I was going to write a blog about getting more value from your existing business data with integration. We're going to take a little detour and talk about Scribe's State of Customer Data Integration Study 2012. There's a lot of great information in the study that I think customers and partners will find useful.
The focus of the study was to understand what you were thinking about when considering customer data, CRM, and how that's integrated with the rest of your business operations. There was one statistic that was a bit of an eye popper for me.
Only 15% of you have fully integrated CRM or customer facing systems. 15%. That's pretty low.
On the one hand, that's a great opportunity for integration vendors like Scribe. On the other hand, that tells me that we have a lot of work to do to make integration accessible to businesses large and small. One of the things that also stood out in the study was that business got the value of data integration but it was a bit harder to figure out how to make it happen. As I read the results of the study, I was asking myself what is it about integration that businesses are having a hard time figuring out where to start and how to implement?
There are a few factors that likely play into this: media hype, cost, complexity of integration itself, and many, many integration options, techniques, and products. It seems that most of us tackle integration like you'd approach your first marathon. You decide you want to really run a marathon. You want to lose weight, get into shape, knock something off the bucket list, and proudly slap a 26.2 sticker on your car.
Some of us start looking at training programs and decide it's too much commitment and change so we just drop the whole marathon thing and go on to something else. Others start out enthusiastic with our training program, but it's hard, we're not used to it and we're sore, and so we drop out after week 3 or 4. Or we follow our training program but we're setting goals that our body can't handle – like running a faster pace each training run to get down to a 7 minute mile – and we're forced to quit due to overtraining or injury.
Integration is the same as deciding to run your first marathon. Some of us start with "we have to integrate everything!" and realize the complexity, commitment and price is too high to do that, so we do no integration. Others run too fast and too hard – we're going to integrate our financial operations with CRM in 10 days! – and the result is a failed or half working integrations. We start integration projects, run into roadblocks – maybe an integration approach that wasn't quite the right fit, the tool we choose was a bit more complex or harder to learn, or perhaps a poor experience with the implementer. So we walk away and say integration is too hard, too complex, too expensive, and we just can't do it.
That's a shame. Integration is something that every business can benefit from – the trick is not running the marathon but starting with a 5K, getting some success, doing a few more 5Ks, maybe harder ones this time, and then building up from there to 10K, half-marathon, and finally, your marathon debut is fairly easy and you're ready for it. Slow is fast. Your integration strategy should start small and build on your successes and experience. If you need to do a big bang approach and you really are committed, then you need to get an integration expert to help you.
Almost all businesses can get the benefits of integration and there are a range of options to fit most budgets and problems. So let's talk about how to strategies to successfully implement integration in your business.
Depending on what you read out in the media, integration is often presented as an enterprise vision of all your systems and data talking together. We use important business phrases like "operational efficiencies", "customer centric and social enterprise", "line of business effectiveness", "the challenge of engagement" – sounds very strategic and grand doesn't it? Vendors come in and talk about master data management, big data, data governance, orchestration, ETL, and hybrid – all the things important, enterprise businesses should be thinking about and you're an enterprise right?
I'm sure there are some eye rolls at this point and yes, Scribe is guilty of the above – hey, we're in the business of integration and we market just like everyone else – but honestly, how many business initiatives have you seen in your career become disasters because the scope is too sweeping and grand?
Even when we get down a level and talk about solutions to business problems, we still talk "large" like front office to back office, social, and supply chain. When I say I want to integrate my CRM system with my ERP system what does that mean exactly? What actual benefit will I see from all that? Where and what do I start? What is going to give me the biggest bang for my buck?
This is project management and planning 101 but it bears repeating - step back and really look at the business problem you're trying to solve. Be tactical and find things that will have actual results that you can see, feel, and touch that will have most impact to your business. Often times it's the little things that have big impact to your sales or support teams. For instance, you want your sales or lead qualification people to jump on leads from that last trade show before your competitors do. You can't afford to wait a week to have your marketing coordinator data enter the leads into your CRM application manually.
Being real isn't the most sexy approach but you'll have a much better shot at being successful and showing real business benefit for your integration project. More often than not, these are fairly straightforward and easy integration items to implement. Building on these successes gives you the ability to get funding and support for your more complex and sophisticated integration plans.
Live Within Your Means
Understanding the cost – money, resources, and time – is important. Setting a budget and sticking to it is equally important. Combined with a realistic integration goal, your budget will drive your approach and absolutely help you narrow down your choices to a reasonable level. It's easy to get sucked into "well, this has MDM capability for only $500 a month more". If you don't know what MDM means or how you would apply it to your business tactically, resist the urge to buy for "someday" or "for only $$$ we can do XYZ too". You want to be successful and you want the business to want more integration. Stick to your plan, your budget, and your guns.
