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CRM and BPM: “We Goes Together Like Peas and Carrots”

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: February 10 2010



In 2009, I attended two Gartner Summit events: the Gartner Business Process Management (BPM) Summit in March in San Diego; and Gartner Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Summit in September in Scottsdale. I not only saw a number of same vendors at both events, but both events also had many similar themes, such as customer serviceworkflow automationbusiness processescollaborationcustomer retentionsocial mediakey performance indicators (KPIs)/performance metrics, and so on and so forth.

It might be indicative that BPM and CRM are quite converging disciplines in that Gartner found enough synergy to host its CRM and BPM summits back-to-back in Washington, D.C. in late 2008 (events I did not attend). While BPM vendors are beginning to offer more CRM capabilities, CRM vendors are “returning the favor” with BPM features (e.g., workflow and business rules engines).

This process (no pun intended) may have begun several years ago. Namely, in 2005, the former Onyx Corporation (acquired by Consona Coporation in 2006 and meanwhile renamed into Consona Customer Management), began shifting its focus from highly contested and commoditized CRM applications toward more adaptive BPM-enabled applications via the former Onyx Process Manager in 2005. Consona’s CRM division does not sell its BPM module outside its CRM offering, but is proud to talk about its product’s adaptability due to native BPM features.

Both software categories also grew (CRM about 5 percent and BPM about 10 percent) in 2009, in contrast to a decline in most other enterprise applications. When money is tight, shrewd businesses look for ways to do more with less, and BPM seems to hold the promise of improving the customer's experience. As companies cite business processes affected by CRM as their top challenge, CRM vendors have moved from focusing on pure technology to enabling processes, and BPM capabilities have taken a greater role in CRM suites. This convergence leads me to quote Forrest Gump: "We goes together like peas and carrots."



In fact, many paragraphs in the 2009 white paper entitled “Customer Relationship Management: The Winning Strategy in a Challenging Economy” and authored by Microsoft Dynamics CRM talk (perhaps not unwittingly) about BPM-related features. Past CRM initiatives that focused on sales, customer service, or marketing activities have left many companies with siloed, disjointed processes that do not represent a holistic process flow to the customer.

The white paper asserts that the current recession is an opportunity to re-examine and streamline those disorganized business flows, and one of the fastest ways to improve efficiency is by streamlining key business processes and improving individual productivity. Needless to say, both initiatives are business process-oriented, or related to BPM.

Streamline Business Processes

Every business has a plethora of processes that must be repeated time and again on a daily basis. Time spent (if not wasted) on repetitive manual tasks, delays associated with cumbersome cross-group approval practices, and the lack of consistently enforced standards can bog down a business.

Thus, many CRM products today include powerful yet intuitive workflow capabilities that allow organizations to streamline and simplify everyday tasks as well as organization-wide business processes for improved operational efficiency. In the case of Microsoft Dynamics, these capabilities come from the embedded Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) technology.

Workflow management capabilities enable organizations to streamline time-consuming customer-related processes such as sales budget approvals, campaign execution, lead qualification, lead routing, request for proposal (RFP) submissions, sales follow-up, reference management, and case routing, to name but a few. The more these processes can be automated, the more employees can focus on their core competencies. Ultimately, streamlining and automating business processes allows organizations to enforce so-called best practices and free up employees to concentrate on higher-value activities.

Workflow enablement can also take the guesswork out of more complex processes via the setting up of business rules. For example, leads can be automatically distributed based on sales territory or informational mailings can be sent out based on pre-defined triggers.

Another way to leverage workflow capabilities is by automating end-to-end business processes. For example, a workflow can be used to take a holistic approach to sales by enforcing best practices from lead to final close, defining a common sales methodology and streamlining execution. Organizations can model each stage in the sales process, define an ideal flow, and ensure that all criteria are met and data captured before a deal advances to the next stage.

Organizations should also be able to take established sales methodologies such as Miller Heiman or Sales Performance International (SPI) and institutionalize those sales methodologies within the CRM solution itself. The CRM vendor elevator pitch will thus likely be based on enabling a specific CRM process such as order-to-cash or lead-to-opportunity, instead of on traditionally selling CRM modules such as sales force automation (SFA) or enterprise marketing management (EMM).

Improve Personal Productivity

Personal productivity goes hand-in-hand with business process automation (BPA) to help achieve more with less. When users have intuitive, time-saving tools, it helps them do their job better and provide more value to the business. With many traditional CRM solutions, users were often forced to make significant behavioral changes to use the system, which slowed adoption and hindered productivity.

