CRM got complicated

It is ironic that, the more commoditised and comprehensive CRM functionality becomes, the more options and complexity there appears to be. CRM technology today has its roots in both sales force automation (SFA) and service/call centre technologies, but originally was little more than the provision of contact management solutions, often integrated to a plethora of back office systems which handled everything from workflow automation to financial operations.

While CRM systems today often sit within a complex technical architecture, the functionality within them now overlaps substantially with other types of system. In some areas, third party integration to systems such as workflow tools – once commonplace - is now relatively rare, and often to meet niche requirements. Instead, core CRM systems have powerful in-built workflow engines, often including the sort of graphical process modelling tools which used to be a differentiator for standalone workflow solutions.

In other areas, CRM systems are adopting more and more of the functionality traditionally associated with other types of technology. For example, most leading CRM solutions now have extensive reporting capabilities and also start to include more financial functionality (such as pricing engines). This doesn’t negate the need for third party tools, such as reporting and ERP systems, but it does mean you can often achieve a more integrated and functional solution within the core CRM system, avoiding some integration and project complexity.

The challenge now is to determine what functionality is best used from which system, and to recognise potential limitations in standard capabilities.

In terms of functionality choice, a common example is where an organisation may have an existing system, often an ERP solution, which itself has some CRM capabilities. Determining where functionality should sit, which users should use it in which environment, how data should be aligned or separated between systems, and the software licensing implications can be a minefield.

It is also really important to have a deep understanding of the functionality available in your core CRM system, and any limitations that may exist. We have witnessed a new era of functionality being rushed to market in the greatly competitive CRM landscape, but this often occurs without providing a fully-fledged solution. In some cases, the integration itself can be a limitation. Cantata has developed extensive integration components to plug some of these gaps; a good example is in the very common requirement for document management integration. We found that while the major CRM products can often provide a simplistic document management system integration, they often lack full role-based security integration, and the depth of user interface capability that makes them truly easy to use. By combining the best features of the core CRM systems, careful choice of third-party tools, and some clever integration components, we have found solutions to some of our CRM client’s toughest problems.

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