Two men do the same job. Both are at the forefront of customer relationship management (CRM). Both know the benefits that can accrue from a well deployed CRM system; both are aware of the problems that can accrue from a badly deployed CRM system. But they are looking at the same issues from different perspectives: one works in the private sector, one in the public and the view from each side is not the same.

Private concerns

John Sutherby is group head of technology at AKQA with all the pressures of the private sector. “There are CRM systems and then there are systems that are very customer focused, very customer facing,” suggests Sutherby.

“We’re more at that end, very frequently integrating into CRM programmes that have been set up by corporate IT over a number of years and for good reasons. They want to know who their customers are, what they’re doing, what they’re purchasing and what behaviours they display. They want to exploit that data to address markets better.

“Marketeers are desperate to get hold of data so they can exploit it better and target things more effectively,” he says. “Every marketeer knows that even for something as simple as an email campaign, you need to know it’s going to cost this much and that we need to get this much return on investment. That’s just for a marketing campaign.

"Generally the only time we in the public sector hear from customers is when they are unhappy"

Sanjeet Gupta, CIO, Westminster Primary Care Trust

“When it comes to selling products online, for example a company like Orange, they want to know the exact cost and look at new ways of exploiting data. They will measure what benefit they actually get from it. If they didn’t get benefit this time around, then how can they do it better next time?”

Going public

All of which is very proactive. On the other side of the fence, public sector customer contact tends to be driven by other factors. “Generally the only time we in the public sector hear from customers is when they are unhappy,” concedes Sanjeet Gupta, CIO of Westminster Primary Care Trust.

“There is no reason for them to contact us when everything is fine. That said, there is more work going on nowadays to find out about customer experiences, if they have had a good experience, what they would like to see. The next step is getting CRM vendors in to see what we can do with that information. Just having that information sitting there is of no value to the organisation.

“In the public sector our customers are very different. They don’t pay for our services directly, they don’t have a tangible product in all cases and they are not seen as customers by the organisations. However, there is that remit that we still have to forecast their needs and we have to use the data in a much better way. That’s just not happening at this time, even with the big centrally driven national programmes going on.”

Culture clash

There are also cultural issues that divide the two men. It has long been a maxim in the IT industry as a whole, never mind in the CRM space, that senior management buy-in is vital for the success of any project – and that in all too many cases the failure of a particular initiative can be correlated to the lack of interest or support from C-suite executives.

"You have to have strong policies, top down driven"

John Sutherby, group head of technology, AKQA

Both Sutherby and Gupta are aware of the cultural and managerial implications of rolling out a successful CRM implementation. “I believe every system should be led by a user base so that the user is on board,” says Sutherby. “The user needs to make a decision that there is a need and then the IT department finds out what’s needed and says these products will work. They shouldn’t say this product is what you’re going to have. That’s what IT has done traditionally and that’s where we lose the users. It is also where we end up with people getting their own systems and data becomes fragmented.

“You have to have strong policies, top down driven. In my company, any IT system, no matter what department it’s for, has to be signed off by IT. It is stupid, almost treating people as if they were kids. Yes, you have got a budget but you can’t spend it without getting authority from mum and dad,” he says.

The whole picture

He believes that CRM is going to have the biggest benefit in a salesforce automation role but if a salesforce is the driver, that is looking at just one aspect.

“What you really want is to have a much wider user base. All too often, one department makes a decision without looking at the full business benefit and I think that’s where we let ourselves down time and time again,” he says. Few would argue with the view that a large percentage of CRM licences are still in the packet because sales decided they wanted one system, marketing wanted another and neither looked at it all the way through.

Internal resistance

The public sector has other challenges. As almost every national programme from central government discovers, the public sector has an near inbred antipathy towards sharing information – a tendency which fundamentally scuppers the basic tenets of CRM.

“It is an organisational base that doesn’t understand CRM,” says Gupta. “That is an uphill struggle. At the moment we have all these new initiatives, practice-based commissioning and so on, which require sharing data between acute trusts and between primary care trusts, different agencies who aren’t used to sharing. The mindset is still my patient, my area, my needs.

“People, the culture must change. There are people in the public sector who are very keen to have the data. There are reports that we have to fill in and send off on an hourly basis, but a lot of that data goes into black holes. Most managers of services just want to know that their service is on budget and patients are getting a reasonable service.”

