Bayer's cloud prescription: Extract Oracle CRM, implant Salesforce

Credit: Flickr User Grumpy-Puddin

By 2012, it became clear that Bayer HealthCare had a chronic CRM problem. Five years after corporate cost pressures resulted in a migration from on-premises Oracle Siebel CRM to the cloud-based Oracle CRM On Demand, the house that Larry Ellison built had yet to deliver on a promised significant mobile strategy.

That meant that Bayer's 220-person sales department found itself unable to access customer data or sales collateral from their increasingly ubiquitous smartphones and tablet -- a major problem when its 150 field employees were spending the majority of their day traveling, taking meetings with doctors, and representing Bayer HealthCare at industry events. (Bayer HealthCare is the Toronto-based pharmaceutical and medical products arm of the Bayer AG chemical and medical mega-corporation.)

The solution was to leave the Oracle ecosystem entirely in favor of Salesforce.com. Not only does Salesforce.com bring Bayer that much-needed mobile access, but Bayer CRM Manager Alexei Marcilio says that it's faster, more agile, and, thanks to the Chatter social platform, bringing employees together in new and unexpected ways. 

Apart from the lack of a clear mobile strategy, Marcilio says that users and administrators alike were increasingly frustrated by Oracle's poor performance. Marcilio's number one professional goal is to maximize a sales rep's selling time, to which Oracle CRM On Demand's sometimes-glacial crawl stood at odds. 

In fact, the frustration with Oracle CRM On Demand's speed became almost personal for Marcilio. When Oracle CEO Larry Ellison would take the stage at Oracle OpenWorld to announce a newer, faster Oracle Exadata appliance, Marcilio found himself questioning why these advances never seemed to translate into a performance boost for On Demand, mentally asking Larry Ellison why it was still so slow. 

More than that, Oracle OpenWorld's programming seemed to be around hacks and workarounds to get Oracle CRM On Demand to do what you wanted, rather than real, viable solutions to build on it. On Demand was a product, not a platform.

"We don't want to be in the IT business."

When Bayer first moved its CRM into the cloud circa 2007, it just made sense, Marcilio says. Adding and removing On Demand licenses to scale up and down lent some much-needed flexibility to its CRM deployment, and all but eliminated the necessity of managing CRM servers. That's a huge cost savings for Bayer, which has been under pressure to do more with less and tighten its belt in light of the current economic pinch (and with the rapid availability of generic drugs cutting into Bayer's bottom line).  

"We don't want to be in the IT business," Marcilio says. 

So going back to an on-premises solution was never really in the cards. Bayer Healthcare's early adopter status put the company in the relatively unusual position of switching from one cloud to another rather than starting from a legacy system. 

Microsoft Dynamics was audited for the big cloud switch, but ultimately, Marcilio says that it would have merely been ditching one legacy player with a questionable mobile strategy for another. 

Following a successful pilot of the Salesforce.com Chatter social networking platform in early 2012, a full deployment project began. Marcilio acknowledges that transferring customer records and data from cloud to cloud was more difficult than just getting it from Oracle's legacy system into Oracle's own cloud, but even so, it only took two employees two months to get Bayer HealthCare's Salesforce.com deployment ready for consumption.

What's more, while implementing Oracle CRM On Demand back in 2007 carried an additional few hundred thousand dollars in consulting costs, in 2012 Bayer HealthCare was able to keep the entire Salesforce.com deployment in-house without racking up any extra expenditures. 

In April 2012, the switch was flipped and Salesforce.com went live. It's between 40 and 60 times faster than Oracle CRM On Demand right out of the gate, Marcilio says. And, yes, it works on iPhones and iPads. 

But the really exciting part for Marcilio has come from Chatter, which Bayer HealthCare is using to replace Microsoft Sharepoint for collaboration. Following some remote Chatter training via Cisco WebEx, Marcilio says that employees took to Chatter like fish to water, asking each other questions and picking each others' brains from one side of Canada to the other. These time-pressed remote employees get timely, relevant answers while also forging a team spirit. 

Chatter gives also gives new employees something they've never had before: Context. During the onboarding phase, new Bayer HealthCare sales pros can see every question and conversation asked by more established employees, supplementing the official training videos and manuals with a sense of history and real advice.

Chatter is also being used to ensure that documentation is kept current, an important use-case for a company that has to be vigilant about not putting itself at risk for legal action.

It's been such a hit that it's starting to see adoption outside the sales department's walls. Chatter enables its users to invite outsiders into working groups, so as the company's sales force works with marketing, compliance and research pros all over the organization, the platform's usage only grows. These happy users become evangelists for social collaboration within the company, sparking a cultural shift behind what Marcilio says is often a restrictively conservative company. 

And it's this cultural shift that Marcilio says is really behind the success of its switch from Oracle's cloud to Salesforce.com. When employees are encouraged to speak up, they can find themselves agents of change, Marcilio says, and management has to be ready for that. The reward is an organization that's more ready to meet the challenges of the modern market. Sticking with old-school players like Oracle or Microsoft would never have made that happen for Bayer HealthCare.

But the bottom line, Marcilio says, is to ignore the hype. Just about any cloud CRM solution lets you take a free demo, and seeing is believing.

"Don't listen to anybody, do it yourself," Marcilio says. 

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