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Why Cowen and Co. Moved Into The Cloud

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Keeping track of work it performs for customers is key to the success of Cowen and Company.

So the New York- based provider of investment banking, sales and trading and equity research services for corporations and institutional investors has replaced an aging program for managing relationships with customers it developed in-house, with one that it uses "on demand."

In so doing, its salespeople now get reports 60 percent faster, even though the new customer relationship management (CRM) application is hosted on someone else's computers.

Cowen, in effect, has moved the administration of its interactions with customers into the "cloud," now using software that is installed, maintained and updated at a distant data center and provided as a service by a vendor, Salesforce.com.

Using software as a service means Cowen purchases and pays for the use of the software as it's needed. The company is not locked into costly fixed-fee licenses.

By offloading the administration to the vendor's servers, the company has reduced demands on its in-house servers, saving money and freeing them up for other uses.

The firm's figures it has saved 25 percent on operating and maintenance costs, in the three years since it made the move.

But, most importantly, improved functionality means Cowen can better determine what is important to its clients, in such industries as healthcare, telecommunications, aerospace and defense. This is crucial to the firm's success.

"The nature of our business is that we need to track our customers, coordinate our efforts in working with customers, and create a [clear] picture of our relationship with each of our customers," says chief information officer Daniel Flax.

The firm had been using its own similar application for several years. But that application was costly to maintain, difficult to upgrade and lacked the functionality of some newer software on the market for managing relationships with customers.

The newer applications, for instance, allow integration with finance, publishing and other corporate systems and more extensive reporting on sales efforts and client activity, Flax says.

Cowen replaced its homegrown application in 2006 with a service called CRM Unlimited Edition. The firm chose the Salesforce.com offering mainly because it met the needs of Cowen's employees, in terms of functionality, ease of use and reliability, and the firm's goals for tracking information about customers' activities with Cowen, Flax says.

Also, Cowen managers wanted a platform that they could easily adapt as the firm's needs changed.

CRM Unlimited Edition provides customer information to 250 Cowen employees who work directly with customers. These include research analysts and research salespeople, as well as traders and management personnel.

Using the on-demand application, a salesperson can quickly get a PDF detailing the relationship with a customer, including all interactions between the customer and the various parts of Cowen with whom the customer interacts.

The Salesforce service is available via the Web, meaning users can gain access to data regardless of where they're working from.

"That gives us much more flexibility," Flax says. "Our users can more easily get access to the tools they need even if they're on the road."

With the previous application, workers could only get access via a virtual private network and from Cowen-issued laptops, smartphones and other devices.

This March, Cowen launched a Web site for its customers, using a Salesforce.com product called CRM Customer Portal.

Through this service, more than 1,000 customers now gain secure access to Cowen research content. A program called Salesforce CRM Content helps customers find the right research reports quickly and make sure they're using the most recent version of the report.

Cowen also is building a Conference Management System, on top of the Force.com platform. This will allow Cowen to create and manage conferences, create and manage attendee schedules and help Cowen's conference management team bring together clients and the companies they want to meet at the conferences.

Cowen marketers will be able to create and manage campaigns directly from within the CRM application, using data about specific client interests and preferences. Marketing events can be planned and tracked against specific customer requirements.

Another benefit is that the CRM application is linked to Cowen's voice over IP telephone system, so the firm can automatically track and log calls that salespeople make to clients. This has reduced the need for salespeople to manually record call details, freeing them up to interact with customers and sell.

"This has given management additional visibility into the sales process, without burdening the sales team," Flax says.

Taken all together, this gives sales personnel and management a single "360-degree" view of customers and all their interactions with Cowen.

The challenges


  • Training people to use Force.com--and not just employees. Cowen had to bring its own internal developers as well as external consultants up to speed on using the product. This took several months.
  • Selling use of the new technology. Some senior salespeople at first resisted the move, Flax says. That changed when they realized the benefit of gaining faster access to reports and customer information.
  • Ensuring that data about customers and research would be secure. Cowen conducted a careful review of Salesforce.com's technology and procedures, to make sure they met Cowen's security needs. The firm continues to perform annual reviews to ensure that Salesforce.com keeps up with best practices.

The firm also conducts periodic reviews of access rights, to make sure that people who shouldn't obtain certain kinds of data do not.

Besides improving the work of sales people and services to customers the company also benefits financially, from the savings.

The 25 percent shaving of operating and maintenance costs come because the company doesn't have to burden its own servers and devices with applications that might or might not be used by staffers. Cowen also doesn't have to worry about patching the software--that's Salesforce.com's responsibility. Per-device fees for using the software don't exist. And, compared to the in-house app, the out-of-house app is more reliable.

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