A government spin on CRM

PeopleSoft Inc. is a relative newcomer to customer relationship management (CRM), but it's betting a large part of its future on the technology — and an important chip in that future is the government market.

As part of a rollout of CRM solutions, the company last month announced a product, PeopleSoft CRM for Government, it hopes will match government's push to be more accessible to the public with round-the-clock help desks and one-stop online access to services.

"The emphasis in the past has been on, say, providing a single 20-person help desk for an agency," said Bill Diamond, a CRM industry consultant in PeopleSoft's education and government solutions division. "Now there's a need to scale that across an enterprise and for companies like PeopleSoft to provide those secure, enterprise-scale solutions. It's something that's very important to government now."

Government's rush to get something online often pushes aside any consideration of customer relationships, according to Carol Kelly, vice president and director of electronic government strategies for the META Group Inc. Now there's a real need to integrate CRM applications into government solutions, she said.

PeopleSoft believes it has an advantage over its competitors, which offer basic CRM solutions and then add features for specific markets, said Robb Eklund, PeopleSoft's vice president for CRM marketing. That can turn into an expensive proposition because the extra software has to be maintained separately from the basic CRM product.

PeopleSoft, on the other hand, has just one basic CRM product, in which the features intended for other markets are embedded. A government user could license CRM for Government, and the government market features in the basic product would then be opened up to that user.

"The traditional approach to CRM is to provide a superset [of features] to the basic solution for any given market," Eklund said. "We simply expose those embedded features, depending on which license the user takes out."

Each user takes possession of the same code, but the exposed incremental functionality depends on the license the user buys. That makes the process cheaper for PeopleSoft, because it has just one code to maintain, as well as simpler and cheaper for users because they don't have to buy and implement any extra software.

CRM for Government works with agency legacy applications and also contains a standard integration feature that enables a plug-and-play fit with other vendors' products.

When CRM for Government becomes available sometime this summer, for example, one standard integration will be for ESRI's popular geographic information system mapping products, which will enable CRM users to graphically display location-based situations and events.

Eklund hopes this feature will be a big draw for the PeopleSoft solution. Once it has "staked a position" in the federal market, he said, the number of standard integrations will be expanded to fit other vendors' products.

PeopleSoft officials also expect that the focus on vertical markets will give the company a good chance to compete for CRM business against more established competitors such as Siebel Systems Inc., SAP AG and Oracle Corp.

In the commercial market, PeopleSoft faces a stagnant market at best for the remainder of the year, and Eklund believes there may even be an overall reduction of spending on CRM. The government market, on the other hand, could be a brighter prospect, because agencies are still straining "to get their arms around CRM," he said.

"I don't think government is all that sophisticated in its understanding of CRM. In fact, it's pretty much floundering" over the issue, said META Group's Kelly. "On the other hand, they need to provide support and integration for their enterprise projects, so there's the likelihood of some expansion of CRM" in the government space.

The advantage for PeopleSoft is that government likes to choose vendors that already have an understanding of their needs and some expertise in government, she said. n

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

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PeopleSoft's CRM for Government

Examples of what federal, state and local governments will be capable of doing with PeopleSoft Inc.'s CRM for Government:

* Managing nonemergency "311" communications between government organizations and their constituents.

* Automatically assigning constituent inquiries to the appropriate government department.

* Graphically displaying the location of reported problems and the activities of work groups sent to resolve them.

* Reducing administrative costs through self-service access to online support.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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