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The Panacea and Pitfalls of Hosted CRM Software

CRM Software System Integration: A Top Cited Organizational Pitfall

Single vendor CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software suites are quickly evolving beyond narrowly focused point products as customer solutions reliant on multiple vendors impose additional risk in systems integration, additional training for users and additional time and money for system administration. When reviewing the claimed integration among multiple vendor solutions, looking beyond a superficial level may reveal serious implications. Although multiple vendor CRM solutions do generally provide a basic level of integration, the systems often fail to share data at the various points that would benefit users who communicate with customers or manage customer relationships. If SFA (Sales Force Automation) and Customer Service are delivered from different vendors, do customer services requests appear in the SFA customer history, do those requests contain a hyperlink so the user can jump to the request and understand the situation or can the assigned sales account person be automatically notified of incident correspondence? If SFA and Marketing Automation are delivered from multiple vendors, do all campaign and other demand generation activities occurring from marketing update each account who was touched by the marketing activities? Is the salesperson able to view all marketing activities initiated to a particular account and recognize which activities the account responded to and which generated no response? Can the sales person hyperlink from an account record to the marketing campaign that produced the account? Does every authorized user have visibility to every marketing initiative, customer service record and all correspondence in a single location or a single view? More often than not, multiple vendor systems provide piecemeal visibility to the customer relationship whereby each vendor retains a core element in their own location and the user must know where to go and review several screens to get the consolidated picture.

Best of breed solutions can produce additional functionality, however, come with additional costs in the form of integration shortcomings and user complexities stemming from learning, operating and upgrading different systems from different vendors. Seldom do multiple vendor systems consolidate customer information in a single view for a complete picture or follow a consistent practices with regard to user interface, navigation and keystroke sequencing, thereby, putting an increased learning curve and efficiency difficulty on the user community.

Reviewing information systems utilization a step further encourages evaluators to step up from just the multiple components of CRM and to look at the big picture of all enterprise-wide business systems. The basic business systems of virtually any organization will include a back office accounting system, a front office customer management system, an Internet site and often an Intranet.

The single greatest integration cost and loss of ROI generally stems from the linking of CRM applications to back-office accounting systems. This is also a frequently missed item during CRM software selections that is ultimately discovered when the organization recognizes it must maintain and integrate redundant customer data in the CRM application as well as the accounting Accounts Receivable module. Without some form of integration between CRM and back-office accounting, how does the sales force know current inventory pricing or if a customer is beyond credit terms or delinquent? How do sales people create quotes from their CRM system and simply press a button to turn those quotes into orders in the accounting Order Entry or A/R system? How does customer service know what the customer has procured in order to provide support on only purchased items or know what cross-sell and up-sell items may make sense for the customer?

System administration issues among disparate business applications are many and include pertinent questions such as what happens when one of the vendors launches a system upgrade or a point release? How are SLA’s measured when the source of the error is under question? What happens when the vendors fail to get together to identify and resolve bugs, errors or issues? If one vendor in a multiple vendor solution has data center, software or customer service problems, does is affect or interrupt the other portion of the solution? Is it feasible, likely or even possible to develop and automate business processes that cross multiple vendor systems and can it be done cost effectively? How will you deal without a single point of contact for support and problem resolution? What additional steps will you put in place so that increased resolution time frames don’t prolong user downtime or result in a loss of user confidence?

Few CRM systems provide such back-office integration capabilities without significant integration programming. However, failure to provide any of the previously referenced integration results in manual rekeying of data, redundant data and a loss of meaningful information.

Although the well documented API’s and Web services offerings have boosted platform integration, integrating legacy back-office with online front office, or vice versa, is time consuming, expensive and fraught with continuous difficulties. The integration routines are normally relegated to batch processes of staged data which thereby defeat the goal of real-time information across the enterprise.

When comparing single vendor solutions vs. best of breed systems it is a no-brainer conclusion that single vendor solutions deliver much stronger vendor accountability, user simplicity and smoother upgrade and evolutional transitions. However, multiple vendor solutions may provide functional capabilities which increase user automation or accommodate business processes not catered to by single vendor solutions. Regardless of CRM approach, applications which provide a well thought through packaged integration to accounting or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems achieve a significant advantage over products that require the high costs of custom integration.

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