “none”) are able to meet all the requirements of the organization.
  2. Scale: The Scale also plays an equally important part in the product selection. Some company may just require managing the contacts or the interaction with the contacts form the MS Outlook. There are some small packages available which can be downloaded and easily laid on the existing MS Outlook framework. They help manage the schedules, inquiries etc. Then there may be some organizations which require just managing the sales team or the marketing team or the Call Centre operations. Most of the modern day CRMs have 20-25 modules. The Organization may require a few or all of these modules. The cost and the selection of the product depend on the need for the modules required by the organization from this list.
  3. Complexity: The processes of two industries can be vastly different from each other. Though no industry processes can be called easy to manage, but my experience says that telecom industry processes are most complex and difficult to manage. Add to this the dynamic nature of the telecom industry where new products are launched daily and new functionalities are added daily. Thus the products for telecom industry contain more functionalities than for any other industry. These products, no doubt, are costlier than their peers form other industries.
  4. Deviation from the Industry Practices: Even in the same industry, one organization may have processes very different from other organization. Every organization tries to follow the “differentiation” path to move ahead of the competition. In this quest of differentiation, these organizations have processes which are vastly different from other similar organizations in the same industry. If your organization is different from the others, the CRM product to be chosen will depend upon the extent to which you are willing to sacrifice the uniqueness of your processes and the money you are willing to pay for the customizations required in the generic product for maintaining the existing processes.
  5. Model of implementation: The CRM products differ in genre which is dictated by the mode of implementation.  For example, if the implementation on-premise, the costs may be different, than when it is a SaaS. Similarly comparing it with PaaS implementation may give different commercials. The products for SaaS, On Premise, PaaS may also be different in costs based on the vendor selected.
  6. Existing Systems: If one is looking for compatibility of the CRM to be implemented with the existing legacy systems (such as Inventory, Billing, Financials etc.), one has to be very careful while choosing the product. If proper precautions are not taken care of, the new product may pose difficulties in the integration of existing systems. The cost of the selected product again depends on the vendor who offer the most compatible product.
  7. Human Factor: The human factor comes into play at a number of instances in the selection of the product. The team or the person authorized to make the final say on the purchase may have some pre notions for some product. The employees or the implementation team also may count in the ease of use for the product. Some CRMs are more user friendly than the others and hence are favoured by the implementation teams or the advisors for product selection.

All the above factors and some more influence the selection of the EA product to be implemented by the organization. Nonetheless, the product selection is a very important and a crucial aspect for the implementation to deliver the desired results.

The CRM implementation: Is CRM really required?

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Every day there are stories and advertisements in business magazines and newspapers about the organizations benefitting from the implementation of ERP and CRM. The vendors (Oracle, Sales force etc.) leave no stone unturned to make sure their success stories reach the audience. Many organizations do get influenced by these messages coming from the industry as well as the vendors. No organization wants to lag behind its competition and is willing to invest a few million dollars if the implementation gives it an edge over the competition.

But, the question is: Is the CRM really required?

The legendary Harvard Professor and noted economist, Theodore Levitt once said that a customer does not want a quarter inch drill; all he wants is a quarter inch hole. The same rule applies to organizations thinking for implementing the CRM package. The question they should ask is: Do we want to implement CRM or do we want a solution for a problem? More often than not, the answer will be that the organization is looking for a solution to its problem. There can be many solutions to this problem. The organization can improve by just improving the competency of the human component or by just re-engineering its processes. Some other problems might be solved with just adding enhancements to the existing IT systems.

Build vs. Buy: When the organization is convinced that it has to improve or replace the existing IT systems, the next decision is to decide between whether the organization should build its own system or buy an EA product?

When the patchwork on the IT system stops working, the option of building the system has been ruled out its time to justify the implementation of CRM. The implementation of CRM is justified if the organization has the following requirements:

  1. The organization is a customer centric organization or wants to transform into a customer centric organization.
  2. It has multiple teams working on a single process and the process ownership changes from one stage to another.
  3. The coordination between teams and flow of data from one team to another is the key to success of a process/ transaction.
  4. It feels that customer service has to be personalized for each segment or each customer.
  5. It wants to integrates all the three functions of the customer interaction: Identification, Acquisition and Maintenance of customers.
  6. It has the money and resources to implement and maintain a CRM System.

The CRM Implementation- Introduction

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

    Many organizations have a need and a desire of implementing CRM and the related systems. Implementing these systems if a big decision for the companies and costs a bomb in terms of money and human resource spending. Even after meticulous planning and careful implementation, the companies are not sure if they will be able to achieve the desired results.

