Don't let CRM data make MIS into misinformation

David Taber

We then analyzed how often those reports were run. Typically, only 20 percent were run over a six-month period; those won't have suffered much from semantic drift and related system-change issues.

The other 80 percent, though, are still out there, offering a tantalizing list of stuff that sounds like it might be appropriate for driving a decision but, in fact, is a minefield of meaningless, misleading "results."

Let's take this up a level. Many companies have lots of instances of CRM. One Fortune 100 company has more than 500 instances, plus a smattering of other CRM systems. As these instances are each customized with their own object model, there's little chance of reports from different systems actually being comparable.

This all adds up — OK, multiplies out — to some fairly spectacular misunderstandings when a report's output is boiled down into a pie chart in a PowerPoint used in a management meeting or external presentation. One of my favorite types of gallows' humor is watching competing vice presidents of sales or marketing duke it out over conclusions when both parties base their positions on rubbish data. These kinds of blow-ups are always detrimental to the credibility of the CRM system and IT in general.

The Get-Well Plan: Build CRM Reports For Users
Like data corruption, report pollution requires some fairly serious fixes. They won't be popular:

  • Turn off most users' capability to create their own reports.
  • In exchange, set up a report-building service that creates and validates reports that are then approved for use. This service should include people who deeply understand the object model of the CRM system and the business-process semantics of the data.
  • Take all the existing reports and hide them from most users. Don't delete them; you'll need to keep them for compliance and data-provenance reasons. They can also provide some guidance for the creation of the new approved reports.
  • To avoid report pollution, require any presentation or internal memo using CRM data - particularly when the document is going to drive decisions - to include the name of the source report used.

Unfortunately, the too-easy-to-use report writers have become an invitation to chaos. It's time to do some serious report house-cleaning to reduce the risk of nasty credibility problems ahead.

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