A bad day for the giants in CRM?

I got two emails last Friday that suggest all is not well in the world of big CRM solution vendors.

The first was from Salesforce.com to advise me that its service would be unavailable from 06.00PM [sic] to 11.00PM on Saturday 13th February. The second related to the £709 million lawsuit BSkyB had just won a substantial part of against EDS (now part of HP).

First, lets take that Salesforce.com email. Are they shutting down from 06.00 until 23.00, or from 18.00 to 23.00, or from 06.00 to 11.00? Their mix of the 24-hour clock and PM is just plain confusing. Let’s assume it is from 18.00 to 23.00 on Saturday. Now, while that may be fine in the corporate sales world, what about all the companies that use SF.Com as part of their e-commerce or call-centre application?

Saturday evening from 18.00 to 23.00 is actually a fairly peak time – especially as it is the evening before Valentine’s Day and many people will be scratching around trying to find a last-minute solution. And one week’s notice? A bit poor, I’d say, for planned maintenance. This sounds more like, “damn, we’re gonna have to shut down real soon to fix X!”

Part of the problem with SF.com is that it is a “multi-tenanted” database – that is, everyone’s data is in the same database. So, if they need to fix something, everyone gets kicked off. A vastly better solution is to put each customer’s data into a unique instance – but then that would increase costs. Other hosted solution providers can do it though, us included.

So, on to BSkyB. This case revolved around whether representations by EDS made verbally when trying to win the contract could be relied upon by BSkyB as part of the contract. Much to many people’s surprise, the court held that they could.

Now that has put a very substantial cat among the IT suppliers’ pidgeons – especially the big ones! We’ve all seen PowerPoint presentations from big vendors that promise the earth. And we’ve all seem the page after page of mealy-mouthed contractual terms that seek to commit the vendor to, well, not very much actually.

But perhaps what was most interesting about this case was this comment on the story posted at Computerworld.com by an alleged employee of BSkyB. He says that inside the business, the project was a “running joke” with the contractor promising the world and the management believing them. Nor was this the first instance of a major consultancy “causing utter mayhem” by making changes that ultimately did not lead to the expected outcome.

Whether you agree with Paul or not, what is clear is that this project became a nightmare for all involved. It shows very clearly that signing up “the big guns” is not necessarily going to give you the result you need.

We may be tiny by comparison to EDS, but no client has ever felt the need to sue us or even withhold payment. Our infrastructure may be miniscule by comparison to SF.com, but we have had zero downtime in four years. The moral is clear – big does not protect you. Small, as E.F. Schumacher said, is often beautiful by comparison!

By Tim Beadle, director, Atrium

Data Strategy with Atrium Consulting is presenting a seminar, “Customer data made to measure”, looking at the issues involved in creating a single view of the customer. It takes place in London on Wednesday, 24th February. For more information, please contact Simon Klee on 0207 970 6530 or Datastrategyevents@centaur.co.uk.

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