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Chuck Schaeffer Global CRM Implementation Challenges

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 By Chuck Schaeffer

Global CRM Implementations Add Unique Challenges with Each Location

Perhaps the earliest significant example of globalization began with Marco Polo's journey to the Far East which brought about the Silk Road and the Spice Trade. Adventurers and merchants brought back exotic goods and mysterious stories of unknown dangers. Today, globalization, though not as exotic or bizarre, is just as challenging, full of risk and dangers, and sometimes, just as mysterious. Critical then and now for any global trade endeavors is information, information about the agents the organization works through, about the customers the company serves, and about the partners and contacts that deal directly or indirectly with the supplier. Merchants in the 1400's probably had a crude personal Customer Relationship Management system, made up of handwritten notes, charts, letters of introductions and lists of names.

Today, sophisticated enterprise CRM systems can share all that information across the globe with a couple of clicks. Sounds easy? Actually, global CRM implementations include all the challenges and complexities of a single location and then increase risk exponentially with each additional location and its associated variables and issues. Careful planning is the key to any successful software implementation - and absolutely critical in multiple site projects. In a global CRM implementation, knowing what's ahead and the challenges that have confronted others before you is critical to achieving the end goal. Many CRM projects focus on methodology and logistics. This article addresses some common lessons learned that are often overlooked.

Language barriers should not be taken too lightly. It's true that in the modern world you can find many team members with multi-lingual skills. However, there is no substituting for native speakers in an experienced project team. Language nuances and colloquialism can lead to miscommunications and unintended consequences. However, team communications is just one of the language challenges. Many countries and regions have laws that require any software to be translated in the native language where it is being used. Even if there are no legal or user requirements for software localization, customer facing applications such as portals or transaction documents such as quotes, invoices and marketing collaterals should be localized to be effective. Though there are many services and software systems that provide localization, project teams need to make sure user interfaces, help documentation and training materials are properly translated and user tested.

Language is just another manifestation of a culture. When implementing a CRM system abroad, cultural differences may be subtle in some areas and starkly contrasted in others. Multi-cultural teams, whether virtual or on site, have to learn to deal with different body languages, different cultural values and different work habits. What is considered a innocent greeting touch or motion in one country can be an inappropriate or insulting gesture in another. Likewise, work culture can often set misinterpreted expectations. In many European countries, workers are required to have 25 vacation days. On the other hand, in China, employees often work on Saturdays. In Scandinavian countries, during the summer, staff members often show up for work in the wee hours of the morning so they can leave at 3:00 PM to enjoy the extended daylight. Latin America workers may routinely not show up before 9:00 or 10:00 AM. Global project team members not from these regions may feel that their colleagues are slacking. Planning the project around various national holidays, vacations, work day differences, and other cultural challenges is a constant challenge for a project manager but critical to the success of a multi-national CRM implementation.

Cultural differences can also affect other factors of a software implementation, such as data collection. In some countries, customers are reticent to provide specific information, including addresses and phone numbers. This is a major challenge especially for CRM systems, which strive to be the customer system of record and deliver a 360º view of the customer relationship. Even when you do have the right information, some governments do not allow you to use that information in specific ways, such as email or telemarketing.

This brings us to regulatory compliance and local laws. In the last few years, many countries have adopted new data retention and privacy laws to protect their citizens from the increasingly sophisticated and incredibly annoying global marketing engine. In Germany, companies must institute a double opt-in mechanism for any marketing activities, not just email. Even if the customer requests information from the company, the business is required to obtain a confirmation that the customer does indeed want to be contacted. The US CAN-SPAM Act is somewhat less strict but thirty-seven states have instituted their own more rigorous versions of this legislation. There are also varying disclosure requirements, if customer data becomes compromised, with severe penalties if not adhered to.

In most global CRM software implementations, one of the first questions users will ask is how fast does the system run. Remote systems delivery from headquarters or a shared services location, and even software as a service (SaaS) CRM systems, can have severe performance issues in certain countries and regions of the world. This is where data center delivery, software architecture and implementation strategy all play a critical role. Getting answers to user questions that will impact system performance is important.

  • Is the business software application web accessible with just a browser, or does it also require a third party product like Citrix or Microsoft Terminal Services to be installed on all PCs?
  • How will users access the application? Through the public Internet or a VPN (Virtual Private Network)?
  • Is the SaaS CRM system available from a globally distributed public cloud such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon, or a more concentrated private cloud such as or NetSuite?
  • Does the SaaS provider serve all global users from one data center, or offer globally distributed data centers to better accommodate users outside North America? Are there mirror sites?
  • What is the expected Internet latency for each transaction at each location? Will certain processing intensive functions such as large queries, long reports or analytics result in performance degradation?

