CRM Applications Go Internal

As enterprises become more adept at using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Sales Force Automation (SFA) systems to enhance customer relations, the buzz is beginning to build around using these same tools to recruit and retain top IT talent. The question is, will CRM for internal use be the next big bang in IT or will it simply fizzle?

“There is some validity to the concept, but I don’t see a one-to-one correspondence between the care and feeding of IT people and the needs of a customer,” says Donna Fitzgerald, an analyst at the esteemed Gartner Research firm in Stamford, Conn.

Perhaps the lack of a direct correlation is merely due to the newness of the idea. To be sure, all the kinks have yet to be ironed out. As a result, reactions range across the entire spectrum.

Some enterprises are already on the bandwagon. “We use our CRM software quite successfully to track our staff as well as our customers,” confides Jeff Pelletier, owner and executive producer of Basetwo Media Inc., one of Canada’s leading video production companies, based in Vancouver, BC. “‘Highrise,’ by 37signals, has an option to create ‘cases.’ We use these ‘cases’ to keep notes on sick days, days off and any personal or performance issues that may arise. Access to these files is restricted to management who can then comment in the message threads if there are any ongoing issues.”

For every positive reaction, though, there’s adamant criticism that using CRM for internal IT staffing purposes is a bad idea. “As a manager, I find it appalling and hope never to hear of companies actually adopting this as a primary perspective to take toward their workforce,” laments Fitzgerald. “Human beings are complex systems — they are, by their very nature, ‘high touch.'”

In between the adopters and the antagonists, though, are plenty who have yet to consider the idea. “This isn’t a connection that is spoken of a great deal in the HR/talent management market and I’ve not heard it spoken of directly having to do with managing IT staff,” says Lisa Rowan, program manager in HR and Talent Management Services at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

The Human Factor

There are still plenty of questions about how well CRM software would adapt to talent management.

Fitzgerald cautions would-be users to remember that the goal of a CRM system is to capture information that leverages a one-to-many relationship between salespeople and customers. “There is, in general, no correspondence between the ratio of salespeople to customers and the ratio of management to IT staff — meaning the software isn’t designed to solve the problem,” she says.

Human factors raise further doubts. “Who would be maintaining the system, i.e., operating in the traditional role of sales? Certainly not the business units. Staff elsewhere in the organization is interchangeable to them,” exclaims Fitzgerald. “Would it be the IT management staff? If so, this begs the question of why they can’t achieve the same benefit in a more personal manner.”

Among the CRM-like applications favored by HR pros, contact management appears to have the edge, but is mainly used for recruitment purposes rather than retention. “I have seen an increase in the correlation between contact management and recruiting,” says Rowan. She cites PeopleClick as one example of a contact management system designed for recruitment; it recently announced a contact management system expressly to be used to keep in touch with and manage candidates for open. “This is a good use for CRM/contact management, as getting new recruits in the door is itself a sales proposition,” says Rowan.

CRM vs. Everything Else

Still, when it comes to actually managing staff, other technologies are considered much more useful.

“Products like SharePoint are becoming excellent collaborative platforms and can support collaboration, knowledge management, some limited social networking and workflow. A tool like this has enormously more efficacy than a CRM tool,” says Fitzgerald.

“I see lots of applications for social networking software in the workplace,” she adds. “There are applications for career planning/skills software and there are applications for blogging and collaborative software. These are good ideas as long as they are used to enhance human interaction and not replace it.”

However you choose to manage your staff, IT is the best place to try out any new system. “IT staff is generally comfortable with applications and might serve as a good pilot group to try out general workforce management applications,” says Fitzgerald. “In general, if you can’t sell the value of the application to someone who loves software, you will never get the rest of your workforce to adopt it.”

For now, though, it looks as if CRM for internal staffing purposes is getting the pink slip.