Customer data crucial to consolidating CRM

Mergers and acquisitions can result in a tangle of CRM systems and customer information. One consulting firm relied on its partner and careful change management to get through.

Grappling with customer data is a constant struggle for organizations trying to get CRM right, perhaps never more so than during a merger or acquisition.

That's what led Palladium Group Inc., a Boston-based professional services firm that emerged from the consolidation of three separate consulting companies, to consolidate its separate CRM systems onto one instance of Onyx.

"When I came in, coincident with the company being formed, one of the things I struggled with was how to get my arms around customer data," said Chris Harding, vice president with Palladium.

The three firms -- the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative, Painted Word and ThinkFast Consulting -- each had legacy platforms (ACT, SalesLogix and FrontStep) that they were using for CRM tasks ranging from contact management to marketing to sales forecasting. A consolidated CRM system was vital for Palladium to serve its customers, Harding said.

Within six months of the merger, Palladium was shopping for new CRM software.

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"I knew it was going to be a need," Harding said. "That was our first internal initiative from a systems standpoint. When you bring together services firms, client data and internal billing systems are the things we focus on."

The company selected Green Beacon Solutions of Watertown, Mass., as an implementation partner and installed CRM from Bellevue, Wa.-based Onyx, which has since been acquired by M2M Holdings Inc.

"What we were looking for was for high touch services organizations," Harding said. "CRM can be an ongoing purchase, depending on the nature of your business. Our business tends to be pretty dynamic, so we wanted someone who would be around to grow with us. We didn't even buy the software. Green Beacon bought it, and we turned it into a lease or ASP model."

The Onyx application, along with Microsoft SQL Reporting services, is housed on premise at Palladium, but it is Green Beacon that holds the licenses. Through an application management services lease, Palladium pays a subscription for the license, implementation, consulting and monitoring.

Green Beacon customized the application for Palladium, particularly the reports, but also did some tweaking of the interface, according to Harding. Which CRM application to use was not a major decision in the project.

"Although very important, almost all [CRM software] can help you achieve what you need to," Harding said. "We chose to go with Onyx, based on the flexibility. There's a path for the next two to three years, but beyond that, things are changing. We're already in that three-year horizon."

In fact, Palladium just acquired another services firm and now needs to move the 15 employees there who are using a Salesforce.com application over to the Palladium system.

Finding the right partner, dealing with change management and the data -- merging, cleansing and creating one data set for 40,000 contacts in the CRM system -- were the challenges.

"That's an ongoing thing," Harding said. "This is the fourth major CRM installation I've done, and the challenge you always face is change management."

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