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Enhanced CRM Systems for gathering product oriented customer features

Abstract In most industrial Small and Medium-sized
Enterprises (SME) communication with customers is conducted
exclusively by marketing, sales and service. Nowadays those
business units apply Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
systems to systematically gather information for the operational
support of customer processes. Several studies illustrate that in
the respective processes a vast body of additional information
streams in directly from the customers, that cannot be collected in
a structured form with current CRM systems. Examples include
product demands, product experience or benefits of
competitor-products. Moreover this information is only rarely
transferred to the business units R&D and production. For those
product oriented business customer knowledge is imperative for
effective product development and enhancement. Without data
integration across units’ borders a valuable source of available
customer information is neglected.
This situation motivates the development of a concept for a
solution that facilitates gathering product oriented customer data
with CRM systems, and that enables a direct transfer into existing
CAx systems. The solution utilizes feature technologies which are
modified to enable the direct integration of “customer based
features” into CAx systems. In this way, the voice of the customer
can be immediately used to enhance product development and
manufacturing processes.
Feasibility and validity of the concept are evaluated by building
a prototype that enhances and integrates both a typical CRM
system and a standard CAD system.
Index Terms — CRM, CRM integration, customer based
product features, customer product knowledge management
The increasing stress of global competition forces Small and
Medium-sized Enterprises (SME) in the industrial goods sector
to carry out ongoing reengineering activities of manufacturing
processes and to establish tightly integrated processes in the
Manuscript received July 30, 2007. This work was supported in part by
Dassault Systemes and CAS Software AG.
Heiner Lasi is with the Institute of Business Administration, Department
VII, Chair of Information Systems I at the University of Stuttgart, 70174
Stuttgart, Germany (phone: +49 711 685 84185; fax: +49 711 685 83197;
Dr. Henning Baars is with the Institute of Business Administration,
Department VII, Chair of Information Systems I at the University of Stuttgart,
70174 Stuttgart, Germany (e-mail:
Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Kemper is with the Institute of Business
Administration, Department VII, Chair of Information Systems I at the
University of Stuttgart, 70174 Stuttgart, Germany (e-mail:
customer oriented business units marketing, services, and sales.
For many SMEs a major building block for ensuring
competitive strength is the introduction of a Customer
Relationship Management (CRM) system that ideally creates a
holistic view of the customer and assures consistent customer
oriented processes [1].
Although there is a widespread implementation of CRM
systems in customer oriented business units, a widely
unnoticed lack of integration with product oriented information
systems, that are also dependent on customer information, still
remains [2][3][4]. This research aims at closing this gap
efficiently by directly exchanging customer feedback between
CRM and CAx systems.
It needs to be acknowledged that there are already
considerable integration efforts within the product oriented
business units on the one hand and customer oriented units on
the other:
On the product side there is a trend towards integrated
product data management (PDM) and product lifecycle
management (PLM) systems [5][6]. In the customer oriented
business units customer based information systems are
integrated into larger enterprise resource planning (ERP)
systems [7]. It is nevertheless uncommon to provide functions
for gathering product related knowledge from the customer
with the purpose of exchanging it with R&D and production.
A common approach to tackle the information gap is known
under the term “customer knowledge management” (CKM).
CKM aims at gathering, organizing and sharing customer
knowledge across an organization. Based on knowledge
management in general, the focus of CKM is “customer
knowledge” which encompasses both relevant information
about and relevant information from the customer. Usually,
CKM subsumes the implementation of an enterprise-wide
customer knowledge management system and incorporates
both organizational and technical measures. The current
discussion in CKM research is primarily focused on aspects of
the implementation and the usage of CKM systems. Recent
CKM systems include functionality for process assistance with
workflow management systems and knowledge discovery with
text mining technologies [8][9][10].
Enhanced CRM Systems for gathering product
oriented customer features
H. Lasi, H. Baars, and H.-G. Kemper
Proceedings of the World Congress on Engineering and Computer Science 2007
WCECS 2007, October 24-26, 2007, San Francisco, USA
WCECS 2007
Another popular approach to transfer customer knowledge to
R&D is the Quality Function Deployment (QFD) set of
methods. The central idea of QFD is the translation of customer
requirements into specifications for the engineer. The
fundamental concept for this transformation is the “house of
quality”, which is used for the mapping of requirements to
specifications. The actual elicitation of the customers demands
is not part of QFD [11][12][13].
