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Put your faith in CRM's data stewards

At the Smart CRM West conference, analysts preached the importance of planning for a CRM implementation and installing a few key people to serve as data stewards.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The value of a successful CRM implementation lies in the accuracy and relevancy of the information it produces, and many CRM pioneers have shown the world how not to do an implementation.

"It's the early adopters who got it wrong and failed spectacularly," said Erin Kinikin, vice president and research director at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

Building a customer information strategy is like building a house, Kinikin said this week at the Smart CRM West conference.

A lot of people start with building a foundation, hoping they'll get to a four-bedroom house

Erin Kinikin, VP, research director, Forrester Research

It requires planning.

"A lot of people start with building a foundation, hoping they'll get to a four-bedroom house," Kinikin said.

It doesn't quite work that way.

There are a few key materials that are needed when constructing a new strategy and it starts at the top, Kinikin said. A governance team that can provide the seed money to begin an initiative and resolve conflicts act as the "banker," Kinikin said.

It was a message that resonated with Andrew Ronfeldt, a business consultant with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. and an attendee at the conference.

"That's just the problem," Ronfeldt said. "We're lacking executive sponsorship."

The sacrificial IT lamb

The difficult times that haunt the economy have deeply affected the airline industry and resulted in high turnover of its C-level executives, Ronfeldt said. CRM initiatives have often been the first to suffer.

"The operational side [of the organization] is looking for efficiencies, and they get all the funding," Ronfeldt said.

A customer information governance

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team can help to resolve those disputes, Kinikin said. Companies should also create a strategy group to define and justify the values that a customer information strategy initiative promises, she added.

Hudson's Bay Company, in Scarborough, Ontario, has managed to work through its disputes through a collaborative process by having CRM work alongside information systems, said Anjeni Ramtahal, a database marketing analyst with the company.

Organizations need such a program team to act as a bridge between business and IT, Kinikin said. Maintaining the right customer information depends ultimately on the front-line workers and data stewards who ensure the information coming into an organization is accurate at the outset, she said.

Role of data steward often misunderstood

William McKnight, president of McKnight Associates Inc., in Plano, Texas, also focused on the importance of data stewards.

"It's a very misunderstood position," McKnight said. "It's not a full-time role and responsibility."

Rather, data stewards should be management-level employees who look at the data in their own departments. For example, the manager of a contact center is the ideal person to oversee the customer contact information coming in.

McKnight said data stewards should be drawn from the business side of the organization rather than IT and that a team of them shouldn't exceed 15 members. They can ensure the success of business intelligence (BI) initiatives by spreading the word to the user community, he said.

Get on your soap box

To succeed at BI requires adopting the perspective of end users, and data stewards can also help push adoption. It essentially demands an internal public relations effort to drive up usage by preaching the importance of using the new technology, McKnight said. For example, newsletters and a company's intranet can help share strategies and foster adoption.

Users also need to be part of development process, he stressed.

"Users need to provide feedback," McKnight said. "If they wait for it to be perfect before they spread it to their peers, they are a part of the problem."

Once the strategy and leadership are in place, organizations need to continue to measure the success and accuracy of their data, Kinikin said. She recently worked with a high-tech company that went through an overhaul of its customer information strategy. The project succeeded because the data that came out was valuable to the sales team, and they became religious about entering it correctly.

"CRM success is ultimately tied to the fact it provides valuable customer data to its users," Kinikin said.

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