Thursday, August 04, 2005

It's Always About the People

People subvert every brilliant system.


Because we are creatures of habit. We are set in our ways and resistant to change.

Another reason is that the people who think up great systems and stunning software innovations rarely think about them from a ground-level perspective or design them to suit the mechanics of daily work life.

Exclusive attention to top-down perspective breads bottom-up rebellion. It’s a formula as old as mankind and one that is frequently ignored. If you doubt me, ask Louis XIV, Tsar Nicholas II or George the Third.

That in a nutshell is the story of CRM and very well could become the story of business process innovation. The guy who thinks up and builds the system never talks to the guy who really uses the system. Too often this oversight manifests itself in an interface that is hard to use and hardly intuitive.

Forrester reported August 3 that the market is “rife” with dissatisfied customers who will spend $3.2 billion on CRM licenses over the next year even though only 29% are satisfied with the integration of applications and only 1 in 3 are happy with the ease of working with their chosen software vendor.

As a result the user benefits accrue on a macro level, where C level executives calculate the reduced time, costs and complexity, instead of at the user level where working stiffs buy-into and implement systems that will make them happier, more productive and reduce the repetitive drudge work. Yet with a little effort, insight and attention everyone can be made happy.

Consultants call the process of imposing solutions that do not account for real people as end users “change management.” But in real life these complex, jargon-filled methodologies and so-called techniques are nothing more than ways to coerce reluctant workers to use a system that was bought for them. Like Mary Poppins, the mercenary consultants fashion a “spoonful of sugar” to make the medicine go down.

But it doesn’t have to be so. Change management should begin with initial concepting and design. Software thinkers need to get closer to where the rubber meets the road. in terms of understanding specifically who will be using the system and how they see themselves.

Consider the CRM example. Top management wants visibility into marketing. They want to know what they are getting for dollars invested and they want to see if costs can be tightened and reduced. It’s a noble objective.

Marketers see themselves as creative idea people. They are the guys who make magic. They come up with the big ideas that move markets. The very notion of CRM forces them to confront long held beliefs and self-images. In the mind of the average corporate marketer, bean counters embrace CRM not marketers.

Unfortunately the makers of CRM applications have fallen short in addressing this concern and in demonstrating to the likely user base that the systematic collection of campaign data can provoke more big ideas and potentially separate the big ideas from the also-ran ideas. Add to the attitudinal issues the difficulty and drudgery of the data entry process or the arduous process for creating reports and it’s not a surprise that marketers don’t see CRM as a gift or a tool but rather see it as an added burden.


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