How to work well with your Siebel systems integrator, part 2

Now that you've selected a Siebel implementation partner, you need to make sure the project runs smoothly. Analysts and experts offer up some tips for how to successfully manage the relationship with your integrator from start to finish.

Note: This is the second article in a two-part series. Click here to read How to pick the perfect partner for your Siebel project, part 1.

Larry Knafo, first deputy commissioner for the department of information technology and telecommunications in New York City, had one important ground rule when he hired consulting firm Accenture to help implement a Siebel call center system for NYC's 311 information help line project.

"We reserved the right to throw people off the project if they didn't have the right skills. We really didn't have the time to waste, so we didn't want junior players getting trained on our project," he said.

Fortunately, that problem didn't arise. Because Knafo screened everyone's resumes first, he was satisfied with the team that he and Accenture finally assembled. Knafo believes that a successful CRM project depends on the experience and credentials of every member of the implementation team.

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A good systems integrator can make the difference between a successful CRM implementation and a dismal failure. A 2002 study by Meta Group Inc. found that 75% of the companies that did not use a consultant said their CRM projects resulted in failure, while only 25% of the projects that did involve an outside partner failed. Nevertheless, a CRM project can still fail if the partnership between the consultant and the customer is not carefully planned and managed.

The keys to a successful project, according to experts, tend to boil down to three main factors: adequate planning (in writing), good team management and a high level of customer involvement.

For starters, companies should be willing to volunteer their best employees to work with the consultants -- even if those employees are needed elsewhere in the company.

Sajid Usman, the global lead for Accenture's Siebel practice, notes that customers who put their most talented staffers on a project tend to see much better results. "CRM is a project that's going to touch your customers directly, so it's important you put your best people on it. You need technology people deeply involved, and you need involvement from the business side," he said.

For NYC's call center implementation, not only was Knafo actively engaged, but so were his boss and several key people from IT and from other city agencies that had a stake in the 311 project. "It was a cross section of all our skills. There were people who were difficult to spare, but we needed all hands on deck to get it done," Knafo said.

Another rule of thumb is to have a project plan mapped out, said Beth Eisenfeld, vice president of research at Gartner Inc. It doesn't matter how long it is, per se, but it needs to be specific, with names and dates.

"You must have actual names of the consultants that are responsible for achieving specific tasks," she said. "Whenever I see a plan that has team names -- like the "standards committee" or the "call center team" -- I know that nobody is responsible. But if everyone relying on something knows that Jim is responsible, then they can go check with Jim."

Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century (July 2004, McGraw-Hill Osborne Media), noted that it's important to put in writing how any changes to the scope of the project will be handled if they occur during implementation. Having a pre-planned process for dealing with unanticipated changes will help greatly to prevent acrimony and delays.

As part of your contract, you should also have an agreement as to what happens if several key people on the consulting team decide to depart -- in the event of a merger between their employer and another consulting firm, for instance. Eisenfeld recommended a "poison pill" addition to the contract that stipulates you can terminate the contract if, for example, 25% of the consulting team leaves.

Careful documentation at all stages of the project should also be emphasized, said Sheryl Kingstone, program manager for the Yankee Group's CRM strategies area. "You want somebody documenting all those procedures and changes to the database, because the consultant is not always going to be around, and you do want to have to call them back every time there's a problem."

Ditto for a license to any intellectual property that results from your project; you should have a perpetual license to use the source code, and preferably to retain access to the code for future customization, Eisenfeld said. She notes that this is typically included (or not) in the software license contract, rather than in the services contract, but that you should make sure both contracts are in agreement over who owns the intellectual property.

On the human side of the equation, Kingstone noted that getting "buy in" from senior management is extremely important in order to get other managers and employees to cooperate with the project. "You need one really strong leader to help permeate the rest of management." She suggested doing a small, interactive prototype early on, using live data and highly graphical tools and interfaces -- such as dashboard technology -- to help show upper management how useful the new system will be to them.

And she advised managers to be careful not to create resentment among non-managerial staff by treating the consultants as their superiors. "Sometimes companies assume that an outsider knows more then employees on the inside. That's a lack of respect. Managers need to value what their people bring to the table too," Kingstone said

But perhaps the most fundamental element of a successful CRM implementation is for an organization to take full, active ownership of the project from the first day.

"Don't just leave it to the experts," said Michael Doane, senior vice president of professional services strategies at the Meta Group. "If you're a part of it from the beginning, you'll accelerate knowledge transfer, as well as your comfort with the systems that are being the integrator. And you'll accelerate the departure of the systems integrator."

Sue Hildreth is a contributing writer based in Waltham, Mass. She can be reached at sue.hildreth@comcast.net.

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