Common formats

The status quo has led to anomalies that impede successful CRM systems being put in place. Data in the public sector is often non-validated it seems, and does not have common fields. “At a previous trust where I worked, they had a natal system which instantly shows the NHS number at birth. As part of that we had to register the sex of the child and the sex field was male, female or other. It was left as a free text field so what you actually got was nurses typing in ‘a lovely baby girl’ or ‘a beautiful little baby boy’. I think in the first year we must have had about 700 different types of baby born in that Trust,” says Gupta.

While this is an extreme example the basic problem is by no means uncommon. We are all familiar with public sector bodies asking for the same information in various formats.

Public sector buying is an executive agency of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) offering a procurement service to all parts of the public sector. It provides procurement routes for customers using framework agreements branded as either Catalist or Managed Services that capitalise on the benefits of aggregated buying power.

The agency was formed in April 2001, following the recommendations of the Gershon Report. It was created from the merger of The Buying Agency (TBA), headquartered in Liverpool, and the Managed Services division of the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) in Norwich and London. Basically sets up arrangements for any public sector body to enable them to procure quickly, safely and legally.

To that end, it can either set up a framework for the public sector organisation or it can work out a tri-partite relationship in which it sets up the original framework with a supplier, then the individual public bodies set up their own terms and conditions with that supplier. In this way manages the supplier community on behalf of public organisations, saving them up to 70 days in the typical European Union procurement process.

The group has rolled out a CRM system from Onyx which replaced 14 different databases relating to customer information, including data in Excel spreadsheets and bespoke databases. This resulted in 14 different views of customers and their activities.

What needed was a single view of the customers, the holy grail of all CRM projects, public and private sector.

“We wanted to bring all those systems under one corporate CRM system,” explains Laurence Barnett, development director at

“That’s not unusual in any sector. The challenges we faced were the same as any private or public sector organisation. We needed to create the ability for everyone to see everything. We wanted people to be able to see information across the whole site.

“We need to understand the environment and the pressures that government departments are under and the recent Cabinet reshuffle, for example, will have an impact for years to come.

“The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was changed in very short order in one day but that will have an impact for years to come on IT policy.”

So can quantify its returns from its investment? “We don’t sell widgets, so we can’t directly relate sales to CRM,” says Barnett.

“But it definitely helps us clarify customer spend and what savings we can make on behalf of the public sector. The trick is not trying to implement all aspects of CRM in one go. We’ve tried to take an incremental approach. We got slowly into it, not attempting the big bang approach,” he says.

“IT systems in government don’t always have a good record. We were keen that we got the return.”

User uptake

So how do organisations improve the take up of CRM systems? After all, even the most successfully deployed CRM system will be useless if the user base does not want to touch it.

“You have to make it usable and relevant to people’s work,” says Sutherby. “We can talk about the benefits and suppliers are obviously very good at enumerating what they think those benefits are.

“Even in an ideal world, if it worked perfectly, would salesmen put their contact data into it? Well no, they wouldn’t because they’d say ‘my information is in my Rolodex and that’s where it’s staying’. You have to make sure the system is relevant. Either you incentivise users or you make their job impossible if they don’t actually use the system,” he says.

Real world application

It is also a case of buyer beware as what works beautifully in the sales demo rarely works as well in the real world.

“Businesses install financial services CRM software and although it has the right feel and the right names, put it in front of a real user and it’s nowhere near what they do on a daily basis. You pretty much have to rip it to pieces and put it back together again in a way that makes sense to that user.

“It is essential if you are going to get anywhere near the benefits that you want from it. Expectations will change as you do that, as you learn the product. It will all change and it is a complicated project,” says Sutherby.

Gupta agrees adding: “I think it’s the systems builders quite honestly who keep it complex. There are much easier ways. We have got to get over the culture of ‘my data, my way’ and think more corporately. Just step outside the model of ‘mine alone’ and look in the corporate box instead, then you start to break down a lot of the problems.”

Know the risk

Sutherby concludes that CRM can work and is worth the risk, but with provisos.

“It works only if you understand your business model and have an integrated business unit that is willing to
make a decision as a whole,” he says.

“That’s where CRM is failing. It’s a whole business model. I don’t think the public or private sectors have taken that on board yet.”