Sunday, December 21, 2008

CRM in the real world!

A lot has been said and written about CRM in the last ten years, but unfortunately CRM projects in the south-east Europe are still hard to see, and even those that are formally started are still in the phase of planning. Therefore, it is great pleasure to see a CRM project that has delivered on its promises, and is successfully implemented. One such project is implementation of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 in the IEDC - Bled School of Management, the project that was finished just recently. Since I graduated from the same school one week ago, I got good insight into the status of the project.

Main motivation for the introducing the sophisticated CRM system was rigidity and static orientation of the old CRM software. It's better to call old software Contact management software, since it was basically big database of contacts, with lot of fields added to contact card that had a purpose to describe different interactions between school and clients. For example, apart from MBA courses, school organizes a lot of seminars and other events. To track attendance of these different types of seminars, contact card of the participant had a special field in which was written in what seminars and classes a student has participated. Since it was not uncommon for one person to attend several types of programs, and each program has its own code, this field soon became an unintelligible string of characters. Of course, computer could still decipher this string, but it was hard to assemble meaningful reports and sensitivity to errors was high.

School felt a need for modern, process-oriented, CRM software. Since the old software was hard to change and initial idea to use the CRM functionality of existing Navision implementation didn't hold off, choice fell on the newest version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM family - CRM 4.0. The project, during which CRM was installed on server and 36 client computers, was 10 month long, out of it 4 months went on planning and remaining 6 months on the actual implementation. It's interesting to note that project was based more on the "insourcing" than on the "outsorcing", meaning that majority of tasks were done by internal staff rather than external consultants, who were used usually only for migration of data. Customizations were avoided as much as was possible, using advantage of the already existing CRM functionalities and processes.

But, although transition was successfully done and old software is now defunct, there is still a lot to do in the field of change management. Change in the software needs some time to be fully accepted by the people who use it, and this is especially true for the long-time users of the old program. Nevertheless, a lot of improvements have been seen, from faster executing of everyday tasks like printing labels, to better introspection of different ways of interactions with customers. Being myself a customer of this school, I hope that new software will help school to further develop and nourish relationship with its former, present and future students.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Traditional Businesses in a Changing World

Coming from the Information Technology field, where changes are happening at the speed of light and where new paradigms are introduced almost annually, back in my mind I always had prejudice that, so called, traditional businesses are businesses that are waiting to be thrown into oblivion by some technologically more advanced product or new breakthrough in the field. While, this definitely has happened and may happen to some "traditional" businesses, many of them seem to thrive and even effectively use innovation in their production, for the benefit of all of us. A short trip to Trieste and Slovenian coast last weekend gave me some interesting examples of how "traditional" businesses can prove to be very vibrant and innovative.

First "station" on the trip was visit to the MIB School of management where our MBA group from Bled was guest of the faculty. During our visit we were present at the interesting lecture by Professor Stefano Pilotto: The Italian Economic System and the World Challenge. The main issue of the lecture was role of the Italy and its economy in the world that is changing rapidly. Without going much deeper in this complex issue, I can say that my impression is that Italian response is like this 20-years old MBA school that attracts students from all parts of the world in a beautiful 19th century palace that you can see on a picture above: integrating modern approaches and methods with a rich historical and cultural heritage.

After the visit to the school, we went to visit the company that is an example of a typical successful Italian business: Illycaffe S.p.A. Illycaffe, like most Italian companies, is family owned, has long tradition and is competing on the world market by focusing on what they are doing the best: producing premium brand of the coffee. On the IEDC we were using Illycaffe as example of a company that has integrated through value chain, from production of coffee beans through distribution and consumption of coffee, but I wasn't aware of how big and modern this enterprise is. I mean, how difficult this business can be? Process of making coffee is centuries old: you take coffee beans, roast them, grind them, boil them and you have a beverage that is so popular in western world! But, during visit to the factory, I saw that there are innovations happening in each stages of this process, in fact so many of them that two coffee universities (!?) have been established by Illy in Trieste and Sao Paolo! And classroom of the university in the Trieste, based on what I have seen, is technologically more advanced than any of the classrooms of IT companies that are specialized in technology education!

