A conversion awaits

On the road to the holy grail of simplicity, the unseen irony is that everything gets more complicated. It does for someone, anyway.

It's true what people say that the only thing constant in today's world is change.  And while change may result, ultimately, in simplicity for you, it may mean the opposite for someone else. That unfortunate person is the chief information officer. What's good for you always crosses the CIO's desk first.

There was a time when the CIO was strictly a technologist; buried exclusively in the systems about which he or she made decisions. Now, increasingly, the "New CIO" is an integral member of the business team - someone who understands the need to embrace the bottom line and lead the conversion of business threats into opportunities. Technology minus a firm grasp of business strategy isn't enough. Heads now take in the vista above the parapet.

As new business models are developed, in turn driving increased technology change, consumer expectations multiply in a virtuous loop and the wider economy is forced to adapt. The scale of innovation and its impact is striking. At the heart of what sometimes appears to be a permanent revolution, the CIO must lead in making sure the new business models are cleanly and efficiently automated.

Why‾ Because in so doing, he's protecting his own position: leaving manual workarounds on the desk of the COO will eventually leave him out of key business decisions. Presenting eight-figure estimates to the CFO for seven-figure business cases is an invitation to lose the whole budget offshore. Saying "no" to the CMO will alienate him from being involved in the critical path of defining a successful business strategy and the future of his company.

Worst of all, telling the CEO that things aren't working because software vendors are technologically lacking and make poor partners may be his only choice when problems do arise. And though not ideal, the CIO may have no choice but to make that claim.

The reality is that if billing and CRM are "Public Enemies No. 1 and 2" on the CIO's hit list, we shouldn't be surprised. When business models change, they primarily impact how we interact with consumers and suppliers and how we automate those interactions in billing, CRM and enterprise resource planning. 

If the enterprise applications involved can't adapt to changes we make in the way that we interact - pay, acquire, treat, compensate, support - with the consumer, then no new business models can be effectively introduced. Without new business models, there is no effective execution of business strategy, ultimately leading to loss of competitive edge.

It is billing and CRM that get the blood of the CMO, and the CEO, boiling.

So we must try to understand why CRM and billing become frozen in place once installed, as well as why SOA can provide new degrees of freedom - unfreezing, at least partially, the current static architectures.

New business models that will emerge will also have to be studied, allowing vendors to prioritize what changes they will need to undertake. We should likewise step back and re-assess the role of enterprise software in helping CIOs succeed or fail.


We must address head-on the themes that make some vendors smile and others grimace.
We all know that billing and CRM systems are notoriously difficult to evaluate and select. The "Laundry List" RFP remains the most common tool, but it is clear that function and feature compliancy is great only for today's business models. 

Without a deep intuition about what billing really means and how it impacts the flexibility to adopt future business models, the process almost appears random.  The CMO and CFO have no confidence in the ability of the CIO to take vendors into new business models. They end up insisting that "if they can't take us where we may want to go, at least leave us where we are now," meaning that system replacements are no more than a matter of upgrading hardware and software to do the same old thing as before.

Billing and CRM vendors have a responsibility to empower the New CIO to become the central force, not only in embracing new business models, but also in ensuring that they both happen and they deliver. If we don't, a new CIO, potentially from another industry, will bring in his systems and vendors and do it in our place.

Doug Zone is chief technology officer of MetraTech Corp.