It’s a story we hear time and time again. A global organisation, which has grown organically and through acquisition over the years, has ended up with a huge and disparate footprint of systems that make it difficult to deal with customers in a unified way.
This is the situation that credit check agency Experian found itself in, where due to its fractured nature, customers were finding it difficult to interact with it, and employees were finding it hard to properly service its clients.
In recent years the organisation has redesigned its global processes and consolidated onto a single Salesforce CRM platform - no small feat. Tom Mueller, SVP, Global Sales and Service Enablement at Experian, was speaking at Dreamforce in San Francisco this week, where he shared his tips for making such a project a success. He said:
Why did we go down this path? I assume some of you are in a position where you have multiple organisations and you’re thinking about consolidation. Our strategy was pretty simple, our clients were telling us that we were difficult to work with, and our employees were telling us that it was really hard to get things done on behalf of those clients.
Experian grew up as a very decentralised organisation. We ended up with about 25 different CRM platforms across the globe, none of them looked the same, and they certainly didn’t talk to each other. You got a very siloed experience, it was very frustrating. Our exec team said that we had to be easier to do business with, so we launched a programme to clean this up over a couple years span.
Take your time
Mueller’s first piece of advice to delegates was that organisations in a similar position should take their time to properly plan and think about how they actually want to function as a business. It’s very tempting to start ripping our existing systems and simply throw them into the cloud - but this is a missed opportunity. He explained:
A lot of the time with big orgs, you know you have this problem and you want to dive in and start fixing things. There’s this temptation to sign the software deal and start deploying. We took a slightly different approach and I think it played well. We delivered our programme on time, over scope and under budget.
We said that before we start we are going to take a step back and look at global process design. We took about six months and went though global business process design. We had pulled together key stakeholders from across the organisation that were very influential, that either knew the existing CRM, or the existing business process really well, and went through what we called a global blueprint.
We trapped ourselves into a room and committed to not leaving until we had agreed on common ways of doing things.
He said that once Experian got going, there was a common temptation to take what they had done in the old systems and move them into the new system, because it’s familiar. However, Mueller said that he “highly recommends” that you don’t do that. He said that companies should take a step back and think about how you want to run your business in the future and design future state processes, eliminating confusing ways that your customers interact with you.
We essentially went back to our original strategy. We need to make it easier for clients to do business with us and easier for employees to get their work done.
The way we did it was we formed this advisory committee and did a pilot, an early adopter programme, it was fundamental. We were very clear in terms of who we picked for our pilot. Where were they in proximity to our core team? How open and receptive were they to the change? Grill in and test out our new way of doing business before we scaled to the broader organisation.
It was interesting because our legacy was broken. People wanted to move to a new and better way of doing things.
Data is key
Again, a common faux pas that companies make when embarking on these consolidation projects is that they forget to cleanse and fix their data. If you don’t do this, it’s very common to end up with systems and processes that can’t be trusted, because the underlying data isn’t worthwhile. Mueller said:
If there’s one thing you take away from this session, if you don’t invest in your data migration, it really can be the ingredient that can undermine your entire programme. Imagine you have all these systems with multiple data and none of them are structured similarly. We knew that in order to get to a common way of doing things and ultimately good management information, we needed to do a heck a lot of work to clean everything up, standardise, normalise and model out how things were going to work.
Experian tackled this in a number of ways. Mueller explained:
We did a few things. First of all it was think about your long term picture about how you’re running your business and what data you need. The second thing was planning, which seems obvious, but the data game often comes late in the programme and then you’re chasing. And then you migrate bad stuff into the new system, you can run into adoption issues and reporting problems.
My third bit of advice is have a dedicated focus team of data experts and that is their full time job. Data is just incredibly complicated, so you need to find your data experts within your organisation and give them the space and the resources to do this properly.
There’s a temptation to lift and shift the data, people freak out because they need the data, but we pushed back very hard on that. Let’s bring forward the meaningful minimum, but lets have an effective archiving strategy as well, so if we forget something is critical, then we can dip into that archive as well. Treat it as a great housekeeping opportunity.
Mueller explained that Experian also recognised the importance of effective change management. It was treated as a programme that was almost as important as the broader technical programme - where, as with the data challenge, Mueller created a specialist team to help with bringing the organisation along on the journey. It was helped by the fact that the programme had senior executive buy-in. Mueller said:
We really wanted to evolve to a whole new operating model, a whole new way of doing business, and what that means is asking your employees to think differently about how they do their job. And that’s jolting to people, so we took it seriously.
We were fortunate that our exec team recognised the need for this programme, so we continued to lean on those relationships. And so we kept our leaders informed and engaged as we went through the programme - what are we building, how we are phasing it, how is it going to impact their people, what resource expectations do we have on their business, how can they partner with us in terms of communications and setting expectations?
In addition to this, monitoring the progress of the programme and ensuring there was effective governance after Experian went live with Salesforce was also key. Mueller said that these were constantly evolving, given that there were different metrics and requirements at different stages of the project. He explained:
The second major pillar of the programme was measuring our success, incrementally as we went. We had agreed in the business case a whole set of KPIS - so how were we defining success and how were we tracking and measuring that as we went? Our change programme evolved over time.
In the early days we were just looking for things like, are people showing up? Are they logging into the system? Eventually it evolved to, to what extent are people adapting to our common processes and using Salesforce reporting to get to that? What we are looking at now, is how is the investment generating a return? What is happening with service cycle times? What is happening with sales results?
These are probably fairly obvious things that you might want to do, but we took them very seriously. We were making a very serious capital investment in our future, and you need to make sure that the work you are doing aligns with your overall company strategy.
We formed an executive steering group to keep those key stakeholders across multi-disciplinary functions engaged and informed as we were going. And to use that as a check to make sure that what we are building is aligned with what the company needed. They guided us along the way, making sure it aligned with where we were going long term. We would use them as communication spokespeople, if we ran into resource bottlenecks we could use them to break that up.