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Skills shortage could derail CRM projects

New, fully integrated products require specialized skills that are in short supply, but the effect will be much less for VARs serving SMB customers.

A shortage of skilled implementers could cause delays or cancellations for a quarter of customer relationship management (CRM) projects through the end of 2008, according to a Gartner analyst. But CRM companies working with small and midsized clients may not be affected as much.

An increased focus on generating revenues is pushing companies to deploy more advanced CRM, said Matt Goldman, research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, Inc.

At the same time, new products require more specialized skills, he said, meaning that consultants who know how to deploy them are in short supply. Goldman said consultants for SAP's CRM software will be in especially high demand.

But companies that don't need the most advanced, integrated CRM offerings will not be hit as hard. Channel companies whose customers can use lower-end CRM products, like that offered by San Francisco-based Salesforce.com, tend not to focus on the actual software, Goldman said. Instead, they help their customers with things like developing business processes and training their employees.

"So there's still work to be done. It's just a different kind of work," he said.

How much the CRM skills shortage will affect a company is "driven largely by your individual organization's needs," Goldman said. "What business issue are you trying to resolve? What's your skills gap to make that happen?"

Consulting firms that already serve customers who need more advanced CRM systems should look into expanding their capacity, he said.

Channel companies that are just starting to look into the market, however, should consider not just what demand exists, but whether they will be able to hire skilled employees to meet it.

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