CRM: Going Beyond the First Step to a Complete Solution

The systems that have been the backbone of your company for decades were not designed for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) (let alone eCRM). In many cases, they weren’t even architected with Windows or the Web in mind. That’s why leading businesses are looking to EAI solutions to protect and leverage their IT investments while meeting new business goals.

The Power of CRM

Companies engaged in CRM initiatives are raising the customer satisfaction bar. When any customer has a high-touch, customized experience with one company, expectations rise for any other transaction, regardless of the company or industry.

This new, savvier customer has been educated to expect a high level of service with detailed, personalized content. (Consider the ability of a retail Web site to recognize a visitor and make recommendations about new books or music.)

Consequently, companies are under increasing pressure to meet these rising expectations while offering a range of fast, convenient, flexible and cost-effective delivery channels, including Web-based customer service and self-service, as well as traditional channels. Having a strong solution for managing customer relationships is more important now than ever before. Do CRM product suites offer that complete solution? Not by themselves.

Enhancing CRM

Deploying a CRM application is a good first step towards providing superior customer service. But it’s not a complete solution unless it provides rapid (read "immediate") responsiveness to customer inquiries and highly detailed view of the customer.

Delivering that complete solution must therefore include a complete customer view using all available information resources. Your customers should never have to tell you what you already know. That’s the business objective. The technical challenge is making that happen, typically using realtime links to core ‘legacy’ business systems.

In order to meet those business and technical requirements, you’ll need more than your CRM software package. You’ll need to provide access to all relevant customer information and a variety of business systems, which means integrating a wide range of legacy systems with your new CRM application. In short, you need Enterprise Application Integration (EAI).

Why EAI?

EAI software is the key to realizing the CRM vision. Unlike packaged CRM software, EAI products are designed to integrate information and business processes across multiple systems and applications. EAI, in fact, is the crucial -- and, too often, missing -- link in connecting powerful new CRM applications with the range of customer information established companies possess.

Without links to your business systems and customer information assets, your CRM package is just another island. With those links, it’s the center of your customer-focused universe, seamlessly integrating detailed customer information between billing systems, customer information systems and new CRM applications.

Of course, EAI is a broad product category that covers all sorts of functionality. The companies who were first to embrace CRM initiatives tend to be the larger, established companies. Those companies have a significant customer base and are very concerned with customer retention and improved service, as well as upselling and cross-selling. For those companies, a typical CRM deployment involves a combination of legacy integration (mainframe, AS/400, etc.) and packaged application integration (SAP, Peoplesoft, etc.). EAI products should be selected accordingly.

How EAI Moves IT Toward Its Goals

EAI helps you meet your business objectives while protecting your business investment. How? You need information access, information integration and automation of business processes. EAI products can help you achieve that. You also need to leverage your existing information infrastructure, which entails accessing existing systems without changing them or disrupting them. And, of course, you need to meet new business needs right now.

Most successful organizations have many years of business knowledge locked in their systems, old and new. If they are to meet long-term business objectives, they must be able to protect and leverage these investments. More specifically, if they are to build and manage customer relations, they must be able to do several things with customer information:

Access the information in realtime.

Integrate the information, no matter what its source.

Automate crucial sales, marketing, and service functions.

Do all the above without costly disruption or downtime.

As part of a CRM initiative, companies typically create new customer service/customer satisfaction goals as well as upselling and cross-selling objectives. To accomplish these, you need ready access to detailed information about your customers -- information typically stored in ‘legacy’ information systems such as mainframes, mid-range systems and various other core systems.

Most successful corporations have decades of business knowledge locked in these expensive systems that are integral to operations and not easily replaced. They cannot evolve quickly enough, if at all, to keep your organization ahead of the game, and it is frightening to think of disrupting them with extensive programming in order to meet new business needs. To add a single function to these mission-critical systems can be costly. To add all the necessary functionality required to support new applications could cost millions. Since few businesses can afford the cost or the disruption of modifying legacy systems, EAI offers a better, faster way to extend the reach of CRM packages.

Know Your Customer

The focal point of these CRM initiatives is stated with the first word -- customer. In a 1999 report published jointly by Cap Gemini and IDC, the top 3 stated objectives for starting CRM projects in the U.S. and Europe were:

Gain customer fidelity.

Provide a personalized service to customers.

Better knowledge of customers.

While the larger goal is clearly gaining more "pocketshare" with your customer, you can’t achieve that goal without personalized knowledge and service. What businesses "know" about their customers consists of detailed records that may include buying or transaction histories, demographic or family information, and credit history, among other things.

That range of customer information comes from many systems, divisions and channels. To support a customer-centric approach, you must have access to all relevant information in a seamless way. If you’ve got a customer on the phone wanting to buy your products, you don’t want to make them repeat the shipping information they gave you the last time you ordered.

Knowing your customer means having access to all the years’ worth of accumulated information about them via your new CRM application, which should allow you to use and leverage that information to your advantage.

Integrating a wide range of ‘legacy’ information systems is critical to seeing the complete customer picture. With an integrated environment, the customer information and the business intelligence that you’ve spent years accumulating are available to optimize business processes and achieve new business objectives.

Immediately if Not Sooner

Deploying any new software package always takes too long, because companies are operating on Internet time. So, it is particularly important that your CRM initiative delivers on its business objectives quickly. Considering the EAI element as part of the initial CRM implementation paves the way to a finished deployment that is fully integrated into the business.

This is especially true when you’re reaching for a Web and Windows world, but your current business revolves around an assortment of "green screen" applications. The right EAI package can facilitate and accelerate your complete CRM solution without the cost, risk and disruption typically associated with integration projects.

It’s Realtime or It’s No Time

In today’s Web-based world, information must be up-to-the-minute and complete, not to mention available immediately. Customer expectations are growing, but patience levels are shrinking. Without realtime access to all relevant information, you risk making customers wait, or worse, delivering stale information.

Another reason to build EAI into your plans right from the outset is that traditional "batch" integration of customer data is not a viable option in the Web-enabled world. Intermittent uploading of customer information puts you at risk for being out of synch with your customers. Realtime integration enables you to deliver the immediate and accurate responses that customers expect.

Attain Your CRM Vision

Your organization’s CRM initiative plays a major role in bringing a customer focus to your business activities.

That initiative is a significant project that will involve a tremendous resource investment. If you omit the critical middle piece that integrates your business systems with your new business direction, you’re taking a huge risk. In the best case of that bad scenario, you fail to leverage your information assets and miss out on opportunities to capitalize on your customers. In the worst case, you create an awkward situation where employees use multiple, non-integrated systems, customer service objectives fail, and the entire project is counted a failure.

If failure is not an option for you, look beyond the benefits (and limits) of your shiny new CRM package and consider:

Are you aiming for a business that operates on line and in real time?

Are all of your business processes and all of your information captured within your CRM package?

To effectively manage customer relationships, do your people require all available customer information to be at their fingertips?

To provide better, faster customer service, do your people need access to a wide range of business processes that span core "legacy" business systems?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, EAI must be factored in to your CRM project. Whatever your specific CRM objectives, they will only be achieved with a complete solution that integrates your information and infrastructure assets. For your CRM environment to be the hub of your business, integration with the business cannot be an afterthought. Bringing EAI issues to the forefront will ensure that you go beyond a good first step with your CRM implementation.

Gail Greener is Director of Product Marketing for CNT's Enterprise Integration Solutions Division. She can be reached via e-mail at gail-greener@cnt.com