The paper-based desk diary and address book has survived virtually intact for the best part of four hundred years. But that may soon be about to change. The usurper to this fail-safe method of organising the day comes from an adolescent piece of software technology on the brink of maturity - contact management software. Paper-based organisers have resisted change because all computers could do was to imitate the action. Being either too bulky or too fiddly they brought no specific advantages, and were prone to the inherent complexity and inconvenience of computer technology.
Although computers will never be as straightforward as a note-pad and pencil, new software is coming on to the market which can enhance these traditional methods of organising your day.
In its evaluation of Enterprise Resource and Planning report, IT analyst Ovum lists four key benefits of IT-based contact management over pen and paper:
- The company can operate more efficiently and effectively when everyone's sharing information.
- Projects can be more closely planned, monitored and controlled.
- Many sales channels can be managed simultaneously, information about customers' requirements can be collated and exploited.
- Access to customer linked records, as opposed to employee linked records, enhances sales responsiveness, leading to better care which in turn leads to client retention.
Electronic diaries, aka personal information managers (PIMs), are the precursors of contact management applications. For years users have had software such as Schedule+ and more recently Office 97's Outlook to help manage their busy lives. Until recently, however, such diaries focused primarily on being personal.
Contact managers act as smart organisers that oversee the existence of an individual as well as creating, linking and indexing a variety of documents to personal data. This genre of software doesn't offer exceptional convenience, but it has achieved a growing acceptance around many sectors because of its functionality. By maintaining an individual's agenda, and allowing an entire network to be monitored, networkable contact management software brings several advantages.
Generally speaking, computing is task centric where information is linked to the job in hand. For example, if the information happens to be a letter faxed to three individuals, the fax would typically hold no information on these people's previous correspondence with the company. Contact managers are people centric and link projects to people. This allows anyone in an organisation to see what customer has been sent what, by whom and when.
Because good contact management solutions gives all workers in an organisation all the information about a customer, such as the entire contact history, even the largest organisation can personalise its sales efforts.
The advantages of contact management have been recognised by leading IT-led companies in the financial sector, generally the early adopters of most emerging IT fads. As in other emerging technologies, European companies have benefited from observing the working trials carried out at their US counterparts who are approximately a year ahead in terms of adoption. In the US, users have come to some conclusions that European companies will incorporate the technology into their installation strategies.
The main lesson to emerge from the US is that expensive software is not necessarily best. Traditionally, the larger the organisation, the more likely it was to commission bespoke applications and then the laggards would install the less expensive, mass produced boxed packages as they appeared on the shelves. In the US, bespoke contact managers were tried, but found to be too expensive, and perhaps more importantly, took too long to develop, install and train users on.
Many IT-led organisations watched the US and adopted the counter intuitive approach to installation. Boxed products, such as SuperOffice, Goldmine and ACT from Symantec, cost between #100 and #200 per user, compared to thousands of pounds for a bespoke program. Some users swear that they are easy to configure and operate as easily on networks of 10,000 users as five-user systems.
The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is one such organisation to choose an off-the-shelf package instead of a custom solution. The bank considered bespoke applications for its contact management requirements but rejected these in favour of a boxed solution. Commenting on the approach taken by the bank, Douglas Alston, head of sales support, commercial banking services at the Royal Bank of Scotland says: "At the time, RBS was pushing its retail banking services and needed to install a system quickly. Bespoke applications were costly, and would take time to deliver, install and maintain." Alston says that boxed products cost the bank a fraction of the price of bespoke solutions and required little staff training or skilled installation.
Experience in the US has shown that there are actually two flavours of contact management application. Integrated software, represented by companies such as Goldmine from AVG and ACT from Symantec, offer a single, out-of-the-box package. Networked engines, represented by SuperOffice, Siebel Systems and Aurum, are an alternative where contact management is integrated with existing enterprise data.
Integrated solutions contain their own database and basic correspondence templates for Emailing, faxing and contacting the outside world. The word processing and database elements of these programs are very basic and only offer a rudimentary feature set. The templates lack the power and functionality of a full-blown word processor. While these integrated contact management packages are the simplest and cheapest to install, they do not work in harmony with existing programs on the system. For instance, data entered or amended in the contact manager's address book has to be manually changed elsewhere on the system. So if the accounts package has its own customer database for invoicing, other customer databases would also need to be updated.
Strictly speaking, it is not always necessary to integrate contact management with enterprise data. The Royal Bank of Scotland wanted a simple system that would replace a user's Filofaxes so it installed Goldmine from AVG.
"Most people don't go around with their entire organisation's data in their pockets and it is not always necessary to have everything at your fingertips," says Alston. "Our system is well equipped to support the day-to-day needs of the network without overloading them with information."
Networked engines contain some basic features but their strength is to link-up with the software already running over the network, such as a main database and any Email, word processing, spreadsheet or accounting packages that drive the day-to-day corporate operation. Data entered anywhere in the system is therefore automatically updated everywhere else, which stops records competing and contact occurs on dedicated applications.
This way, the advanced features on applications such as word processors, and spreadsheets can be exploited without compromising features.
