Imagine this: You have just made the momentous decision to purchase a new CRM or ERP system, or perhaps you have had your system for some time. With many companies offering ‘Best of Breed’ business systems, one thing typically remains true: each of these systems are silos of data and information. For example, you may have purchased  Microsoft Dynamics CRM or Saleforce.com, each providing a unique way of managing your customer base in remarkably efficient ways. Both are very customizable to ensure they work the way your business does. However, they are completely disconnected from your financial ERP system. You then spend countless hours and resources trying to reconcile the systems to each other. For example, a manufacturing company's CRM end-users would typically have to jump back and forth between systems to check on inventory levels, availability and projected shipping dates to inform the customer of the status of their order. Miscommunication and poor system reconciliation can lead to serious customer satisfaction issues, cause the end-users to lose confidence in the system and strain available resources trying to reconcile.

Here is the missing ingredient: Systems Integration. Let your CRM do what it does best, but integrate those systems for the most efficient business operations possible. Typically your CRM should track the relationship with a Lead all the way through the process; the lead converts to a contact which is then associated with an Account. However, that Account/Contact is not considered a Customer (type of account) until they have made a purchase. Who takes the order? How does it get into the ERP/Financial system, how does your CRM system know the order has been entered and what the status of the order is? YIKES! That’s a lot of communication back and forth and if it is done manually through spreadsheets (or some other medium), that is a huge drain on resources.

Would it not be better to let the CRM end-user take the order right in CRM, and have the order automatically be integrated into the back office while updating any changes to the order in the CRM system? In a well-planned and implemented integration project, these kinds of transactional exchanges can happen in near real-time.

A great example of the beauty, efficiency and effectiveness of integration is the MS Outlook client for Dynamics CRM.  End-users can work in their most familiar environment, MS Outlook, but have all of their contacts, activities and correspondences sync’d up into Dynamics CRM so that others in the organization are aware of the current state of that customer relationship.  Although this is not something that you would have to build (as it comes as a configurable part of a Dynamics CRM deployment) it does demonstrate the effectiveness of integration very well.

Another aspect of systems integration is Business Intelligence (BI).  When the business needs to react quickly to current market or production conditions, having a single dashboard that shows the entire enterprise current state is a way that allows for quick decision making based on reliable information about the entire state of the business, not just a silo of information from a single system.

Or consider this benefit of integration - the production floor can be notified immediately when a larger order has just been placed.  This would give them a heads up that production scheduling might have to change, suppliers may have to be notified (or could be notified automatically as part of  the integration) that they will need to accelerate shipment of raw materials to backfill for the large order.

These are just a few examples of how systems integration can greatly reduce information latency and allows you to get the most of your systems investments and the greatest chance of excellent user adoption of your business systems.

Although not typically a ‘cheap’ project, it is well worth the effort and the outcomes can get you the value you were always hoping for when making the leap to purchase an enterprise system.

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