Polaris Industries is one of the largest off-road vehicle manufacturers in the world and a recognized leader in the snowmobile industry. To provide support to customers and a network of 1,500 dealers, the company relied on a group of disconnected applications. Because these systems did not share information, Polaris could not effectively track individual dealer issues. Polaris evaluated several solutions and chose Microsoft Dynamics® CRM, which is built on the xRM application platform layer, because of its superior technical flexibility and cost effectiveness. After deploying the solution to its various support operations, Polaris continues to make use of the xRM platform to accelerate development and deployment of line-of-business applications unique to the company, including a dealer extranet and e-commerce Web site.
With annual 2008 sales of U.S.$1.9 billion, Polaris Industries is one of the largest manufacturers of all-terrain vehicles in the world. The company is a recognized leader in the snowmobile industry, and its Victory motorcycle division—established in 1998—represents the first all-new, American-made motorcycle in nearly 60 years.
||When our team examined xRM, everyone felt that it would fit the unique approach we wanted to take. It was the perfect balance between buy and build.
Vice President and CIO, Polaris Industries
Five separate organizations within Polaris interact with consumers, internal sales staff, and dealers for products and related parts. With a variety of product lines, 3,600 employees, and more than 1,500 independent dealers, effective communication among these five areas is critical to the company’s success.
However, each area relied on a disparate application, and these teams could not track issues across divisions. If a Polaris dealer called about an issue, the dealer team then logged that call in a custom Web application. But, if the dealer was transferred to technical support—a separate organization—the company tracked the issue in an IBM AS/400 system, requiring the caller to repeat information. This type of redundancy and inability to share information hampered both productivity among support teams and service.
“With nearly 1,000 support calls each day, our support organizations need systems that will help them work as efficiently as possible. We have a phenomenal support team, but the systems made it very difficult for them to deliver high levels of service,” says Bill Fisher, Vice President and CIO of Polaris Industries. “Another aspect of the problem was the time that our dealers wasted. We want them to be as successful as possible selling our products. And, we want to provide better service to our dealers than competing manufacturers.”
Recognizing that it needed a unified view of its support operations, Polaris decided to look for a solution that would be flexible enough to fit the company’s unique organizational structure and range of products. The company evaluated systems from Siebel and a number of smaller software vendors and considered developing a custom system. After careful evaluation, Polaris decided that xRM, the application platform layer upon which Microsoft Dynamics® CRM is built, was the platform on which the company could accelerate the development of numerous team-specific applications.
“I was adamant that we were not deploying a customer relationship management solution in the traditional sense and was skeptical that a packaged software solution could meet our needs,” explains Fisher. “When our team examined xRM, everyone felt that it would fit the unique approach we wanted to take. It was the perfect balance between buy and build. I am glad the team pushed as hard as they did for this solution.”
One Platform, Five Applications
Polaris worked with Microsoft® Gold Certified Partner Inetium to implement Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 and create customized, relational line-of-business (LOB) applications for each of the five support organizations. Polaris built these specialized applications on xRM and took advantage of Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server 2007 and Microsoft ASP.NET to tailor each application to the unique needs of each group (Figure 1). For example, when helping to resolve an issue, employees use forms that are prepopulated with existing dealer or product information and use drop-down menus that only show options relevant to that type of case.
Each application relies on a common data source. This means that information from a call logged in one application is available to all the others, as appropriate. The company linked all the applications to existing systems that house critical information on order status, bill of materials, schematics, and component parts through the Scribe Insight integration solution. This connection provides employees with the information and functionality that they need to resolve issues faster. For example, personnel in the technical group can pull up all the related information about a specific vehicle, including service history, by entering a vehicle identification number (VIN) or serial number. Parts staff can easily look up the bill of materials and schematics of components.
|Figure 1. Line-of-business applications built on xRM|
A Consistent Set of Capabilities
Although each of the five applications is tailored to meet specific group needs, the interfaces are similar enough to facilitate cross-training among different Polaris teams. “If we need to shift resources from one group to another, we can focus on just the processes that are unique to that group instead of worrying about orienting people to the interface in general,” says Fisher.
||Now, when we talk to a customer, we can see everything about them—the products they purchased, their service history, and their interactions with dealers.
Vice President and CIO, Polaris Industries
Because the support applications are built on the xRM platform, managers can track issues and performance more effectively. They can run all-up reports and export them into Microsoft Office Excel® spreadsheet software for in-depth analysis. Because the xRM platform seamlessly works with Office Excel, managers can pull up the full case file by simply clicking on it in the spreadsheet. From the case file, they can view associated information that is stored in legacy systems. Also, about 70 field sales representatives access the support portals to gain visibility into cases associated with a particular client, including attachments, that can help them prepare for sales calls and visits to dealerships.
Common, Extensible Architecture
Polaris is using the extensible platform to support Web-based applications for field sales teams, dealer self-service, and online consumer sales and to manage marketing campaigns.
Built on xRM, the dealer self-service portal, dubbed “Ask Polaris,” lets dealers log their own cases into the Polaris case-tracking system, update records that they own, and access information pertinent to their cases. They can also research detailed information on Polaris products and services without having to call dealer support.
“Our dealers love the self-service tools we offer because it saves them a tremendous amount of time that would otherwise be spent on hold,” says Fisher.
Polaris is also currently transitioning its e-commerce operations onto the xRM platform so that when dealers place orders online, the orders are automatically entered into and tracked in the system.