By providing users with a familiar look-and-feel through a commonly-used tool like Microsoft Office Outlook, Microsoft Dynamics CRM [evaluate this product] helps them get up to speed more quickly and complete tasks with minimal hassle. For example, with just a click, users can promote existing Outlook contacts to Microsoft Dynamics CRM. E-mail messages and calendars are automatically synchronized within Outlook, which alleviates tracking information in multiple sources.

Another area that saps productivity is inaccurate data and unwanted communications. Indeed, after improving customer-oriented processes, CRM users often cite synchronizing information across the enterprise as their second major challenge. If workers have tools that automatically detect and cleanse duplicate data, many wasted cycles can be avoided.

Equally vexing is the issue of preventing unwanted communications, and if done manually, this task can siphon off many man-hours. Automatically excluding these “opt-out” contacts based on contact preferences can help prevent costly mishaps and enable employees to focus on higher value tasks.

Another way to improve productivity is to reduce the time needed for daily tasks. For example, in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the “Quick Campaign” feature lets users instantly create and execute impromptu campaigns. Time to create quotes and e-mail messages can be significantly reduced with templates that pre-populate customer data.

Furthermore, mass e-mail communications can be easily personalized through embedded mail-merge capabilities. Leads can be automatically populated with data from incoming e-mail messages. And orders can be created with just a few clicks by populating the order with details from the sales opportunity.

The user productivity angle is also key because bringing the two technologies together will not matter unless the users can get more done. Global 360, a BPM vendor, has thus been focusing on many of these themes as well including leveraging familiar Microsoft work environments to drive productivity (i.e., SharePoint, Office, Visio, etc.) and maximizing IT assets using BPM.

CRM + BPM, Obviously

Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides a native Outlook client with a wealth of other time-saving features which helps to reduce the time spent on administrative tasks and improves productivity. Moreover, streamlined connectivity with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) allows CRM users to get the benefits of collaboration, document management, and search capabilities through Microsoft Dynamics CRM. 

SharePoint is seen as a “poor man’s BPM and enterprise content management (ECM) system” and in combination with Dynamics CRM (which Microsoft unofficially refers to as the “CRM+” offering) one can see the connection of CRM and BPM in earnest. To be more accurate, while many customers might use both products (CRM and MOSS)  together, "CRM+" refers to using the CRM platform to extend the core out-of-the-box CRM capabilities that come within Dynamics CRM.

Other traditional CRM vendors like Amdocs, Salesforce.com, Oracle Siebel, SAP CRM, RightNow, Portrait SoftwareCDC Software’s Pivotal CRM, and eglue InterAct are all emerging with BPM attributes (in addition to the aforementioned Consona CM). It will be interesting to see whether IBM will attempt to tackle the CRM space with its arsenal of BPM technologies, including the recently acquired Lombardi Software.

For their part, traditional machine-centric BPM vendors distinguish themselves with process execution engines, business event managers, and approach building BPM suites from a model-driven architecture (MDA) framework. Many BPM vendors are still focused on achieving localized operational efficiencies via technology, rather than on improving processes holistically.

However, Chordiant Software, SwordCiboodle (formerly Graham Technology) and Pegasystems (Pega) have long had human-centric customer service processes improvement in mind. In fact, in my recent blog series on Pega, I pointed out that the company is using its own SmartBPM Suite as a CRM system of record

In late 2009, a number of collaborative social media features were announced for Pega’s SmartBPM Suite, which furthers blurs the line between CRM and BPM. The vendor’s latest white paper has a self-explanatory title: Six Competitive Differentiators for Delivering a Better Customer Experience.

IBM does not have a native CRM offering, and it has thus been partnering with Pegasystems or Chordiant. Since Lombardi does not have a native CRM capability, those partnerships are not likely to be interrupted. Similar might not be true for the impending merger of Progress Software and Savvion, as Savvion offers a solid customer-centric case management solution

Maximize the Value of Existing IT Assets

In addition to reducing obvious low-hanging fruit costs in these tough times, another effective way to improve the bottom line is by better leveraging and extracting value from existing IT assets. This goes towards another top challenge of CRM users: assessing tangible return of investment (ROI).

Many companies have significant investments in mission-critical custom solutions but often have difficulty in converting data into useful information and creating processes that connect people across disparate systems. Integrating a CRM solution with other applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), billing, and warehouse management systems (WMS) can add value to customer-facing activities.

For example, giving sales representatives access to inventory data through a CRM solution allows the sales person to tell customers on the spot when an order will be filled, thereby increasing customer satisfaction. Integration to billing systems can allow managers to instantly identify and follow up on delinquent accounts and improve alignment between the sales and accounting organizations.

