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Aiphone's second CRM effort pays off

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Aiphone Corp., a manufacturer of security and surveillance products, decided to deploy customer relationship management software to help it capture and reuse information gathered in technical service and customer support functions. It also hoped to expand the use of its CRM system to other departments, such as sales.

But things didn’t work out as planned. The company originally used Onyx Software’s CRM system, which it installed in March 1998. But when it came time to expand to other departments, Aiphone found the integration would be too complex and too costly. One important limitation: Onyx’s system didn’t integrate easily with Aiphone’s enterprise resource planning system, from vendor International Business Systems, or with its Lotus Notes e-mail system.

"It was our intent to move beyond tech services to customer care and the sales department," said John Mosebar, VP-marketing/market development for Bellevue, Wash.-based Aiphone. "But as we started moving to those other phases, new modules and capabilities were coming at a very hefty price, and the expected results were still somewhat questionable."

So early last year, Aiphone selected and deployed Clear Technologies’ C2 CRM system, which the company chose based on cost, ease of integration and need for minimal customization.

"There is a growing awareness that some companies have systems that are perhaps more complex or difficult to use and more expensive to integrate into other apps," said Joe Outlaw, research director at Gartner Inc. "Occasionally, you’re seeing companies looking more at ease of use, lighter-weight implementations and phased implementations."

That’s essentially the tack Aiphone is taking on its second crack at CRM.

The manufacturer’s technical services department works with various customers—such as resellers and end users—to analyze their requirements and gather the information necessary to specify an Aiphone product that can meet those needs, Mosebar said. The company wanted its CRM software to capture all the information gathered in that process and reuse it in the future—for example, if another employee needs to serve that same customer.

Such customer information could also be useful to salespeople. As they call on a customer to make additional sales, they would have a good understanding of Aiphone’s previous interactions with that customer.

Since moving to Clear’s C2 software, which runs on a Windows 2000 server, Aiphone has better, broader access to the data captured in the CRM system. "It’s allowing anybody in our organization or field offices to come in either through the Internet or through the network and see activity on the system," said Scott Antes, Aiphone information services manager.

The company currently has 30 to 35 users on C2 CRM and expects to have as many as 45 by year end. The software costs from $100 per seat to $300 per seat.

One of the Aiphone’s key objectives in 2003 will be to measure the return on its investment in the software, which it pegs at approximately $60,000. The company avoided at least $100,000 in IT expenditures in the first year by not expanding its Onyx rollout, officials said.

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