We propose a third approach to bridge customer oriented and
product oriented business units: a direct machine-to-machine
integration of established product and customer oriented
information systems under consideration of the associated
methods and data structures.
Especially for SMEs, integrating existing IT systems rather
than introducing additional systems appears to be more
attractive, because:
marketing-, sales- and service staff members can
gather customer knowledge with CRM systems they
already integrated into their daily routine,
R & D staff members and product managers obtain
customer knowledge in their familiar CAx
environment using their professional “language”,
sensitive customer data like sales opportunities does
not leave customer oriented units, while sensitive
product data like construction know-how stays within
the confines of product oriented departments.
Because of the SME focus of the discussed research the
integration approach was chosen. The derived research
question is, how to enhance common CRM systems to enable
customer product knowledge in a structured form and transfer it
into product oriented (CAx) systems.
Most CRM systems are based on customer data, e.g.
addresses, sales opportunities, contact history and journals of
visits. The journals are usually open text fields which are
designed for gathering unstructured text. To analyze those data,
sophisticated algorithms and methods from the text mining
domain are necessary. Because of the differences in context,
conceptualization, and vocabulary between salespeople on the
one hand and engineers on the other, extracting and translating
valuable knowledge for engineers from those fields requires
considerable effort [14][15].
It is therefore preferable to enhance the functionality and the
data model of CRM systems with product oriented functions
and attributes directly designed for usage in development and
production. Part of that task is to ensure a fit between all
relevant product oriented attributes of the CRM system and the
product oriented data models used in CAx systems.
CRM System
customer oriented business unitsproduct oriented business units
research and
development marketing sales customer servic eproductionsupply
enhanced digital mock-up
customerbased view
Fig. 1: Enhanced CRM data model.
A common approach applied in state-of-the-art CAx
environments is the so called “feature technology”. With
feature technology it becomes possible to enrich geometric
oriented CAx data with data objects describing the semantics of
the depicted parts. Examples for semantic objects include
material specifications, information on manufacturing
processes, or material costs of a part. Semantic features can be
either related to geometric features or to other semantic
features. Part of the feature technology is the possibility to
show different views of the CAx data like a “manufacturing
view” or a “maintenance view”. The resulting digital mock-up
is the integration of all views within one compound data model
In the case under consideration, feature based digital
mock-ups with multiple views are enriched by a customer
oriented view for the storage of additional customer oriented
data (see Fig. 1). Those customer features may be linked to
individual parts of the mock-up with the house of quality and
can be gradually expanded with the inflow of new customer
Through feature mapping it is therewith possible to attach
customer based information to products or separate parts. By
integrating an additional component for the customer view into
the CAx system, customer based features can be extracted from
the digital mock-up and be added to the data model of a CRM
system. The CRM is enhanced with additional data objects that
represent the relevant ‘customer based features’. This requires
an additional add-in at the CRM system’s side.
A ‘customer based feature’ object can e.g. contain a feature
name, a feature value, an optional feature comment, a
modification flag, a flag for signaling urgency, responsibility,
or a timestamp. The last attribute might be utilized for the
generation of a history file with feature changes. The fields of
the feature object can be filled by sales, service, or marketing
units staff.
For adding additional context information it is
recommendable to be able to relate each feature object to other
CRM objects, like customer addresses, customer events,
customer sales opportunities, or customer visits.
Proceedings of the World Congress on Engineering and Computer Science 2007
WCECS 2007, October 24-26, 2007, San Francisco, USA
WCECS 2007
The interface of the CRM-add-on should also allow a
synchronization of new or modified customer features from the
CRM system back into the CAx environment. As described, the
customer based features are automatically linked by feature
mapping to the corresponding product, part or feature. New
customer data without an existing link to an actual part need to
be linked manually either by the product manager or the
construction engineer.
Therefore, the CRM add-on provides functionalities for
gathering structured data, defining links to customer object
classes like addresses or maintenance contracts, as well as for
reporting changes in customer based features. All of this can
influence counseling and sales conversations, the service
quality and the complaint management in a positive way.
To demonstrate the feasibility of realizing the enhanced CRM
system, a prototype was developed. It was built upon both a
standard CRM system and a standard CAD system. The
selection of the systems was based on market data and
requirements of SME.
On the CRM side, no system was found that included
functions which were compliant with the requirements of
entering structured feature data. Therefore it was necessary to
adapt an existing CRM system using APIs. The selected CRM
system is the standard CRM software genesisWorld® from
CAS® which is based on a Microsoft SQL Server®.
