By Neil Parkin, 82nd Airborne Division Association
DevOps, a closer relationship between development and operations functions based on specific best practices, has emerged as one of the most widely adopted means for deploying and maintaining application solutions quickly and effectively. One can reasonably call it the application development equivalent of cloud computing in its popularity and utility.
DevOps can also provide a fast and efficient way to develop a multifaceted CRM solution, as the 82nd Airborne Division Association found out first-hand. The technique gave us an integrated CRM application suite that has significantly improved the organization's ability to fulfill its mission.
The 82nd Airborne Division Association is a service and fraternal organization supporting both active-duty and veteran paratroopers. It is open to anyone who ever served in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, is currently serving on active duty with jump status, or has ever served in uniformed services on either jump or glider status and has been honorably discharged. For example, U.S. Navy SEALs and U.S. Air Force Special Operations personnel with the requisite credentials are eligible for membership.
The association provides a range of services to members, including paths to business and employment opportunities for recently separated and wounded veterans; food banks for active-duty personnel; fund-raising events, such as 5K fun runs; and scholarships to active-duty and recently separated troopers, as well as dependent children of veterans. The association has only one full-time employee, so volunteers provide most of the management.
Can CRM Fix This Problem?
A couple of years ago, the association was in near-crisis. Its limited number of dedicated personnel, combined with outdated and inadequate technology, led to inconsistent membership management, lack of fiscal visibility and accountability and, eventually, funding shortfalls from insufficient dues collection. That lack of resources threatened to limit the benefits the organization could provide to those who need its support the most.
I came aboard as volunteer chief marketing officer for the organization to help resolve the membership and funding crisis. As a former British Army paratrooper and longtime business reorganization and development executive, I brought a fundamental appreciation of the needs of both veterans and active-duty personnel, as well as of the resources that support organizations require to serve those constituents.
Seeking an IT solution to the problem, I tapped John Bailey, an acquaintance and a Microsoft technology consultant and application solution architect with Unisys.
DevOps Key to Creating CRM System
Working pro bono, John created a CRM solution based on Microsoft Dynamics. Applying DevOps principles such as scripting and automation of application development and deployment processes -- email, membership setup, dues notifications and password management -- John was able to consolidate a sprawling database from some 60,000 records to about 40,000, perform trend analysis to find where contact management had gone off the rails, and begin remediation.
Incorporating other Microsoft technologies, including SQL Server, SharePoint and Project, John created a private-cloud-based environment that allowed fast provisioning of virtual resources for membership management, event planning, short-term volunteer recruiting and other essential functions. John and I also used this development environment to set up online stores for 82nd Airborne merchandise, such as t-shirts, caps and "challenge coins" related to significant association events.
Creating a similar solution on a paid basis would likely have cost the association several hundred thousand dollars.
6 Tips for Developing Effective CRM Solutions
Over the course of the CRM project, we learned some key lessons:
- Decide who your real customers are, and consolidate your databases to focus on those most likely to benefit from your services.
- Prioritize your objectives and address them in priority order -- for example, member-directed services, financial objectives (improved forecasting, increased revenue, lower operating costs) and expansion of services through engagement with other businesses.
- Use off-the-shelf technology as much as possible. It's proven, less costly and easier to integrate than custom programs, and it makes it easier to find people with the skills to maintain and upgrade key apps.
- Employ DevOps practices to automate and speed up development and deployment of critical apps.
- Use the cloud as your primary delivery platform. Whether private or public, it makes resources more quickly accessible to the broadest population of customers.
- Use CRM to track customers' usage trends and apply analytics so you can continually refine your service offerings and anticipate new customer requirements.
Benefits Resulting from CRM Initiative
In addition to avoiding the cost of solution development, the association has realized a number of benefits as a result of our CRM initiative:
- Positive cash flow with greater availability of funds for food banks and other projects;
- Accurate knowledge and control of membership size and demographics;
- Significantly lower administrative costs as compared to similar-sized associations;
- Reduced need for administration (a similar non-DevOps solution could require four or more administrators);
- Lower administrative costs, making more funds available for priority projects;
- Improved financial visibility, predictability and forecasting;
- Economies of scale and administrative savings through increased membership;
- Better ability to monitor and assist chapter activities (help plan 5K runs, for example);
- Real time communication and coordination among HQ, 12-plus committees, and 119 veteran and active- duty chapters;
- Easier solicitation and coordination of commercial sponsorships and business/employment opportunities for members;
- Improved coordination of scholarship donations and applications.
The turnaround at the 82nd Airborne Division Association is a testament to the business value of DevOps for CRM. It shows how readily an experienced developer can create a powerful cloud-based CRM solution from widely available technology by applying the right DevOps principles in the right way.
Neil Parkin is chief marketing officer for the 82nd Airborne Division Association. Based in Lakeland, Fla, he has more than 25 years' experience in international business development and management consulting. He can be reached at email@example.com.