IT Departments Focus on Collaboration, CRM

by Rosary Grace Sarmiento, Staff Writer
Computerworld Philippines
January 14, 2002


IMPROVING communication and collaboration, and enhancing customer relationships will be priorities for IT departments this year, IS executives told Computerworld Philippines.

"Assuming that the budget is okay and the projects are approved, our plans for calendar year 2002 would focus on enhancing our communication and collaboration facilities," said Samuel Mallare, Information Technology Services Office director at De La Salle University. ``One way is by integrating Web-based software for message board and chat rooms in our portal.''

Mallare is also keen on setting up additional video conferencing facilities; and providing additional wireless network equipment (access points and network cards) for wireless access, and better intranet search engines to improve information access to the university's intranet. Furthermore, he intends to push the university's wireless information service (DLSU-WISe), which delivers university-related information via short messaging service (SMS) and wireless application protocol (WAP) to students, faculty, and alumni, to a higher level by allowing access to student records, such as individual balances from accounting.

For pharmaceutical distributor Zuellig Pharma, being constantly in touch with its mobile sales force represents an edge over its competitors. So for 2002, the pharmaceutical distributor intends to focus on equipping more of its sales agents with collaborative tools that will keep them connected anytime, anywhere.

"We're pushing for wireless this year. First on our list is the deployment of additional handheld devices to our field agents," said Ray Lukban, management information system manager for customer business systems at Zuellig Pharma. Impressed by the success of their pilot PDA (personal digital assistant) deployment last year, he said they are going full blast in equipping their salesmen with Compaq iPaqs this year.

"We saw how the initial deployment of HP Jornadas have boosted our agents' efficiency and productivity, much to the delight of our customers, who were served in shorter time. With such tools, they were able to book customer orders and check outstanding balances in real time. Also they have been kept posted about stocks availability, price changes, delivery dates, and internal memos right through their PDAs," he said.

Budget cuts, however has affected Zuellig's choice of which PDA brand to deploy. Lukban admitted that they opted for the iPaq, since it is more "competitively-priced" than the Jornada. Their initial budget for this year allows for the deployment of 100 units.

Improving wireless and multimedia communications is also on top of the list for Microsoft Great Plains' IS manager Macario Libid. Aiming to improve individual and team productivity, improvements in these areas are likely to take up much of Libid's time this year.

For Prudentialife Pension Plan, Inc, enhancing customer relationships comes first in the 2002 agenda. "This year, we intend to facilitate data synchronization between our branches and the head office by providing online access to our internal database via secure Internet connection," said Nelson Tandug, MIS vice president at Prudentialife. "This way, we are assured of enhancing our customer servicing as well as financial reporting capabilities."

"Imagine the wealth of information that can be gathered from a consolidated production and customer relations database. The results can be translated to significant competitive advantages. Thus, another priority project is the consolidation of our Siebel CRM and backroom databases into a single data warehouse," he added.

Port operator International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) is also looking at a CRM implementation to strengthen its hold on its clients and to effectively deliver its services. As a port operator, ICTSI performs a variety of cargo handling services, including the loading, unloading and storing of various commercial cargo.

"First on our IT line-up for 2002 is a CRM implementation. We hope to further improve customer loyalty and increase overall revenues once this is in place," said ICTSI MIS manager Elmore Ignacio.

Ignacio also believes that this step is crucial to ICTSI's market expansion this year, when it starts its port operations at the Suape Container Terminal in Brazil.

For companies that have already started with CRM, 2002 is the year of full implementation. Said Zuellig's Lukban: "We are looking at fully implementing our CRM solution, and adding more seats to our call center (which currently houses six agents) to service not only Metro Manila and nearby Luzon provinces, but Northern Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao as well. We are also installing interactive voice response (IVR) technology to minimize our customer care agents' call loads."

Frugal Mode

Slashed IT budgets pushed many companies to consider long-term savings in their projects. The Manila Hotel, for one, has opted to prioritize the training of its IT staff to minimize dependence on vendors for software maintenance.

"Since we are procuring Visual Basic 6 and SQL Servers this year, our efforts will be directed at tooling and training the IT staff in software development languages like Visual Basic 6, SQL Server administration, Web administration, and network administration," said Jaime Aquino, MIS manager at The Manila Hotel. "This will cut our annual maintenance expenses from software vendors, since we will no longer rely on the expertise or support of outside programmers," he added.

Prudentialife's Tandug shares the same view. He said they are migrating to Oracle9i and implementing a multi-tiered applications infrastructure this year to maximize long term savings. "Oracle9i promises key features that will enhance both maintenance and performance of our systems. Browser-based applications will ease up application maintenance and support without the need for more powerful client machines. This latter feature will mean savings on hardware expenses for the organization," he said.

Security

While IT spending will remain slow this year, companies are not likely to think twice when it comes to spending for data protection and security. Microsoft Great Plain's Libid said he is particularly keen on data protection -- back-up and restore, disaster recovery systems, high availability and redundancy. Lukban, for his part, said he has already allocated a chunk of his IT budget for security solutions.

"This year, we will be spending more on content security to control Internet and e-mail access and regulate bandwidth use. Since we are aggressively promoting AsiaRx, our online ordering and payment system, there is a more pressing need now to ensure uptime and bandwidth availability," he said.

Speaking of bandwidth, Libid said he is looking at adapting technology that will increase available bandwidth. "I would rather invest in new technology that improves LAN and WAN performance, like proper bandwidth management. Having this will certainly improve productivity of our users in terms of high availability of connectivity and enough bandwidth to work on," he said.

DLSU's Mallare, too, said he is working on upgrading the university's available bandwidth, currently at 10 Mbps. This and the replacement of clone servers with branded ones, he said, are expected to improve the reliability of their IT services.