If your global CRM implementation is confined within a continent or region, multiple site hosting may not be an issue. If your offices are all connected via a high bandwidth VPN tunnel, your performance may be acceptable. However, if your offices are spread across multiple continents, tools such as accelerators and enhanced VPN solutions may be required. The question of latency is a real one, even with today's web accelerator and caching technologies. There are solutions out there, but they depend on the unique needs of each implementation.

CRM system performance will also be affected by the IT infrastructure in the individual offices. If the building is old, it is likely the wiring is also old. Does the office have access to high speed internet? How many 'hops' are required before the Internet connection gets to its destination? How old are the desktops? What other systems are competing for bandwidth? In some cases, infrastructure can be tied to culture. In China, where hardware is more expensive than labor, local management may be more willing to hire more workers than invest in faster machines or better networks. The opposite is true in the U.S., where employees are challenged to manage more and more work using faster and better systems. Convincing one group to invest in one or the other to optimize their CRM implementation will be a change management challenge that needs to be addressed early.

Information security is another one of those hot buttons in a global CRM system implementation. In some regions, data encryption and simple security permissions may be enough to protect your valuable information. Other global regions are not capable or permitted to encrypt data at levels routinely used in the U.S. And in other parts of the world, technology safeguards are not enough to combat virulent industrial espionage and outright theft. Your data may not be safe even from the local or national government. A data management strategy has to be carefully considered. How much information can you allow your local sales team to have? How likely are they to take the information to a competitor? Small steps such as not allowing a list view of a search result to be downloaded, or even limiting the search results to 3-5 records per page or a maximum number of records in total, can go a long way to prevention. Some companies in select countries even prohibit printing from the system.

Before embarking on a global CRM implementation, do your homework.

  • First check local laws, including HR, data privacy and information security laws
  • Confirm any software or business process localization requirements
  • Have a good communications plan
  • Make sure a native speaker proofs mass communications to the user communities
  • Find out from local colleagues the business culture and its challenges
  • Complete an inventory of network, desktops and other existing hardware and software applications
  • Perform preliminary speed tests of the network and internet connections

These issues may seem minor compared to the other challenges that accompany enterprise wide CRM software implementations, such as change management, user adoption, budget and scope. However, not dealing with these factors beforehand can be very detrimental to a global CRM implementation. End


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Comments (3) — Comments for this page are closed —

Guest Chris Nichols
  Our HQ is Chicago, but we operate six non-US locations and run into many of the issues you describe. We're about to begin an evaluation to see if it makes sense to consolidate IT systems to a single location. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
  Chuck Chuck Schaeffer
    Without knowing any specifics I can only make general recommendations. Clearly, from an efficiency perspective most companies would prefer to run fewer, bigger systems as opposed to higher number of smaller systems. For many, the holy grail is to get the entire global company on a single system, which has advantages but also risks. Advantages include economies with hardware, software and IT staffing. These economies result in lower costs as well as operational efficiencies such as simplified system administration, fewer maintenance patches, less taxing upgrades and more rapid facilitation of company changes (such as re-orgs or mergers and acquisitions). Having one system instead of multiple also eliminates IT tasks such as data synchronization or replication and results in having one version of the truth at all times—something often highly valued by executive management. However, there are also constraints and risks to be considered. Start with governance. If your company governance is fragmented or weak, trying to get to a single company-wide system may be impossible. Heavily centralized companies fare far better than decentralized management structures in terms of centralizing the IT. Then consider your application software fit – and propensity to modify the software. Large CRM application instances incur more customization in order to satisfy regions with varying business processes. Software customization can be a complex undertaking and directly correlates to implementation failure risk. Finally, consider how the many IT services and factors will be impacted. Take into account planned and unplanned downtime, business continuity and disaster recovery, scalability and performance, and customer support.
  Guest Ian Wells
    For decentralised CRM software deployments I'd recommend local consultants or local partners. When consultants fly in from elsewhere, they tend to be rushed, and tend not to come back after the initial deployment. Having a local partner allows iterative advancements so that users get more from the software and the company gets more payback from its software investment.


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In a global CRM implementation, knowing what's ahead and the challenges that have confronted others before you is critical to achieving the end goal. Many CRM projects focus on methodology and logistics. This article addresses some common lessons learned that are often overlooked.

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