Whose Portal Is It, Anyway?

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Until recently CRM has been seen by many organizations as a stand-alone application used by frontline personnel and external customers. But stand-alone CRM applications are going to become increasingly rare, replaced by portal technologies that integrate the CRM application with other vital information sources coming from financial, HR, and other applications. Portals allow CRM system users the flexibility to configure their main screen to optimize their access to the applications and information they need for their specific role. One of the key strengths of the portal is the ability to easily and cost-effectively integrate multiple software applications. The complexity, however, lies in the decision of whose portal should run the desktop. Should it be the CRM application's portal, or a more application-agnostic portal? Here's how this challenge is being played out at a West Coast manufacturing company. This manufacturer had six product lines whose systems were unable to share common customer information. As a result, there were no holistic customer profiles, customer service was unpredictable, and there was little opportunity to cross-sell or upsell. The competition began to exploit this poor integration by offering bundled product solutions, backed up by a comprehensive, integrated service system. The manufacturer has begun to feel the pain. To rectify this situation the company formed a joint business/technology executive team comprising the vice president of sales and marketing and the CIO. Its mission? Implement a CRM application that integrates the product lines to enable the sharing of common customer information, offer an integrated service capability, provide cross-selling and upselling, and take back recently lost market share from the competition. It's a great start, but that's as far as it's gotten in delivering the sorely needed CRM application, because a classic (and potentially serious) divergence is taking place within the team. The business side, responsible for specifying and delivering valuable CRM applications to the business community, has become enamored with the portal technology of a large CRM vendor. Business envisions every CRM user having this CRM portal as his desktop, with immediate access to its vast CRM application richness (e.g., customer profiles, customer service, cross- and upselling). Makes a lot of sense. Meanwhile the IT side, responsible for integrating and implementing the selected CRM applications (as well as more than a dozen other non--CRM applications within the product lines), has become enamored with a more application-agnostic portal vendor offering. IT feels that no one application, such as CRM, should own the user's desktop, and that the application-agnostic portal contains a far richer set of development tools, including the application integration layer. Also makes a lot of sense. It is still too early to determine which portal technology will win at this manufacturer, but one thing is for sure: The era of the stand-alone CRM application is drawing to a close. Given the ever increasing need to integrate disparate applications across, as well as outside, the organization, can any organization really afford not to address CRM's big, new challenge? Barton Goldenberg is president and founder of ISM Inc., a CRM and real-time enterprise consulting firm in Bethesda, MD. He is the author of CRM Automation and the publisher of
The Guide to CRM Automation. Contact him at bgoldenberg@ismguide.com
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