There’s a better way to design a Customer Relationship Management system than the approach being used today. Most companies are implementing systems that let their customer service people, salespeople, technical support people, marketing people, and sometimes accounting and order management people see a combined, 360-degree view of each customer’s interactions with the firm.

Instead, what if you designed and implemented an information system that lets customers gain a 360-degree view of the interactions that take place within your firm that impact them?

Today’s customers know they can go online and find out about our companies and our offerings. They expect to be able to conduct research, buy our products, and/or get service via the Net.

And increasingly, customers are also being offered wireless data access to their account information and to a broad array of convenient service, from shipment tracking to online auctions. Customers are interacting with our businesses and organizations electronically, making demands, and suggesting improvements.

Customers – both consumers and business customers – are taking control. They’re voting with their loyalty. They will no longer tolerate being treated as if they weren’t important. They now know how much clout they have. They refuse to do business with companies that don’t respect their time. Time is the scarcest resource our customers have.

The e-business transformation combined with this customer revolution has stimulated lots of investment in customer relationship management systems and strategies. Every company we encounter is in the throes of a major CRM project.

They’ve finally realized that they can no longer operate with separate pockets of customer information, nor can they expect customers to be patient when the customer service representative on the phone doesn’t have access to their Web order histories or Oracle (ORCL, info) accounting information. This newfound religion about the importance of CRM is a good thing. Yet I find myself wondering if we’re going about it the wrong way.

A prominent venture capitalist once characterized companies’ typical Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementations as swamps. They suck up resources. They slow things down as you rethink every business process. They take three years to get through. They cost a lot of money and cause a great deal of disruption. Most businesses believed they had no other choice.

They had to modernize. They needed to do it before Y2K. They bit the bullet and installed new ERP systems. And many are glad they did; they are now better able to interconnect those ERP systems into the increasingly electronic value chains that drive e-commerce. Other companies are still struggling to get the bugs out.