    I have started writing a series of articles on the planning and implementation methodology that may serve as broad guidelines for companies to implement these systems. The series will take the readers from the planning through the implementation and optimizing and fine tuning the system. 

Google Wave: Another step towards “Seamless Collaboration”

November 14, 2009 Leave a comment

Google Wave is another real-time information sharing platform. But is it “just another” social website. No. I would describe it as a hybrid of mail and chat (and much more).

Though Google has been a late entrant on the Social Media stage, it still has a huge fan following to make an impact. There are many features in G-Wave which separate it from the pack. As I see it, all these features take us a step closer to the “Seamless Social CRM”. Some of the features that are of interest are:

  1. Enhanced Chat: It is a major enhancement on the basic G-Talk. One can have conference chat, a one to one chat or a video chat. The chat has been really enhanced with all the features of formatting, highlighting, different fonts etc.
  2. Attachments: This helps in sending attachments in a chat. The chat can be directly sent as a mail with the attachment to the other members who might be offline at the moment.
  3. Collaborative e-mail: This is nice feature. Even at the time of drafting a mail (or for that matter even the contents of a document), one can add friends/ colleagues who can see the content being typed real-time. This helps in leveraging a collaborative effort in drafting such memos.
  4. The Waves: The Google Waves are similar to the Tweets but have the advantage that they are “real time”. One can share and see what is being shared real time. This all is not one to one, but can be many to one or one to many. Add to it the advantage of using photographs, online information etc.
  5. G-Maps: The best feature I found was the sharing of Google maps. One can access the map of an area while chatting and mark the positions and thus create his/her own map. I see a great potential in this application. The customer can explain their exact location to the sales rep. In case of emergency, the victim can use the G Map to tell the position to the emergency response teams. These are just a few examples. The applications might be infinite.
  6. G-Search: Another great feature is the G-Search on the tool. Even at the time of chatting or making an online memo/document, one can use the Google search option to find resources online and quote them.
  7. Embedding: There are a lot of options for embedding from documents to pictures to videos. These objects can be embedded from the desktop or by searching online from the net.
  8. Play collaborative games: One can play games with people across the globe. There are not many applications available at this moment to play these collaborative games but, will be available once the developers start to show their skills.
  9. Mobile updates: The mobile version of the Wave can be used to upload the photographs take from the mobile and create waves then and there with it.

What it means for Collaborative CRM?

These applications and features mean lot for the “collaborative and seamless” CRM. The collaboration that is being offered by G Wave has limitless potential if the business teams want to use it. For example there is an option of Yes/No/May-Be for online voting. This can be of tremendous importance when a decision has to be taken by voting. The team does not need to assemble at a place; it just has to click on one of the options in the voting tab displayed.

Oracle has come with something similar for Social CRM. It has some great features of collaboration between the various teams of the organization. It has more of business oriented features where as G Wave caters to the fun and light side of life.

But the big question is: Can it replace G mail? Yes. It has all the punch to replace the G mail. But, it will take time till all the people are on board the Wave!

The exciting world Analytics…and CRM

November 13, 2009 2 comments

There was a time when managers used to think that their business can run on ERP alone. Later the view changed from ERP alone to CRM and ERP combination where the data generated/ stored by the ERP is converted to knowledge by the CRM and then to insights by the analysts.

Now it’s the combination of analytics and CRM which is creating waves. And these are some really exciting waves.

FMCG companies pay billions of dollars to get data from the stores and then analyze them to look for patterns in consumer behaviours and purchasing patterns. This helps in predicting the sales patterns and in turn planning production and planning scheduling. The stores have gone a step forward to make use of this data in optimizing the space utilization in the shelves to maximize the returns per “foot shelf”. In a few cases (I have not worked on such assignments till now) the retail stores charge companies based on the sale these shelves offer. The additional revenue is shared between the store and the manufacturer: All possible due to the new age Analytics.

 In an assignment with a leading telecom player I worked on a solution where the last three to six months data for the customers could be analysed to identify the patterns of use by different users. The CRM then runs a match between the use pattern and the products available. This gives the list of Customers Vs the Products they should be using to make the best use of the offers and schemes available.

I have even proposed this solution to the Libraries (none of them implemented it though). There is huge amount of data available in every library. One can analyze this data to find the frequency of issuing books on various subjects. This will help in optimizing the space in the library shelves. Also in case of private libraries and book stores, the management can contact the customers who might be interested in purchasing/ issuing the new arrivals.

The CRM in combination with Analytic provides a great solution for forecasting, scheduling of production, resource optimization, revenue maximization and many other exiciting opportunities. Keep exploring!