You don't have to have large startup costs or buy an enterprise platform to get the benefits of integration for your business. There are a range of integration options out there, some starting as low as $99 a month (such as Scribe Online) that can solve the business problem I described above. You can find an approach that fits your budget and your goals, no matter how small or large.
The Right Tool for the Job
None of us would build a house with a screwdriver and we don't drive nails with a sledgehammer. The same is true for integration. Buy the right tool for the right job. If you want to integrate Salesforce to Microsoft Dynamics GP and that is your most major business problem and goal, look at vendors that have products that actually have application specific connectors and templates that get you there with a minimum of fuss and custom work.
Going with a generic integration platform that does everything and anything but nothing specifically has its own challenges. It's tempting to go this way because we're feeling we're getting most value for our money; we won't have to buy another integration platform or look at another approach ever again. However, you need to think about "living within your means" because the most generic of integration platforms also means that you're likely doing some extra work to get your integration project completed. For instance, if an integration approach can connect to your CRM application via SOAP Web Services, that's great but if it means that you have to write Web Services calls to map and integrate your data, or perhaps even have to write custom code against an SDK, you can quickly get mired into more cost, more time, more risk, and more money. If you don't have the time, expertise, or appetite for this extra work, your money is better spent on a more targeted integration solution that can address your needs.
But Plan for the Future
This is a tricky one – you don't want to blow your budget or get overwhelmed with an integration platform – but you also don't want to pick an integration approach or platform that is so limited or black box that 6 – 12 months later you have to buy something else to accomplish your integration goals because something changed or you needed more. Make sure that your integration platform has enough flexibility to change as you change and that it has a suitable range of connectivity options that you can add other applications or endpoints later on. For instance, you want to integrate Salesforce to Dynamics GP integration and you're also thinking of adding in your SQL based, legacy support application in the next 12 months. Your integration platform should have native SQL connectivity so you can easily map your legacy support application to Salesforce.
That said, you also want to watch out for getting swept up in the hype of current trends and go with an integration platform that is too big, broad, or complex for your business and your abilities to handle. It's easy to be impressed by things like MDM, Big Data, Social, and a laundry list of connectors and solutions. If you can't see when or why your business will use or integrate with Big Data, don't buy a platform because it can handle Big Data. If all you need is to be able to de-dupe records and standardize address formats, don't buy an integration platform that has sophisticated MDM capabilities. If you see a laundry list of connectors or solutions, make sure that the solutions and connectors you want to use are current and will be maintained. You don't want to buy an integration platform that has an advertised connector for Oracle Siebel only to find out the vendor has not updated the connector in the last 2 years and has no plans to keep it current.
When evaluating integration vendors or approaches, makes sure that the solutions, connectivity options, and the vision or roadmap match your business goals and strategy for the foreseeable future.
It's OK to Need Help
You have a business and you do your thing very well. Frankly, for most of us, integration is not "your thing" that you do well. Some businesses have made a commitment to have a full time integration resource because integration is as important as their ERP or CRM systems. Many of us are between just starting to various stages along the integration journey. Some of us need help planning the project, picking the integration approach or platform, and implementing it. We may not know all the ins and outs of the cloud or legacy applications that we're trying to integrate. A good partner will know your industry, your applications, and have experience integrating them. You'll gain the benefit and expertise of someone who has done integration many, many times and has encountered all kinds of projects and scenarios. Your partner can advise you on best practices or what has worked for their other clients.
The price tag can seem hefty up front but in most cases, it's far less than what you'd spend in time, money, and resources if you were to tackle integration on your own. We found that customers who use outside help have a higher level of success and satisfaction with their integrations. There are a myriad of options – from hourly consulting to multi-month formal engagements – so if you need help, get it. It is truly money well spent.
Yes, You Can!
Integration does not have to be overwhelming. You've got a lot of options out there and partners who are willing and happy to help. Focus on the business problem you have and look at the information you have today in your applications – how can you better put that together or move it around to the right places? Start small with an integration project that is relatively simple to complete and fulfills a specific goal. You'll see tangible benefits from your project, the business will thank you, and you can continue to build up the sophistication and complexity of your integrations over time.
Let us know how it goes, we're interested in hearing your thoughts on integration. Share your stories with us.
If you're interesting in viewing our report, The State of CRM Data Integration 2012, please click here.
Blog author: Betsy Bilhorn