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The Road to Damascus

The Road to Damascus

While CRM's promise is indisputable, it is not a quick fix solution. CRM requires process and cultural changes that run counter to the short-term thinking evident in business today

From knocking IT heads to knocked down by the IT light.

Last year Adelaide was host to the World IT Congress, the largest ICT conference held in Australia for many a year. As he did with the Rugby World Cup, the Prime Minister was on hand to open proceedings. However, it was the keynote address that really grabbed the headlines. David Murray, the chief executive of the Commonwealth Bank (CBA), gave an extremely provocative speech. He claimed that the ICT industry had been single-handedly responsible for the worldwide business recession. In his view its lamentable track record of over-promising and under-delivering had cost organisations millions and discouraged future investment.

Murray was unapologetic for his remarks. As such, it was surprising to read of his recent renewed commitment to the cause of ICT. The occasion was the announcement of the restructuring of the CBA. This entailed a 10 per cent reduction in staff, which followed significant retrenchments 12 months earlier. Journalists were naturally curious how these efficiencies could be realised without impacting customer service. Murray said all would be possible because of customer relationship management. Clearly, in less than two years, he has been to Damascus.

Given my broadside at CEOs in my October column, I suppose I should take comfort in one executive with the vision to see ICT's potential to transform the business. However I have a worrying doubt that it is only lip service. Murray might well see the potential of CRM; however, I am not entirely sure that he appreciates the challenges of getting to its promised land. He may think that all he has to do is to install the system.

While CRM's promise is indisputable, it is not a quick fix solution. CRM requires process and cultural changes that run counter to the short-term thinking evident in business today.

As someone who deals with Murray's bank on an almost daily basis, I have no doubt that all banks would benefit from an effective CRM system. Banks have a multitude of products and often no way of recognising the collective value of customers. For example Fred Nurk could be the CEO of Acme Pty Ltd, a $500 million manufacturing company. Both Fred and Acme could use Bank XYZ. Fred might challenge some bank fees he has incurred on his personal cheque account. If the interaction with Fred is handled poorly the bank runs the risk of jeopardising the larger Acme account. A CRM system would forewarn staff of the linkage and enable them to make a more measured decision on Fred's request.

These linkages, though, do not happen by magic. Someone has to sit down and chart them. Customers identified in disparate systems by different account numbers have to be collated into one system and accessed via one index. Work processes have to change so all transactions update the CRM and the CRM system is utilised as the main customer reference system. Banks have millions of records in hundreds of systems. It's time-consuming and laborious work but vital if the CRM investment is going to pay dividends.

I really hope David Murray has the commitment to pull this off. Generations of future bank staff would look back on David Murray's tenure with great affection. He would have greatly simplified their task of dealing with clients. The question, though, is how passionately does he believe in CRM and how much time and energy will he personally devote to ensure its potential is realised. Time will tell.

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