Next day, after a splendid dinner with students of MIB, we went to "Sečovlje", Slovenian Natural Park situated on the southwest border with Croatia, which is still used for salt production. If coffee making was for me traditional business, than salt making is ultra-traditional business. It is hard to imagine more basic product than salt, and the process of production of salt in Sečovlje remained basically the same from 14th century till now! Nevertheless, Sečovlje has managed to survive and to establish itself as a premium producer of several salt products, of which one of them: salt flower, I have bought for use in my kitchen.

After this short trip of one and a half of day, we have returned to Bled, where I summed my impressions and prepared myself for the last module and big discussions about International Political Economy this week. But, more about that in later posts.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

If you think you can, or if you think you can't, either way, you're right

In these days, when election of Barack Obama for the next president of the USA is the hottest topic in the media around the world, I would like to draw attention to one of his famous speeches, delivered at the beginning of this year when he was still rather unknown outside of the USA. This is not political blog, so I'm not going to analyze his political views or his vision of America, but rather to talk about the way he delivered his speech. Standing in front of large group of people and delivering the speech is so daunting task that very few speakers can do this effectively and leave a strong impression on their audience. Mr. Obama is obviously such a speaker; he uses vivid language, excellent rhetoric and impressive diction. But, above all, what makes his appearance really outstanding, is the passion, devotion and sincerity you can feel while he is conveying his main message: that hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it.

So, next time when you are going to settle for just another compromise and to justify to yourself whatever mediocre choice you are going to make, forgetting the dreams you once had, listen to this speech and remember the quote from Henry Ford: "If you think you can, or if you think you can't, either way, you're right"

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Welcome to my first Blog!

Since this is my first step in the world of blogging, I feel obliged to explain a little bit why I started my own blog.

As an IT professional, I was aware of the blogging phenomena since its beginnings. Of course, I was considering joining the movement and starting my own blog several times in the last few years. But, starting a blog is easy, but keeping it interesting, relevant and updated is not that easy and it takes some time. So, only when I was pretty certain that I will commit time and energy to write an interesting blog and to update it, at average, once a week, I opened my personal blog at blogger.

Saying this, I would like to emphasize that my blog will be mainly business-oriented, with a few posts, from time to time, from my personal life. As I'm finishing my MBA at IEDC on Bled, and having more than 5 years of experience in the IT (information technology) field, I feel competent to write about one topic that is becoming very popular recently: aligning IT with business. This means that I would address mainly two types of readers: business people who would like to find how to use IT more effectively and IT people who would like to learn how to thrive in the business world. I will not be narrowly focused, I will include several topics of broad interest, but I will also not go too wide, keeping my posts short and focused mainly to business audience with interest, or background, in IT.

With your help, I hope I will keep this blog out of becoming just another short blimp in the blogosphere and instead make it a valuable addition to already large "library" of established blogs.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Even an MBA can run a marathon

And not only that, but he can also run his first marathon under the 4 hours!

Yes, I have finished my marathon last Sunday in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, in much better time than I have expected. After six months of training and preparing for the event, I showed myself at the starting line at 10 AM, on chilly but fresh autumn day, ready to run my first marathon. For those of you who think that preparing for a Marathon is easy task, I have to say that during my preparations I bought 2 pair of shoes, running shirts and shorts, special running watch with pulsmeter (Polar RS200SD), and spent on average 5-6 hours a week running.

Marathon was run in two circles around Ljubljana. We were passing through the city center and also through the more rural areas of the city, in some of which we were even looked upon by some local cows. First circle went pretty well for me, I was fresh, had a lot of energy and even achieved my best time in half-marathon. Then, in the second circle, the real race began. I was running without stopping until 34th kilometer, but then, under much fatigue, I started to combine walking and running for the next five kilometers. But, in the last kilometers, I used my last reserves of energy and run for the total time of 4 hours, even passing some runners in the last kilometer. Usually, people run their first marathon between 4 and 5 hours, and I was very proud to be able to run under 4 hours.

I have to say special thanks to my girlfriend Ivana, who was great support to my effort, and to few of my IEDC MBA colleagues, especially Aurora and Martin, who came to support me. Also, the public was fantastic, boostering my energy level during much of the path, especially in the last kilometer.

At the end I received a medal for my accomplishment, and a massage for my devastated legs.