Government CRM
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 Government CRM Software Design

Phase II Design & Conference Room Pilot

A Conference Room Pilot (CRP) is a methodology to develop and simulate operation of a system, to learn how it works or should work and how best to manage the business with it – prior to the live implementation.

The Project Team normally begins with a general CRM software training course or overview. In very general terms, the CRP is used to test and validate the organization's business model with the new system. The CRP results indicate confirmation or show areas requiring a further detailed design effort to be undertaken prior to full implementation. Key purposes of a CRP include the following:

  • To explore policy and procedure issues, alternative solutions and initiative improvements
  • To train project team members in the operation of the system and software, including policies, procedures, software, internal controls, forms and reports
  • Gain a practical understanding of how the software really works; both strengths and weaknesses
  • Evaluate the software for “fit” and performance; and tune and optimize the application as necessary
  • Confirm the accuracy and appropriateness of design alternatives
  • Help develop and validate the plan for actual live data setup, conversion and implementation

A number of key decisions must be made in implementing each of the Customer Relationship Management software modules. For each software module, there should be an assigned subject matter expert or Champion who will have ultimate responsibility for the configured application. Generally, the software manufacturer or third party consultant will provide application consulting to assist the project team in making these important decisions while setting up the pilot environment. The pilot configuration will force a balance between the operational desires of the organization and the software capabilities. Some of the more detailed tasks included during a CRP include the following:

  • Identify software capable transaction flows and processes
  • Incorporate new procedures and TFR’s (transaction flow reviews); utilize automated work-flow where possible
  • Understand and design primary keys (such as Customer ID, Customer Name, Territory, Lead Source, etc.)
    • Build intelligence into the keys where it makes sense - you may want to segment them or force certain characters to represent type of values
    • Recognize the longevity of primary keys - they're not easily changed as history must also be updated for comparative reporting
  • Map out a thorough data conversion cycle. Sample and test the historical data; scrub data as necessary, perform a sample conversion and reconcile; Don't convert less than clean data with the intention of cleaning it up after its in the new system
  • Understand and configure configuration setup and file maintenance software parameters
  • Document user and system security profiles; confirm application and back door security tests
  • Test, develop and tailor (transaction entry) forms, preferably by user class; test and verify efficiency
  • Document reporting requirements (format, content, frequency, distribution, etc.)
  • Create integration points and data transfer design documents; plan for thorough system integration testing
  • Evaluate and develop system enhancements; consider productivity aides
  • Perform system and user testing; first by project team members and then by random actual users

Business Process Mapping
A CRM software implementation is often an ideal time to upgrade, reengineer or revamp business processes. While business process improvement (BPI) exercises do impose additional change (which requires proactive change management), they also bring increased efficiency to the users in conjunction with the new software for a synergistic result. The below diagram illustrates a common approach to business process mapping.

Business Process Management

Analyze As-Is Processes: During this step the current business processes are documented with the objective of identifying process activities, workflow, decision points and required documentation. The current (‘As-Is’) processes provides a foundation upon which the future (“To-Be”) processes can be developed. This is a critical step in the context of any government or other regulated environment to identify requirements in which there is no, or very limited, tolerance for variation. For example, in a commercial off the shelf (COTS) software implementation project for a large regulated energy corporation, the need for custom reporting had to be balanced with what was necessary to ensure compliance with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission mandated reporting standards. The format and content of these reports was specified in the regulations and required absolute compliance. 

Develop To-Be Processes: During this step, the future envisioned business processes are defined. In addition to the AS-IS analysis, the key inputs to this step are recognized best practices and the functionality of the COTS product being implemented. These three inputs provide a basis for developing the “To-Be” business process. Typically these processes will be documented in the form of visual diagrams called process maps.

Identify Functional Gaps: Many functional gaps between the To-Be process and the COTS product may be identified and documented in the previous step.  During this step, the To-Be processes are compared directly against the “out-of-the-box” functionality of the COTS product being implemented. 

Categorize Gaps: At this stage each gap is prioritized into the following schema: Required By Regulation/Authority, Required By Organization, Required By Department, Desirable and Non-Essential. 

Based on the priority of the gap, alternative methods to meet the process requirement will be considered. The options for consideration are:

  • Configuration. This means that the functional gap can be overcome by making some changes to the configuration of the COTS product. This is usually accomplished through the vendor’s supplied tool kit and does not require the product to be customized.
  • Workaround. It is possible that an acceptable work around can be identified to meet the process requirement. This generally entails a change to a business process work flow
  • Customization. Software customization is typically the most expensive option to meet the process requirements. It is important to recognize that customization is a recurring expense as it must then be upgraded with new COTS version releases.

The operational analysis within the CRP phase will complete an initial review of existing business processes, possibly mapping enhanced processes and best practices to the application software, describing new functionality available and ultimately determining the method in which the CRM software will be deployed to meet the users needs.

While new software applications will bring exciting and rewarding changes to the organization, they won’t remedy all of the organization's challenges. In many implementations, managing change of both systems and business processes can be one of the greatest challenges.  Any implementation approach should consider and plan for change obstacles and incorporate a formal change management mitigation strategy.

Conference room pilots and prototyping definitely work. Modeling the software application through a series of prototypes or pilots that, through each iteration, more closely approximate the business requirements and stakeholder vision significantly increases the likelihood that business objectives will be achieved. Further, by soliciting the input and feedback of the user communities during each round, the project team will both adapt the system to user requirements and steadily earn the buy-in of the user communities.

Good CRPs also accelerate learning on the part of the project team, identify issues and opportunities early in the project life cycle, set realistic expectations for project team on effort required for the real thing and incur far less risk than a “live” pilot or “big bang” implementation.

Project management proverb: "What is not documented has not been said."

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 Government Customer Relationship Management Software