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CRM Implementation Failure Analysis

Looking to learn from a bad experience
We've just abandoned a failed CRM implementation. At least I think we have. We actually abandoned it once before but somehow the CRM software vender and our consulting firm convinced senior management to give it another try. Well since that additional try we've incurred loads more wasted time and money so I suspect this abandonment is definitive. Anyway, I've heard that small CRM projects are more likely to fail than big CRM engagements as the small projects typically get less focus, have fewer trained resources and don't abide by the same disciplined processes as larger implementations. I was wondering if this is true? And maybe to ease my pain just a bit, what is the largest failed government business software implementation failure you are aware of that we might compare our experience?

Response: It's been my experience that smaller CRM and business software implementations fail more frequently only as a matter of volumes; that is because there are far more smaller implementations there are more failed implementations. The factors you raise as associated with smaller engagements are true, however, are less pervasive as government and the public sector has learned from its experiences and the experiences of the private sector.

I encourage you and your implementation project team to perform a diligent and thorough post-mortem on your unsuccessful CRM implementation. Do recognize however that this analysis can only work if sacred cows and vested interests are put by the wayside. Also recognize this type of project is not a blame-game expidition but a search for answers and lessons learned. If you are able to accurately identify, quantify and take away the lessons learned from your experience, I suspect you may then be able re-strategize a successful implementation in the future.

The largest failed public sector business software implementation I am aware of is the Philadelphia municipal water billing system. That city's efforts to replace a 30 year old aging mainframe water billing application has totaled about $47 million over 20 years. This cumulative loss is as of the end of 2007 and the meter is still ticking. The engagement began with a slick name of Project Ocean and started as an Oracle ERP implementation. However, when the city racked up $18.9 million and still didn't have a working system Oracle was scrapped in favor of a COTS (commercial off the shelf) water billing system from Prophecy International out of Adelaide, Australia. The verdict of this enterprise software change and an ultimate implementation completion remains in question.

Generally, failures such as this suffer from inexcusable leadership, ad hoc project management and denial more than any other business or technical limitation. Philadelphia's upgraded billing system is on its fifth iteration of a two decade project. After one of multiple internal audits were performed, in August of 2007 Philadelphia Controller Alan Butkovitz commented that the city "spent money for years of nothing."

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