When considering the CRM landscape today, it’s important to think about both technology and the context that drives it. Ideally, we’d say that the strategic needs of organizations have driven technological development. While that’s partially true, it remains the case that some organizations allow technology to drive their strategies instead.
It’s hard to shake off the misconception that CRM is merely a software tool — an application to be installed, trained on, and integrated into the IT infrastructure. It used to be that organizations could conduct a major strategic analysis of their systems to inform the selection of a new CRM tool, establish a plan for implementing it, implement the tool and any ancillary tools and be off to the races for several years. This concept was reinforced for years by software developers who spoke of their products as a “single solution” for effectively managing every aspect of constituent relationships and activities.
As a result, many organizations have approached CRM initiatives as a simple software project. There was a period of time that was dedicated to “implementation” and after that everyone had what they needed to do their jobs until the system got old, clunky, and difficult to maintain and the implementation process started over again.
Things are different now. Significant technological advances over the past decade are forcing a change in IT-related thinking at non-profits. CRM technology can no longer be considered a stand-alone IT initiative that requires periodic strategic planning to evaluate legacy systems and choose between “one and done” replacement options. Instead, CRM needs to be viewed in part as strategic technology management that requires ongoing technological evaluation and upgrades to maintain performance.
In our experience, the organizations that are most successful at using their systems to truly help power their mission do two things that others don’t – they think of their CRM environment as an ecosystem, inclusive of its ancillary systems and they formalize a practice of ongoing strategic technology management as opposed to periodic strategic planning.
Clients we have worked with here at Heller who have successfully adopted the concept of ongoing strategic management create a cross-department committee organized and charged with evaluating all technology project requests that require resources beyond general maintenance. This committee includes a mix of operations/IT analysts and business unit representatives who are senior enough to understand how departmental goals align with the organizations higher level goals. This multi-disciplinary group makes recommendations to an executive level group for final approval or broad engagement.
Approaching technology management in this manner offers several benefits beyond IT to other aspects of business management:
- When departmental representatives are well-informed about the needs or activities of other departments, they can share best practices and spot opportunities for collaboration, reducing the chance of redundant efforts.
- Resource planning can be built into efforts early and with management understanding of why things require participation.
- The needs of each department become transparent and the decisions to prioritize one thing over another can be made as a group, which can reduce the chances of one department always feeling that they’re needs are ignored.
The increasing complexity and sophistication of CRM technology today no longer affords nonprofits the luxury of limited-scope, static strategic planning. The days of siloed technology operating independently behind digital walls are gone. Today, organization-wide, cross-platform IT stacks are the rule and the sheer variety and scope of integrated apps in use require constant evaluation and periodic upgrading to maintain high-level performance and provide optimal ROI.
Dynamic strategic technology management is the key to wringing the greatest value out of your CRM system to help build deep and lasting relationships with your constituents.