Users size up ISM's new online CRM guide

Many companies rely on ISM's annual applications vendor guide for the CRM industry. Now the consultant is out with a new online tool. Those who got a sneak peak told SearchCRM if it met their needs.

ISM Inc. has built a Web-based program to go along with its well-known CRM applications vendor guide. The offering,

dubbed ISM Compare, is aimed at helping organizations find the software package best suited to meeting their individual CRM needs.

On a basic level, ISM Compare is an online, searchable version of the software evaluations found in Bethesda, Md.-based consultant's annual Guide to CRM Automation. However, the true value of the offering is purportedly found in users' ability to compare different CRM packages in a head-to-head format.

Both Compare and the guide survey what ISM has determined are the top 30 applications sets on the market today. The consultant touts its process of applying 166 individual criteria in three different categories -- business functions, technical features and user-friendliness. All the categories are searchable using Compare.

Some of the companies that have received advance copies of the online tool are already bringing its recommendations to bear. Mike Dymott, IT program manager for the U.K.'s Post Office Group (which is in the process of shifting under the newly-formed Consignia Royal Mail), said the program has proved helpful in staying abreast of shifting vendor offerings.

"While we didn't use the tool to select our CRM vendor, you could see where it would be of great help," he said. "Certainly the compare-and-contrast element is the strongest point as people usually pay consultants to do that alone."

For its part, Consignia is using Compare to keep tabs on its current vendor, Siebel Systems Inc., to make sure no new products emerge that may better fit its CRM needs.

Dymott said he would like to see the ability to compare larger numbers of packages on the same screen. Compare currently identifies up to four offerings at the same time. However, ISM claims the controlled number is meant to keep users from getting overloaded with too much information at once. Dymott also said he will look for more user-friendly controls in future iterations of the tool.

"It's fine for a techie like me, but your average business user may need more guidance," he said. ISM said the offering will remain targeted at users with at least baseline knowledge of how CRM works.

Another company already using Compare is Richmond, Va.-based IT consulting firm IPC Technologies Inc. Jeff Andrews, vice president, said that he finds the tool extremely helpful in developing and defending his company's recommendations to potential CRM customers.

"We use it to influence what we're trying to advise, to substantiate our arguments," said Andrews. "It isn't the end-all answer all by itself, but helps bring more strength to our position as a consultant."

Andrews said his group finds Compare "excellent" and easy to use.

"I often try to fool it, as I feel that I know the CRM market pretty well," he said. "But it's consistently accurate when you're doing analysis and abstract fact finding."

The consultant said the tool offers good conclusions and helps take out the emotional aspect of deciding between similar packages.

"Sometimes it's hard to separate established opinions and beliefs from hard numbers," Andrews observed.

Looking forward, Andrews said he hopes Compare will offer the ability to help predict changing vendor implementation requirements and cater to specific vertical markets for CRM such as healthcare.

The online tool is currently available in two versions, Enterprise and SFA (sales force automation). The firm said users of the enterprise version select from a wider range of CRM business function categories for analysis, including sales, customer service, marketing, business intelligence and e-business. The SFA version centers around comparison contact, account, sales and time management.

Pricing for ISM Compare Enterprise runs $295 for the first month and $69 for each additional month. The SFA version of the tool operates on a recurring monthly fee of $39.

ISM has not set an official release date for the tool, though it says it will be delivered this summer.

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