London-based merchant bank, Guinness Mahon, installed SuperOffice to allow each user, whether in the office or on the road, to access any information they may need and keep the system up to date. Speaking on the advantage of the networked approach to contact management, Tim Stannard, IT manager, says: "By linking in via an intranet, or directly into the central server, anyone on the network can have access to and update any piece of data." He adds: "We are not a laboratory, we are not a research organisation, we are a merchant bank. All we asked from a product was that it came out of a box and got to work."
A by-product of the network approach has made a dramatic impact on work routines at several user sites by simplifying the work process. Users can now perform the entire work process without navigating around an array of operating systems. Because these contact managers launch secondary applications and index files to the contact manager, the user doesn't need to understand the nuts and bolts of the operating system. "The operating system has rightly become the realm of the back-room boys and contact management has become the front end of our system to our users," says Stannard. "Our word processing, databases and document management are accessed from within SuperOffice, and Windows just sits at the bottom."
But some people believe computers will never replace pen and paper. Jacqui Foot, managing director of London-based system integrator BSD, said: "From a convenience issue alone, no amount of laptops, miniaturisation or remote technology has superseded the sheer practicality and portability of the back of a match box, a pencil and some loose change for the telephone when it comes to getting the job done."
The emergence of contact management products has been likened to the growth of super computing in the seventies, which were first developed in Europe. The venture capitalists moved in and took the technology to the large US market. As with super computers, while European developers lead the way, European users lagged a year behind their US counterparts in terms of adoption. As a general rule, financial organisations are usually the first organisations to adopt technology.
In Europe finance houses such as Midland, Nationwide and Allied Dunbar are now looking at contact management software. Some, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, Guinness Mahon and De Nordsk Bank have already jumped in.
Contact, or business relationship, management software is now no longer a PIM bolted onto a PC, but a fully integrated corporate-wide information manager. The software becomes a focal point for all forms of contact with another individual, be it fax, telephone, printed letter or Email. Essentially, contact management software keeps an index of all this information, which gives users a way to trace a history of their relationship with another person or organisation.
"For too long now, organisations have been held together by scraps of paper and a bit of Excel spreadsheet," says Tim Roach, IT director at Newton Investments. "It is time for any organisation that values its client relationships and data to improve its accessibility."
After almost 400 years, it looks like an alternative has been found to the perpetual office diary.
Contact management: big business
According to Hewson Consulting Group the contact management market in the UK is currently valued at #53 million and will be worth over #140 million by the year 1999. The rapid take-up of the technology will be brought about by the maturing of Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) which enables computers to work more closely with the phone networks.
According to Andrew Voss (pictured), managing director at AVG sales and marketing, the most impressive growth in any IT sector at the moment is contact management software. Voss believes that until now the emerging technologies of telecoms, software and the Internet have been distinct, disparate areas. "These technologies will expand and converge to provide businesses with a total solution for managing their customer and prospect interface."
The success of contact managers has caused them to be dubbed enterprise software in the US. Enterprise software was originally developed to solve problems around an entire organisation's IT environment, and differed from the packages everyone on a network uses, such as the word processor, because it tackled the work practice instead of the work function. Enterprise software addresses the manner in which people and machines work. In its infancy it addressed network efficiency issues, such as network routing speeds and juggling processing power between work stations. But it now helps people to perform tasks more efficiently.
While the US is leading the world to adopt enterprise software, the venture capitalists are heading for Europe where the latest contact managers are developed as ready to use networkable boxed products.
"This technology is heralding the dawn of a new era in software," says Bob Austrian, a software analyst at US investment banking and institutional brokerage Montgomery Securities. "Enterprise software is shifting its focus from expense controls and employee productivity improvements, to revenue generation and creating greater external customer satisfaction."
Contact management: the bigger picture
While contact management lies at the epicentre of any sales automation or office productivity solution, it has been acknowledged as being the crucial element of the larger IT philosophies of total office automation and the paperless office ideal. Contact management is becoming big business.
Sites of over 10,000 users are starting to examine the possibility of installing network-wide systems. Recent growth within the companies offering contact management and the number of companies developing their own products has exploded.
According to Schema, a UK-based telecom consultancy, revenues from the European CTI market will expand from #64.5 million in 1995 to over #700 million by the millennium, a compound growth rate of over 80%. As one of the fastest growing IT sectors, it owes its recent acknowledgement to the integration and merger of different technologies.
Integrating CTI with contact management makes sense but current technology is barely scraping the surface of what is possible. Capabilities, such as auto-dialling, have been around for a while and, according to some users, can increase productivity in offices by as much as 40% over manual dialling. However, the ability to exploit Caller ID by "screen popping" which automatically displays the caller's details, remains untested. Such a feature could dramatically increase the effectiveness of customer contact.
Imagine a customer service centre where the technical support staff are able to get a complete contact history of a customer before they take the call.
Another area of innovation which is leading towards a paperless future is remote access. Remote access and file synchronisation is now a smooth operation and allows users to connect to corporate intranets, the Internet and servers from any location. CTI and remote access developments have provided the final features that businesses seemed to be waiting for.
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