Polaris quickly met the needs of its five support organizations by designing its specific LOB applications on xRM, providing employees with an up-to-date and comprehensive view of dealers, consumers, products, and even individual vehicles. In addition, the company gains a holistic view of its dealer and consumer issues, which will help the company better identify and respond to trends.
“The solution was flexible enough to meet the diverse needs of our support organizations,” says Fisher. “And, the platform approach enables us to support fewer infrastructure components than before, build new applications faster, and provide simplified training for our support teams.”
More Efficient IT Operations
The Polaris IT team now has a platform to efficiently create applications that meet the unique needs of groups within the company. Polaris invests less than 1 percent of revenue in IT—which includes a staff of 78 IT professionals—and was prepared to build custom solutions. However, Polaris saved time and delivered better results with xRM. “The team made a good decision. In the end, xRM turned out to be much faster and produced better results than if we had built those applications from scratch,” says Fisher.
By building on top of the platform, the Polaris IT team can accelerate the development of LOB applications to deliver new applications with incremental amounts of effort. For example, the team extended its work with the internal support tools to create the “Ask Polaris” extranet, which gives the company a significant competitive edge in terms of dealer satisfaction.
||As a result, our employees handle approximately 30 percent more cases than previously. Our staff now spends more time training on our products, training dealers, and reengineering processes.
Vice President and CIO, Polaris Industries
Polaris is also maximizing its existing technology investments by linking some of the new applications to its legacy systems. The new xRM-based applications pull information from production and billing systems based on the company’s Oracle and IBM DB2 databases.
Improved Employee Productivity
With applications that share common sources of data, Polaris has eliminated much of the miscommunication and inefficiency in its support operations. Because the company shares information and functionality across applications, Polaris employees can complete common processes much faster. An employee can process a warranty claim in just three steps compared to up to 20 steps that the same transaction previously required—an efficiency gain of 85 percent.
“Instead of e-mail, faxes, sticky notes, and multiple, unconnected systems, our personnel now have a single platform that organizes the work to be done and keeps cases from falling through the cracks,” says Fisher. “As a result, our employees handle approximately 30 percent more cases than previously. Our staff now spends more time training on our products, training dealers, and reengineering processes.”
In addition, the single platform lets Polaris evaluate processes more effectively and identify areas for improvement. So far, through process reengineering, Polaris has reduced the number of dealer cases by 20 percent. “We are much more efficient, but just as importantly, our dealers are much more efficient as well,” says Fisher.
The platform approach provides Polaris unprecedented visibility into customer interactions. “Now, when we talk to a customer, we can see everything about them—the products they purchased, their service history, and their interactions with dealers,” says Fisher. “Our support employees spend much less time searching for information while the customer is on hold.”
Polaris employees’ jobs are also easier due to the customizable nature of the xRM-based portal applications, which prepopulate forms with dealer or consumer information where applicable, automatically validate VINs and serial numbers, and display only the fields that are necessary for the particular task.
Besides improving the productivity of Polaris employees, the custom applications also help Polaris dealers save time and serve their customers more efficiently. With the “Ask Polaris” dealer extranet, dealers can track all the issues that are associated with their account and enter new cases that Polaris representatives will answer through e-mail.
“Everyone gets to see what is going on according to their role,” says Fisher. “In the past, dealers would call us or call our field sales representatives—who would then call us—to check on the status of a case. It was a waste of everyone’s time.”
Holistic View of Support Operations
Now that all five support operations at Polaris are sharing information, management can easily see a comprehensive view of dealer and customer service. With comprehensive reports generated in a single mouse click, management can identify trends and take proactive steps to improve service. “We can more easily spot problems that are shared across dealer, technical, and consumer support,” says Fisher. “Previously, we were tracking information in an inconsistent manner—sometimes even resorting to sticky notes. But now, we have the ability to foresee issues and share solutions.”
Greater Dealer and Customer Satisfaction
Since Polaris deployed its xRM-based applications, call volumes to the company’s support groups have grown significantly with the volume of business. Fisher, who is also responsible for service at Polaris in addition to his position as CIO, believes that the xRM platform has enabled Polaris to turn its dealer and customer support into a competitive advantage. “With Microsoft, we have been able to not only handle a larger volume of cases, but handle them more effectively,” he says. “We have an awesome service team that now has the systems they need to deliver the service our dealers and customers deserve. Our entire team—the IT department; dealer services; and our implementation partner, Inetium—did an incredible job delivering this system. The xRM platform from Microsoft is a great platform to work from and a great platform to build on.”
What is xRM?
xRM is a Microsoft application platform layer that underpins Microsoft Dynamics CRM. It accelerates the development of relational line-of-business applications through point-and-click configurations or customizations. The platform is built upon integration-friendly Microsoft technologies, such as Windows Server, Microsoft SQL Server, and the Microsoft .NET Framework.
Microsoft Dynamics is a line of integrated, adaptable business management solutions that enables you and your people to make business decisions with greater confidence. Microsoft Dynamics works like familiar Microsoft software such as Microsoft Office, which means less of a learning curve for your people, so they can get up and running quickly and focus on what’s most important. And because it is from Microsoft, it easily works with the systems that your company already has implemented. By automating and streamlining financial, customer relationship, and supply chain processes, Microsoft Dynamics brings together people, processes, and technologies, increasing the productivity and effectiveness of your business, and helping you drive business success.
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