When we last visited AAA Mortgage, we took a look at why the small firm, a 40-person residential mortgage brokerage business, decided to make the leap into deploying a full-blown customer relationship management system.
AAA Mortgage envisioned that a CRM solution would make a perfect complement to the company's deployment of Great Plains systems in its back office. The mortgage brokerage was willing to spend what it needed to develop a system that would bring its disparate business processes together into one tightly integrated, Web-based flow of data. Now, all AAA Mortgage had to do was find the right integrator to make its intuitive loan-processing program a working reality.
AAA Mortgage turned to I.B.I.S., an award-winning Microsoft-certified business solutions provider located in Norcorss, Ga. The two companies had worked together before on other IT projects, but never one quite as ambitious as this CRM venture.
Founded in 1989, I.B.I.S. is a Microsoft Certified, full-service consultancy that provides business transformation solutions related to enterprise resource planning, supply chain management, and CRM systems. The small firm is well versed in developing demand-driven technology solutions tailored to meet specific business needs.
I.B.I.S. and AAA Mortgage made a good match. The solutions provider focuses on partnering with firms that comprehend and embrace new technologies and AAA Mortgage sought to leverage Microsoft CRM to its full potential. I.B.I.S. knew it had the people, the expertise and the resources to make it happen.
Lee House, of I.B.I.S., explained how the company handles a project like AAA Mortgage's CRM deployment.
"Our first step was to do a knowledge-transfer with the client," House said. "We needed to get familiar with the applications they used, so we could help set expectations for the CRM deployment. It's a reality check of what the entire business solution would entail."
The Plan is Hatched
I.B.I.S. is well versed in CRM solutions. The company has hands-on experience in deployments of CRM systems from Siebel, PeopleSoft, Onyx and Pivotal. But AAA Mortgage already had several Microsoft-based systems in place, so Microsoft CRM best fit AAA Mortgage's needs.
The time it took AAA Mortgage and I.B.I.S. to implement Microsoft CRM was remarkably short less than a month. It was also far less expensive than AAA Mortgage anticipated. Hal Todd, AAA Mortgage marketing manager, said the company had hoped to achieve a positive return on its investment in about a year.
"We utilized I.B.I.S. for evaluating the software products, systems development and systems configurations. We also counted on them to test the entire system and integrate it with our back office applications," Todd said. "We were hoping to achieve a positive return on our investment in 6- to 12-months, but it wasn't even close. The integration of Microsoft CRM into our business processes paid for itself in less than a month, when you consider our increased productivity and profitability on each transaction we really accelerated our turn times."
House said that the cost of the CRM project was kept down because an infrastructure build-out was not required to complete the AAA Mortgage deployment.
"Costs were minimal because there were already a Microsoft shop. A lot of the accounts we deal with are Microsoft based, and we're very familiar with Active Directory and Windows 2000 servers, so all we needed to do was install the CRM system and configure the integrated environments," House said. "For the AAA Mortgage deployment, about .60-cents of every dollar spent went toward services, implementation of the project, software licenses, and annual support."
Testing a CRM system prior to deployment is a bit cheeky. The key to a successful CRM implementation is making sure that the proper data is pulled to populate the system correctly. That's kind of like being in the right place, at the right time, with correct change at hand all the time.
House said about the only thing a business solutions provider like I.B.I.S. could do to test a CRM system prior to deployment is to follow all the business rules set forth in the application, painstakingly setup the initial configuration, and test the system to confirm that all the right actions would fire at the right time.
"We're proponents of Microsoft CRM because what it does, it does really, really well," House said. "CRM technologies have been knocked for limited readiness, but if realistic expectations are set, that's not the case. Microsoft CRM is as ready as any CRM solution straight out of the box. AAA Mortgage had very specific goals for the CRM deployment and we found we could meet these goals because Microsoft provides a very flexible product."
The Curate's Egg
Of course, not every CRM implementation goes as well as AAA Mortgages' did. House said that's because CRM solutions are a bit misunderstood by the market.
"The first hurdle a successful CRM deployment has to overcome is unrealistic expectations, " House said. "Any business can benefit from CRM, but it's more challenging to set realistic expectations for the project than it is to do the actual deployment. We need to understand all our partners' goals, and they need to understand what the products can and can't do."
When it comes to integrators and third-party service providers, some small businesses have been left with a bad taste in their mouth, the result of botched IT projects that produced unforeseen cost overruns. House offers this advice when securing an independent software vendor or systems integrator to complete a major IT project.
"Difficulties can arise when dealing with organizations that don't want to listen or want to do the actual deployment themselves that's usually when we're called upon to come in and fix what's broken," House said. "AAA Mortgage had very realistic goals set, we knew the products well, and together we set realistic expectations for the CRM deployment. It's very important that we understood our role in the project, we have to make sure there is open and straightforward communication throughout the entire process."
Where others solutions providers occasionally fail, I.B.I.S. thrives, because the company works hard to listen to its clients, choose the right products, set expectations, and get the job done right the first time.
"We have to prove we're a credible business partner, but we have to prove we're a competent vendor first," House said. "We were able to prove our credibility with AAA Mortgage, which is why they continue to count on us for supporting some of their IT systems."
AAA Mortgage's Todd said the company chose I.B.I.S. for their knowledge, but stick with them as a matter of trust.
"We use I.B.I.S because they've got some talented people, but we've got some pretty talented people inside our company, too," Todd said. "Together, we brought our CRM application live we created it, we deployed it and we integrated everything together in just three weeks. Their IT knowledge is deeper than ours, but at the end of the day we have to believe in each other's abilities in order to make AAA Mortgage operate better."
Next week, in the final part of our analysis of AAA Mortgage's CRM deployment, we'll take a look at how the CRM system is working, see if the system has lived up to the company's expectations, and if the investment made by the mortgage brokerage firm was really worth the effort.
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