Sunday, 5 March 2017

Reading between the lines - a good time to bury bad news?

Try not to believe your own hype!
Image © BBC  

If I've learnt one thing in my forty years in industry it is this; when it comes to working with contractors and consultants you end up either feeling ripped off or disappointed with the final product................

.............and if you're really unlucky it will be both.

Reading between the lines

So excuse me if I'm more than a little sceptical when I read the latest report on the progress with the British Eventing IT Transformation Project. As with most progress releases of this type it is what is not said, rather than what is said, that is important. Add to this the timing of the release, in the week when the eventing world is rightly focused on getting out to the first events of the year, and you do have to wonder just what the message is that we are being given here.

Time, Cost,

Of course what we are not being told is the cost but we can rest assured that it is not insignificant - probably in the £Ms, but that shouldn't be a problem as long as we get what we want. The programme is a little clearer although there does appear to be some softening of deliverable targets since the Board Meeting reported in October 2016. That release might have led you to believe that the work would have been complete by May 2017;  certainly the release from June 2016 talks about final delivery in 2017 but that seems a long way off in the March 2017 release which talks about the roll out of the entries system (EARS) in 2018 "to those events that would like to use it"! The new website, which most members will see as the flagship of the roll out, is now not promised until later in 2017.

And Quality?

So if the news release is thin on details for two parts of the Project Management triangle it does at least provide a tantalising glimpse of just what it is we're procuring. In a nutshell this is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database, running on a product called Salesforce, and integrated by a IT Consultancy Company called makepositive (one word, lower case, make in black and positive in bold pink). What is that to do with horses you may ask - let me try and enlighten you.

Customer Relationship Management

"CRM is an approach to managing a company's interaction with current and potential future customers that tries to analyse data about customers' history with a company and to improve business relationships with customers, specifically focusing on customer retention and ultimately driving sales growth.

One important aspect of the CRM approach is the systems of CRM that compile data from a range of different communication channels, including a company's website, telephone, email, live chat, marketing materials, and social media. Through the CRM approach and the systems used to facilitate CRM, businesses learn more about their target audiences and how to best cater to their needs.

However, adopting the CRM approach may also occasionally lead to favouritism within an audience of consumers, resulting in dissatisfaction among customers and defeating the purpose of CRM."

Source: Wikipedia

So I read this as a method for an organisation to manage its customers by processing and analysing data from a range of sources. In BEs case I assume customers are Members so the method and the tools it demands must be being adapted for our use - such adaptions are generally never straight forward and are where delays and cost overruns start to occur. 

"Salesforce is much more than just a CRM solution. It brings together all your customer information in a single, integrated platform that enables you to build a customer-centred business from marketing right through to sales, customer service and business analysis. This gives you more complete understanding of your customers to drive your business’s success. That’s why we call it the Customer Success Platform."

Source: Salesforce Website

Hence the heart of the BE solution is a product called Salesforce which presumably does what it says on the tin. We are told that the IT Working Group undertook "a great deal of research looking at the various systems available" before deciding that Salesforce was the "ideal platform to meet our needs" and I've no reason to question their conclusions. This would hopefully be centred on having a single integrated platform that is widely supported and future proof. This doesn't mean there wont be upgrades because there will; but hopefully a wide user base and support infrastructure will mean these upgrades keep coming and will be supported.


"makepositive offer an unique cloud customer engagement solution that puts your customers at the heart of your business, whilst also driving significant increases in revenue.

Powered by Salesforce and NewVoiceMedia, our complete end-to-end customer engagement solution has impressed some of the UK’s biggest brands. Here’s how:

omni-channel management
•single view of customer
•clever situational routing,
•efficient customer transacting,
•increased advisor productivity
•powerful management reporting"

Source: makepositive website 

So if the heart of the BE solution is Salesforce then the brain is makepositive. And while you might be wondering "so how is all that going to stop me being balloted out at Aston-Le-Walls or Gatcombe" it possibly won't but you can't argue with the enthusiasm and professionalism that comes through the makepositive website.

makepositive describe themselves as "obsessed with Salesforce"; I'm not sure obsession is a good thing as it can lead to "Group Think" and a reluctance to innovate and accept challenge but I'm prepared to be charitable, accept it is a fair sound bite and hope that their obsession can be turned into the positive energy that will be required to drive this Project through to conclusion.

In Summary - we are on a journey

The objectives of the IT Investment Project remain laudable and given the vision and complexity of the task we should not be surprised that delays in implementation have occurred. Undoubtedly delays can lead to cost over runs and may ultimately lead to BE having to consider just how deep their pockets are.

In managing these type of IT Programmes it is essential for the customer to maintain governance and control and remain focused on the key objectives. A point may be reached on the journey where having spent so much it becomes inevitable to spend more to reach the final destination. So my conclusion is that while we should not be totally disillusioned with the March 2017 progress report it is perhaps a warning that arrangements need to be reviewed, tightened up and put right now thereby avoiding more costly and painful remedial action in the future.    

About the Author

David Robinson is an avid supporter of British eventing. He has a wealth of experience delivering C&I Programmes in the Civil Nuclear Industry and was part of the Project Management Team responsible for the delivery of the highly successful Sizewell B PWR. David has professional qualifications in both Engineering and Project Management and is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
The views expressed are those of the author and not his employer.

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