How to...successfully link new CRM technology with legacy systems

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Most companies don't have the luxury of completely discarding their IT infrastructure when introducing a new CRM technology. Integration is the linchpin to success; it can seamlessly bridge systems, or become a costly and time-consuming albatross. Following are five strategies for connecting the new with the old. Define Integration Goals As part of the CRM project scope--before any contracts are signed or technologies are purchased--understand what benefits will come from retaining the legacy technology, and how it will be able to contribute to your new customer interaction goals. Saving it for cost or timing purposes is acceptable. Saving it because it is part of the furniture is not. "Defining how you want the business to operate [will] make the decision about which components of the old [technology] can contribute to that picture," says Brenda Moncla, director of data warehousing for ThinkFast Consulting. Identify What Goes and What Stays
After defining project objectives, perform a system survey and take stock of your technology arsenal. With enough time and money spent on integration virtually any program can be made to talk to 21st-century CRM software, but only those pieces that are necessary to the success of the project--as defined by your budget, timing, and functionality goals--are crucial, and therefore belong in the upgrade. As you craft the integration strategy for the systems that will be retained, develop a parallel strategy to retire old systems, including proper notification and migration training for the user communities that will be affected. Don't Migrate Bad Data Legacy systems are often built on less-than-optimal data models, due to the limitations of their design or the often-multipart evolution of the project. Integration may require an overhaul of your data strategy. Joelle Palacios, consultant for California's State Compensation Insurance Fund, worked with FirstLogic to smoothly migrate the data contained in three legacy systems to a new Oracle-based application. "Instead of one [client] record with multiple payment types, we had to have multiple records for each payment type," she says. By designing a new, sensible data model and using a combination of automated tools and dedicated programming, the project achieved its data conversion goals on time and on budget. "Had we had to do that manually, it would have driven the cost of the [data] project into the millions," Palacios says. Synchronize Integration If your integration plan includes both front- and back-end changes, such as mingling a legacy data set with a new data warehouse or replicating old client capabilities in a new Web-based front end, be sure that integration milestones account for both sides of the equation. It will be extremely difficult to produce reliable test beds if the new front-end functionality cannot be tested against the merged data. Pilot the Integration, Then Pull the Plug Your legacy system may be a stable, known factor in your business operations, but that all changes when integration and new capabilities are introduced. The merging of systems requires piloting and testing, just as a completely new architecture would. Select a pilot group, introduce the group members to the new technology, and watch their experiences carefully to ensure that your project expectations and their user requirements are being met. As the paired system is rolled out to the wider user community, phase out the old interfaces to the stand-alone legacy system. This may include shutting down certain user access to the old system, or phasing out the use of green screen emulators on desktops.
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