On the CAx side core requirements for the implementation of
the envisioned solution are:
consequent application of feature functionality and
an interface for import and export of digital mock-up
at the side of the CAD system.
It turned out most CAD systems already comply with those
demands. The product eventually chosen for the project was the
CAD software Dassault Systemes Catia® V5.
The prototype contains two components:
1. The first component provides the means for reading out
the digital mock-up from the Catia System and extracting
customer based features. The extracted features are stored in
a XML file. This component also resynchronizes the
modified and new customer based features from the CRM
system into the digital mock-up. To facilitate the usage this
component also contains a graphical interface that visualizes
the customer based view of the digital mock-up. By applying
color coding this interface enables the product manager or
construction engineer to get a fast overview of new,
modified, and urgent features.
Fig. 2: User interface of the enhanced CRM system.
2. The second component of the prototype is implemented
in the CRM System. An additional item in the menu opens an
electronic form to edit or input customer based features (see
Fig. 2, (1)). Its design closely mirrors that of other forms in
the system that are used for gathering customer data. It
includes fields for the input of data on product experiences
and demands, functional characteristics of
competitor-products, complaints and defects.
If the entered information is related to a specific product or
part, those can be chosen from a structured list that is based on
the feature extraction (2).
In case no customer based feature exists to cover the
information, a new customer based feature (e.g. “noise
development”) can be generated (3). This new customer based
feature will be displayed later in the product manager view
inside the CAx user interface.
With the CRM system, values of and comments on existing
customer based features can be directly edited (4). There is also
a possibility to mark a customer based feature as urgent, as in
the example where a feature is heavily affecting a sales
opportunity (5).
As pictured above the prototype allows interlinking different
object classes (6). It is for example possible to link a customer
based feature to a specific customer or customer group, to a
sales opportunity, or to a contract.
One characteristic of the chosen CRM system is, that a
history of changes is automatically stored (7). This enables all
involved persons to get an overview on changes and the
responsible staff members.
The administrator view contains further functionality to
administrate the customer based feature items in the data base
By transferring customer feature data entered in the CRM
system back into the enhanced digital mock-up, the ‘customer
information circle’ is closed (Fig. 3).
Proceedings of the World Congress on Engineering and Computer Science 2007
WCECS 2007, October 24-26, 2007, San Francisco, USA
WCECS 2007
An example scenario that can be supported by the
prototype shall illustrate its envisioned use:
A sales representative of a manufacturer of electronic
semiconductors is told by a customer that a competitor
offers a comparable product with faster signal processing.
The sales representative enters the value “to slow for use in
control of robotics” for the customer feature “response
time” of the product (the parts actually affecting response
times are unknown to him) and marks it as being critical.
Furthermore he can associate the item with the individual
customer, with the date of visit, and with further sales
After the resynchronization with the CAD-System, all
parts of the product which are possibly responsible for the
response time are marked in red color (because of the
criticality of the feature). Other changed customer feature
values or comments are also color coded. The mapping is
utilizing the automatic feature transformation as Fig. 1
shows (based on the attribution of features and parts
originally entered by the engineers by applying the House
of Quality).
After the engineer finishes the redesign of the relevant
parts he can change the value of “response time” to
uncritical. Following the next synchronization, the sales
representative gets a message in his CRM environment
informing him that the “response time” has been dealt with
and that he should therefore talk to his customer again.
In consecutive development steps, constructing engineers or
product managers find the new customer data embedded within
their digital mock-up, wherever possible already matched to
specific parts or features.
customer b ased view
customerbased view
Fig. 3: Customer information cycle.
This paper outlined and discussed the concept for a feature
based enhanced CRM system and a prototypical
The solution aims at closing the information gap between
product oriented and customer oriented business units, so that
products and production processes can be enhanced with
customer knowledge gathered with enhanced CRM systems.
For validation purposes first feedback from industrial SMEs
representatives has been gathered. The replies indicate that the
solution seems to be an adequate way for tackling the lack of
information exchange.
In a further step, it is envisioned to complement the
solution with product and customer oriented data warehouses
(DWH) as depicted in Fig. 4. This step would enable SMEs to
create a production and customer oriented business intelligence
infrastructure (BI) with extensive potential to optimize
products, manufacturing processes and services.
product oriented DWH
Fig. 4: Further development scenario.
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