Microsoft and Its CRM Partners Help Corporations Avoid “The Swamp,” Enabling Better, Customized Services with Microsoft .NET Enterprise Servers

REDMOND, Wash., March 5, 2001 — For Matthew Dunn, finding out what customers wanted from Whistler Blackcomb ski resort was easy — once he installed the right technology and made sure to avoid the swamp.

Dunn is the chief information officer for Intrawest Corp., which owns Whistler Blackcomb and several other North American resorts. Intrawest uses customer relationship management software from Pivotal Corp. running on Microsoft .NET Enterprise Servers. When Dunn crunched numbers from the Pivotal system and compared them to data from actual bookings, he found an interesting paradox — potential resort guests really wanted two-day stays at the resort, but Whistler didn’t offer them.

Intrawest is now working with a call-center package, integrated with Pivotal’s software, to allow customer-service agents to see what packages potential guests have been checking out online before calling.

“The two-day package is just one example,” Dunn said. “I think what a good CRM [customer relationship management] implementation can deliver, in a best-case scenario, is a 360-degree view of our customers. Eventually we’ll have all 14 of our resorts linked to a common technology infrastructure based on Pivotal and Microsoft’s .NET enterprise servers — and what that ultimately means for us is a low-cost system that’s agile and enables us to provide great customer service.”

Such data analysis sounds simple, but for many corporations technology implementations have evolved in what’s effectively a series of Galapagos Islands, where the different high-tech “species” can’t understand each other — and certainly can’t help produce a comprehensive picture of what customers want. All the data resides in legacy systems, but those systems can’t communicate. For example, trying to extract data from a mainframe and make it available via a Web browser is a difficult and time-consuming undertaking.

The umbrella term for analyzing information and providing products and services tailored to each customer is customer relationship management (CRM). CRM is currently one of the fastest growing applications markets of the software industry. In fact, Gartner Group notes that CRM software will soon be a $9 billion industry.

But like any fast growing industry, there are concerns. Analyst Patricia Seybold worries that CRM projects are turning into “swamps” that suck up resources, slow businesses and take years to wade through — the same criticism that was previously attached to enterprise resource planning, or ERP systems. By using technology on Microsoft .NET Enterprise Servers, several companies are developing agile systems that will provide a substantial return on investment.

In addition to CRM, there’s another catchphrase used for much of this analysis: business intelligence, or BI. Business Intelligence is a term used to describe how companies can analyze customer activities — for example, customer buying patterns or how customers use offline and online systems to purchase items.

“Just collecting the data isn’t enough,” said Sharon Ward, research director at the Hurwitz Group. “Companies that don’t slice and dice their customer data to provide better customer service just won’t be around that long. It’s really that simple. There are solid gold nuggets of customer data buried out there in mainframe land and while digging them out may take a huge amount of time and energy, not digging them out will be even more expensive in the long run.”

CRM data can include many formats — phone calls, email, chat sessions and in-person visits. Companies like Intrawest will use CRM to enable their customer-service representatives to review all contact with a particular customer — enabling better service that’s customized and provides an opportunity to offer different products or services (called “cross selling” or “up selling”). The potential benefits for companies that implement CRM and/or BI systems are huge. In fact, a study by AMR Research found that 87 percent of corporations would either increase or maintain budgets for projects that grow sales and manage customers

With the rock-solid reliability, scalability and manageability of Windows 2000 and the .NET Enterprise Servers, Microsoft is well positioned to help companies tackle the often daunting task of CRM implementation.

“Corporations recognize the value of managing customer information to improve efficiencies and build customer loyalty, and as a result increase revenues and profitability,” said Frederica Carpenter, Microsoft’s CRM industry manager. “For companies considering CRM implementations, Microsoft’s .NET Enterprise Servers, combined with our CRM industry partners, can deliver a solution that is extremely agile, powerful and scalable.”

Microsoft and several of its key partners, including Pivotal, FileNET and Knosys, are embarking on a 14-city road show starting March 6 in Boston to demonstrate just how major corporations such as Motorola, Intrawest and Compaq have implemented CRM solutions based on Microsoft .NET Enterprise Servers.

And avoided the swamp.

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