Delivery Director David Biden shares his thinking around CRM systems and proposes an alternative view based on his assessment of current developments in both the private and public sector.

I spend a large proportion of my time talking to senior government executives, technologists, strategists and procurement professionals.

Most of the people I come across within the public sector think they want a CRM. But actually, they are merely taking the first step towards adopting a platform. They are trying to solve a problem of communication within their organisation and with external parties like citizens, suppliers and businesses.

A CRM will help with this and is a common solution to the problem; but if you really want to undertake a fundamental change within your organisation to ensure communication is continually kept up and at the heart of your organisation, then you need a platform not a CRM. Don’t get me wrong, a CRM will obviously help with the problem of communication but it will be siloed communication whereas a platform will allow for open and active communication across your organisation.

A platform (when architected correctly) operates as the underpinning epicentre of your organisation. At a basic operational level, it allows your staff to rapidly access, create and curate accurate up-to-date data and communicate with each other including logging the actions and interactions of teams.

But at a macro level it will fundamentally change the way in which your business operates.

The benefits of a platform

  1. A platform offers connection

Connection – This is the main function of a platform. To connect you and those who wish to connect with you both internally and externally. You get connection with a CRM but with a platform you are able to take that connection far wider and incorporate additional, systems, datasets, AI learning and other methods of communication like social media feeds to build up intelligence and spot trends to enable you to solve your user needs.

2. A platform means you get access to continual development

Continual Development – With a platform, you no longer need to think about costly future proofing of your IT solutions. With just a few click you can tap into up-to-date capabilities which will allow you to be flexible in meeting the ever changing needs of your business and customers. Platform providers carry out extensive analysis of the market to ensure that their platform offers everything you would need to run your business.

3. With a platform you get access to a whole eco-system

Eco System – Access to an eco-system means access to a community of partners who can extend the core of the platform to other useful functionalities which you may want to implement straight away or much later. The eco-system offers you unparalleled choice and flexibility which cannot be matched by a CRM on its own.

Buy vs Build

So I need a platform. Now what? Do I build the thing or should I buy it?

The answer is simply to buy. With the quality of Platforms available, there is no reason you should build your own platform (or a CRM for that matter). If you do, then you are missing the entire point of a Platform. You will not build a platform better than what is currently available, unless you’re prepared to spend a fortune building a community of partner tools & systems that all integrate with the core of the platform.

Unless you’re a Platform business, you will not be able to maintain and develop it at the level required to keep up with those available in the market and it will not be cost effective to do so.

Ever seen the programme Grand Designs? The people on the show build their own houses. They almost always end up with exactly what they want, but they are always over budget and way over time.

Building a platform is the same. You will get exactly what you want, but it will be very expensive and will over-run. You also won’t have the luxury of calling a builder when anything breaks as you’ll be the only one that knows how your platform runs so be prepared to support that for the next 10 – 20 years. Oh and don’t forget the continual development you’ll need to do just to maintain it and ensure you’re keeping up with the new technology and your users’ ever changing needs.

Challenge Ownership

To successfully implement a platform however, you will need to challenge ownership within your organisation. That’s ownership of technology, process, people and budgets.

Most organisations within the public sector are not set up to operate as a platform-based business, so it’s all about Education, Education, Education. Example – You’ll need to teach procurement how to buy PaaS and how this is very different to buying software. You’ll need to teach Service owners the skills of being a great product owner so that they can leverage the power of continual development and ensure they are constantly evolving their service and the tech it runs on to meet their users’ needs. And you’ll also need to educate the management team on how they can get the most out of their platform by effectively using the data within it to predict trends, manage costs and develop their people.

You’ll likely need new roles like a Platform Manager, possibly even a team of developers. On the plus side, the platform will allow you to reduce roles in other areas since the platform will be able to automate a lot of your workflows and automate checks.

Reduce Friction

Friction is a killer in any organisation whether it be between people, users or systems. Platforms help to reduce friction on the front-end:

    1. 1. Thanks to user-friendly workflows and portals for your citizens or customers to use.
      2. Through communities that you can create to bring your citizens and staff together via the web and your platform. Here is a great example of a community built off of the Salesforce platform here:

Meanwhile, on the back-end side, your staff will be able to share and analyse data thanks to API-enabled connections between your systems and the platform – allowing you to serve those citizens and customers better and more efficiently (ultimately saving you a small fortune in the process).

If you are considering digitising your organisation through the use of cloud platforms, I’d recommend watching this video where I share best practices based on my experience helping traditional organisations like Ofcom and Companies House.