The reality of enterprise computing today is not just the migration to the cloud. Rather, it is a range of IT options: First is within the enterprise’s data center, second is in a partner hosting data center, and third is in the cloud. What option is best? Not to sound like a consultant (again), but it truly depends. Ask is this core to our business? If the answer is no, it does not and likely should not live in your data center. If the answer is yes, detail the costs and the cost of control. Chances are there is a cloud-based vendor out there. Do your homework first, then take that sales call.
In the end, it will be about cost and control. Doesn’t it always come down to return on investment?
Challenges and opportunities
Integration outside the enterprise firewall needs to encompass the capabilities of the organization. Larger enterprises have investments in SOA and ESB providing them with new capabilities that can be utilized. Many organizations without these capabilities will find that standard point to point integration will more than meet the requirements for most of the integration challenges outside the firewall to a “cloud computing” CRM solution. Integration within the enterprise is complex and often layered from ERP to CRM. Middleware services, such as Tibco and WebMethods, Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) and Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) infrastructures are common and present their own challenges such as process, configuration and technical.
Ask your organization, “Are we leveraging our SOA and ESB infrastructures to their full potential?”
Do not be surprised if the answer is “no”.
REI has adopted a plot of Discovery Park in Seattle and held a volunteer day today to help restore the habitat. As a frequent park user, I was glad to help plant snowberry bushes and mahonia. Felt good to get out an turn some earth on a windy and cool day.
From CRM to Business Intelligence/Analytics
While the two previous requirements focused on the sales force automation areas of CRM, integration with business intelligence and analytics tools could and often cover the spectrum of CRM applications: Sales, marketing, customer service, etc. Each department has their own tools and key performance indicators.
Functional requirements arise from leveraging the right data to enhance the customer relationship. Three areas of concentration are data mining, decision support and analytical tools. These integrations often are “nightly data dumps” from the CRM system into the business intelligence tool.
From ERP to CRM
Product and Price List data from ERP to CRM is always a complex integration. Technical configurations can be complex. The volume and frequency of updated data can also be complex.
Most large contracts are negotiated with customer specific pricing, terms and conditions. For many organizations negotiated contracts are the norm and the lifeblood of the company. As a result there are typically no set of constants or rules across all negotiated customer specific prices lists. Individual negotiated contracts for all large customers would create a scenario of hundreds or thousands of unique price lists. This creates tremendous complexity for technical configuration as well as the volume and frequency of updated price list data.
From CRM to ERP
Pipeline and Forecast data are the most common and most important data from CRM into an ERP system. Business process determines the complexity of the integration.
Examples of complex integration requirements can be found with just in time manufacturers (e.g., Dell). These organizations will integrate forecast data into their supply chain for competitive advantage. More common CRM to ERP integration is less complex. Generally and regardless of complexity, this integration occurs on set schedules (e.g., Weekly) as part of the sales process. True real-time capabilities are not required or necessary. Real-time availability by a vendor (product, SaaS, or ISP) will be of more concern.
Some Sales organizations have a culture of frequently adjusting pipeline and forecast requirements. This is often seen with changes in Sales and Executive management. Ideally, the change in business process would not impact the data integration; however, the technical configuration may need adjusting as well.
Anyone who knows me professionally, knows that I am a CRM guy. Most of my career has been implementing and making CRM systems usable and actually show real ROI. One of the biggest challenges that CRM systems have is integration with back end systems. In the cloud with hosted CRM, this actually a bigger challenge than it was in the past. To follow are a series of posts of the major challenges any CRM system faces with integration.
Computing is moving to the cloud. The names may change and the technology may be different; however, this idea is not new. See Martin Greenberger’s Essay dated 1964. Recall mainframe timeshares, application service providers, “on demand” or more recently the “as a Service” marketing tags. The current iteration, Cloud Computing (real-time, scalable resources available via the Internet), is a fulfillment of the idea that computing power could be a utility.
The enterprise can take advantage of this trend by understanding their core differentiators and the business processes that affect that differentiation. In short, what makes a company great. Enterprise, computing, in any form, has always been about value to the core competency. In considering cloud technologies for business processes, you must answer the following questions:
1) Is this a core competency? Will the top line suffer if this is not implemented?
2) What skills and infrastructure are required? Just because the process or technology is in the cloud does not mean that you will not need someone who understands it.
3) Viability of provider: Value, Due Diligence and Trust. How do they match up?
Return on investment (ROI) has been and will continue to be a key driver for technology purchases. Lowering IT costs is always a consideration and even more relevant in the current economy. A major consideration for any IT Department will be the core business. Take the often cited clock maker. Building the clock is core. Telling the time is not core. E-mail is critical to any business, but it is not necessarily core. Given the options on the market, a cloud offering might make sense, but make sure you answer those questions.