Pulling the Plug

By Doug Bartholomew Print this article Print

Why Citizens National Bank threw out Siebel in favor of Intuit's QuickBase.

Pulling the Plug

Citizens National struggled with the Siebel system for three years before pulling the plug in 2004. Although Siebel was OK for managing the bank's customer call center, according to Singleton, his relationship banking team struggled without success to get any benefit out of the CRM package. "It failed miserably with our relationship bankers," he says. "Our CRM journey was a nightmare. Finally, we shut it down because there was no return on it. It was a $500,000 education for us." Citizens National took a loss on the software, which cost $150,000, and on $350,000 in integration costs.

Although he wasn't familiar with the former Citizens National account, Mark Woollen, vice president for CRM product strategy at Oracle, which acquired Siebel Software, says not all CRM users have the same needs. "Different business processes mandate what users need," he says. "Companies need to decide if they are looking for a toolkit or an application."

Fortunately for Citizens National, Furney, who was committed to making CRM work at the bank, came up with an alternative. While searching on Yahoo for an "online database," The Small Business Solution president found a hosted system from Intuit called QuickBase.

Although not exactly known as a leading player in the CRM market, Intuit, best known for its Quicken financial program for consumers and QuickBooks for small businesses, has been making some inroads into corporate America with QuickBase. An odd mixture of technologies, QuickBase isn't easily described, simply because it doesn't fit into a single neat application category. It combines elements of a database, a spreadsheet and a sales management application, all in one package.

"I call it the ultimate in rapid application development," Furney says, referring to how business people can customize the system to meet their needs on the fly, without calling in an I.T. staffer. "It's kind of a do-it-yourself application," he adds. "I mean, what else would you call it when you've got a bank president doing software development?"

Intuit claims that 43 of the Fortune 100 use it. Still, compared to Siebel and SAP, Intuit's share of the CRM market is so minuscule that it doesn't even rank among the top 20 customer management software firms by revenue, according to a 2006 report from AMR Research.

Maybe that's why Oracle doesn't sound too worried. "We don't really compete against QuickBase," Woollen says. "That's an architecture that provides developers with tools to extend it. An application with years of experience that has been developed based on best practices in CRM is more useful."

One reason some small and medium-size companies, as well as groups within larger ones, are adopting QuickBase is its flexibility. Intended not just for customer management, QuickBase—which is actually more of an easily modified database than a full-fledged business application—can be harnessed for other business tasks. For example, Procter & Gamble uses the system to track technology projects.

Because it's easy to use, runs online via any browser and doesn't require an I.T. professional to set up, the hosted application is finding its way into all kinds of businesses. "Probably what's happening is that departments or workgroups that can't wait for I.T. to create an application are getting a hold of it," Furney speculates.

Affordability, flexibility and ease of use are QuickBase's chief advantages. "A business group can build reports that meet the business users' needs without going to IS," says Intuit product manager Peter Fearey. QuickBase's low cost doesn't hurt, either. According to Fearey, customers pay an initial one-time fee of $249 for the first 10 users, and $3 per additional user per month.

The software, which presents business information in a tabular format with a number of fields, can be used by a business person in either of two modes: forms, in which information, such as a customer name and all the contacts by sales staff with that customer, can be input or read; or views, in which rolling columns—for instance, listing all the sales opportunities for a particular salesperson—are presented containing business information, similar to a spreadsheet.

Sales opportunities, for example, are classified by stage, including: identifying prospects, qualifying them, analyzing a client's needs, preparing a proposal and finally, reporting the result—won, lost or no opportunity. "That way, bank managers can see how many deals are likely to close," Furney points out.

Furney integrated QuickBase with Citizens National's core banking system. New account information such as new customers is uploaded each night from the Intuit-hosted QuickBase system to Citizen's back-end core banking application from Kirchman, using an eXtensible Markup Language interface. For example, a banking representative can click on a commercial customer's file and immediate see all the contacts that have been made with that customer by bank staff, any actions that were taken on the customer's behalf, and the end result. Citizens National bank representatives use it to check on customers to see if there has been a follow-up call to a contact, whether a voice-mail message was left with the customer, who the salesperson was and the status of the contact. "It's been an invaluable tool for us to keep track of our customers," Singleton adds, "because it enables us to track where we lost business, so we know where we need to make those extra 10 or 15 sales calls."

This article was originally published on 2007-02-26
Doug Bartholomew is a career journalist who has covered information technology for more than 15 years. A former senior editor at IndustryWeek and InformationWeek, his freelance features have appeared in New York magazine and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. He has a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.
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