Implementation and Maintenance

Just when you thought you were done, you still have to think about what it will take to actually implement and maintain this monster, I mean the CRM system. It's often a matter of trade-offs between the functional and technical requirements on the one hand and the implementation and maintenance requirements on the other. The more functional and technical requirements you have, and the more sophisticated they are, the more difficult and costly the implementation and maintenance will be. You may need to compromise. I strongly recommend setting firm limits on implementation and maintenance requirements right from the start, and refusing to consider tools that require more than you can afford. Remember that vendors usually downplay implementation and maintenance resources required, so any tool that is advertised as requiring more than you can invest in it should be firmly discarded. Consider the following elements when defining implementation and maintenance requirements.

  • Time. How much time are you prepared to spend on the implementation? If you have an urgent business need, you can't afford to take a chance on a tool that does not have a proven track record of being implemented within your timeframe.
  • Implementation assistance. Does the vendor provide implementation assistance, either directly or through third parties? During evaluation, check whether implementers are readily available or if there is typically a waiting period. (And if so, are they swamped or are the skills required so arcane that no one wants to learn them?) Check if training is available, where, and with what level of advance notice, both for tool administrators and end-users.
  • Maintenance policies. What level of maintenance support do you need? Think about how long old releases should be supported (most vendors only support a couple of releases and discontinue support for older ones). During evaluation, check what the vendor policy might be for certifying their software on new versions of the operating system, database, and other ancillary systems. If your database vendor pushes you to upgrade but your CRM vendor is not certified on the newer release, life will be unpleasant for a while.

    Is there a warranty period?

  • Support program. What level of technical support level do you expect? What support hours do you need? Are there specific support-level agreements (SLAs) you need? Does the vendor provide patches for urgent problems? Check that the vendor provides a knowledge base for technical problems and that the knowledge base is complete and user-friendly.
  • Long-term tool maintenance. Who will be responsible for ongoing administration of the system? Do you expect that business users (that is, non-programmers) will handle simple tasks such as authorizing new users, changing business rules, running metrics, etc.? If so, look for tools that offer user-friendly user interfaces for such tasks (and even the technical staff will appreciate easy interfaces for the simple tasks).

    Are upgrades complex? What tools are available to facilitate migrating to newer releases?

    Even if you use an integrator for the initial implementation, your internal resources are likely to be responsible for ongoing maintenance, so always evaluate the power and ease of use of the customization and integration tools. They will determine the level of resources that will be required to maintain the system and also, more importantly, how likely you will be to get important customizations and integrations done. In other words, poor customization and integration tools often mean a poor implementation because it's just too much of a hassle to make changes to the tool.