My favorite word is “alignment”. This describes the situation that happens when an IT department gets it act together and focuses on solving problems for the business. This is actually different from what an IT department normally spends its time doing: keeping the network up and providing help desk support for end users. The folks over at eWeek found out that a number of IT departments have actually been listening to what the rest of the business has been asking for and they are now starting to create custom solutions that solve real-world business problems.
The IT departments have been starting with the single app that has the most valuable information in it, the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application, and then extending it to do useful work. How about if we take a look at 10 of these applications:
- Where’s My Trash (Truck): An Atlanta based company called Trash-It has combined their Microsoft Dynamics CRM Live tool with the Tom-Tom Work application, a GPS navigation tool. This now allows the business side of the house to see where all of their trash trucks are at any time and better manage and control the fleet. Instead of guessing if they have too many or too few trucks, now they know!
- Helping Out The Homeless: San Francisco’s Family Service Agency has the nearly impossible task of running six major helping centers with over 250 staff members. On a yearly basis, they are able to help 8,000 clients. They had a huge problem: how could they tell who they had served and where they had served them? If they knew this, then they could better coordinate their services and make the best use of their limited funding. Their IT department used Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform to build a single integrated record for each client. This allowed the business side of the house, six different agencies, to view each customer’s single record of service.
- Conserve More: The U.S. Department of Agriculture does a lot of conservation work. Until now, different systems had been used to track different conservation projects. Their IT department used Microsoft’s Dynamic CRM 4.0 to build a conservation work tracking application. Now the rest of the department is able to view all of the conservation efforts in a single place.
- Is There A Doctor Here?: The good folks at the Schumacher Group are responsible for providing both doctors and operating teams to over 140 hospitals that are spread out over multiple states. This works out ok if everything is going fine; however, in the event of a natural disaster it can become very difficult to find doctors and get them to where they are most urgently needed. The IT team used Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform to create a hurricane tracking app that integrates doctor location information. This allows the business side of the house to swing into action when disaster strikes and make sure that the right resources are sent to the right locations.
- Geek Map: The Geeks On The Way service found that business was just a little bit too good. Their employees were spending way too much time trying to map service calls so that they could provide the most efficient service to their spread out customer base. Their IT department (yes, Geeks need an IT department also) used the SugarCRM app to create an application that automatically linked with the open source Asterisk PBX phone system and map out routes for their techs to use for service calls.
- Super Bowl Story: The company Total Structures has what I consider to be a fun job – they are in the business of building custom structures. Where this story gets interesting is when you realize that they won the job to build the halftime stage that was used at this year’s Super Bowl (yep, we all saw it for about 30 minutes, but I’ll bet none of us can remember what it looked like!) You can imagine just how complex building a structure that has to magically show up, be used, and then vanish must be. Their IT department used Microsoft Dynamics CRM Live to come up with an application that they could use to track the building of the stage. Now how’s that for stretching the definition of a CRM application!
- HIPPA-Hurray, HIPPA-Hurray!: The Department of Human Services out in Oregon had a real problem on their hands. They were trying to manage Medicaid claims that they were receiving from over 35,000 health care providers in the state. This meant that they were dealing with 60,000 paper-based claims each month. Oh, and the new HIPPA rules were coming into effect. Their IT department used the SugarCRM app to move to electronic forms. As a nice side-benefit, they became HIPPA compliant along the way.
- It’s All About Politics: No matter what side of the political fence you sit on, you’ve got to admire former presidential candidate Mitt Rommney’s campaign team. Their IT folks used Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform to create an app that allowed volunteers to get info out to those who needed it while at the same time using emails to ask for campaign funds. How successful was this app? Well by using it Mitt Rommney was able to raise $20M for his bid. He lost, but still that’s a lot of money!
- You Are In Germany: The Kassel region over in Germany decided to use the SugarCRM app to get more folks to visit them. They designed a social networking platform that was designed to attract all sorts of people: tourists, businesses, and even people who might want to move to Kassel.
- Tracking School Days: So this last one doesn’t really involve an IT department; however, it still struck me as being a very cool app. The Bronx Lab School wanted to be able to both measure and track individual student performance. They decided to use Salesforce.com’s Force.com app to build a tool that would let them track student performance. The very cool part is that it delivers daily updates on each student to advisers, teachers, and (of course) parents.
What I hope that you take away from this short list of novel applications is that it is possible for an IT shop to get a seat at a company’s strategic planning table. All it takes is some careful thinking about what the business is trying to accomplish and the focused application of good ‘ol IT skills to solve those business problems.
Has your IT department ever build an application just to solve a specific business problem? Did you make the app from scratch or did you build it on top of an existing application? Are you currently using your CRM application for anything more than a customer database? What else do you think that you could do with your customer data? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.