But meaningful integration doesn’t stop with data; it should also include processes. An enterprise-caliber CRM solution should enable workflows not only within the base CRM application but also across multiple systems. For example, an organization could create a process linking e-commerce with CRM systems so that when a product shipment is delayed, the system checks the customer lifetime value (LTV) and either sends an e-mail notification or, for a high-value customer, creates a service incident for the call center agent or customer service representative to personally call the customer.

BPM-enabled Supply Chains?

As another example, a manufacturing company could create a process so that when a high-probability large deal is forecast in the CRM system, a workflow automatically takes that information and inserts it into a capacity requirements planning (CRP) system. Any changes to the probability of the deal are automatically reflected in the capacity planning system and the closing of the deal fires off a process in the inventory management system to ensure that capacity is aligned with demand.

To that end, many modern CRM and BPM products are highly flexible, native service-oriented architecture (SOA)-based solutions with extensible workflow capabilities that help organizations maximize the value of their existing systems. But, if at the end of the day a company is shipping out the wrong products (and possibly delayed, to boot), how effective is its entire supply chain?

BPM and CRM investments alone might not bridge the end-to-end supply chain management (SCM) process gap. And yet, customers experience any organization as a whole, not via its separate departments.

Telecommunications are a good example in this regard, where the processes are built around activities and issues such as billing, fraud detection, and equipment management, and these companies are pondering how better to organize around bringing aboard a new customer. Consider, for example, the process of signing up for a digital subscriber line (DSL) service.

The customer calls into the contact center, which confirms the customer order, thereby touching the provisioning system. Then, the agent schedules an engineer and installation (including parts), which touches on the supply chain. Therefore, as pointed out in my recent blog series on a few good SCM players, a supply chain process platform (SCPP) is a foundation for SCM suites of vendors like Manhattan Associates, Sterling Commerce, JDA Software (including i2 Technologies), RedPrairie, or Logility. These vendors have lately been touting their multi-channel order management capabilities, most recently at the National Retail Foundation’s (NRF’s) BIG Show 2010

In my earlier blog series on Muroc Systems’ TeamSupport.com and ApprovalTrack.com offerings and on Webcom’s ResponsAbility offering I had trouble pigeonholing these products into a certain enterprise software category. Indeed, do products that enable business processes such as return merchandize authorization (RMA), bug/issue tracking, new feature request, etc. belong to CRM, BPM, all of the above, or something else?

Regarding Webcom’s recent social media capabilities, where end customers can suggest improvements to catalogued configurable products and share these suggestions with their friends on Facebook, are these enablers of CRM or BPM? How about trying to classify the upcoming Salesforce Chatter feature pack that will be embedded within the Force.com cloud platform, given its collaborative social CRM, workflow/BPM, content management, and search features?

With the just-released Force.com Visual Process Manager, customers can visually design complex business processes with an intuitive, visual design tool, and instantly run it in the cloud. Along similar lines of Chatter (and perhaps even more) is the on-premise Exact Synergy collaborative platform.

Where to Start Using BPM for CRM?

As pointed out at the beginning, one of the greatest challenges for organizations is identifying the business processes that most affect the customer experience. Gartner offers the following seven steps for organizations that want to adjust their customer-facing business processes to make them more customer-centric:

  1. Audit the processes that affect customers.

  2. Identify the processes customers care about most.

  3. Prioritize the customer-selected processes by those that have the most impact on growth.

  4. Give each process an owner, cross-departmentally if required -- it doesn't have to be a vice president (VP) or a director, but should be someone responsible for the end-to-end process.

  5. Implement changes in the back-office and front-office that affect customers.

  6. Set up a service-level agreement (SLA) for customer-selected key processes.

  7. Measure the success and refine the process changes for different customer segments.


Some might find issues with the overall premise of the article due to only a few examples of BPM driving CRM in practice. Yet, the article’s premise is that some BPM tools are helping with concrete CRM (and even SCM) processes, and those BPM vendors that just continue to peddle technology without the concrete value prop will not have that much success in the long run.

A case in point: with this ongoing consolidation, Pega might remain as the only leading BPM + CRM provider, with a no-integration-necessary unified product with out-of-the-box support for call centers, customer interaction management, and so on. Is this fact the reason that the vendor grew three times faster than the BPM market's average growth in 2009? 

Dear readers, what are your opinions in this regard? How do you decide and make sense of BPM players when they say they do CRM and CRM vendors when they say they do BPM? Across the board, do they all offer some CRM benefit irrespective of their heritage? You can conduct some own research in TEC’s respective BPM and CRM Evaluation Centers.
 
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