• September 1, 2015
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Integrate CRM and ERP for Better Intelligence

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Regardless of the number of systems involved, the bottom line is that the systems need to be able to share information. An easy way to accomplish this is to select one vendor for both systems.

Aptean's CRM and ERP systems are loosely coupled, meaning that they rely on a middleware layer that sits between them to manage the push and pull of data across platforms. Keenan says this type of setup mitigates the risk of software incompatibility and limits downtime. "The company can continue to operate within one system if the other goes down for a while," he says.

At Solmax, the fact that Aptean supplied both the CRM and ERP systems was a key to the successful integration, according to Palmarini. "The hardest part of the project was making sure that information would be available across both apps," he says. "Having both products from Aptean helped. The integration came a lot easier."

Solmax's integration took place five years ago, and at the time going with a single vendor was really the only option. Today, even Palmarini acknowledges, a multivendor approach is more feasible. "With the open [application programming interfaces] today, it wouldn't be hard to do an integration with two products from two different vendors," he says.

That's because software vendors are largely abandoning proprietary development environments and moving toward open APIs.

"There is a benefit in going with just one vendor, but most companies probably already have multiple systems from multiple vendors," Reser acknowledges. "Vendors know this and are moving toward being able to support multiple systems."

But even then, simply because two disparate systems can cooperate doesn't mean they will work together exactly as planned. Certain product configuration details might not integrate well without extensive customization and changes to core system architectures.

Similarly, consider how CRM and ERP systems will integrate with other software, such as business intelligence, product design, or quality assurance solutions.

FinancialForce avoids integration bottlenecks by building its ERP systems natively on the Salesforce1 platform. "Our apps live on the same platform and fully coexist with Salesforce CRM," Roberts explains. "We share the same interfaces, databases, sign-ons, reporting tools, analytics, workflows, etc. There is one environment and one master record."

Some vendors are taking their integrations a step further. For example, though Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and NetSuite offer their CRM and ERP systems separately, they're also building CRM capabilities into their broader ERP systems.

Aplicor's 3C solution, for example, is an all-in-one solution that presents a single view of finance, operations, marketing, sales, and e-commerce. The embedded CRM functionality includes sales force automation to track hot leads and accelerate time to revenue; marketing automation (from simple email campaigns to advanced lead generation); and customer service and help desk capabilities. The financial management capabilities include budgeting, general ledger, multicurrency management, billing, inventory management, sales and purchase order processing, and pricing. Shared data and analytics inform decisions and manage and track overall performance across shared metrics.

"We want to eliminate the chaos that companies face as they grow and need additional capabilities, ensuring that they always have the visibility and control they'll need to focus on selling more and servicing their customers better," said Steve Haley, CEO of Aplicor, in a statement. "Aplicor 3C is also designed to grow with businesses, so all the features and functionality they'll require is in our platform from day one. It's the only business software they'll need from first sale to big exit."

Sage North America, a provider of management software and services to small and midsize businesses, did the same with its Sage ERP X3 offering.

"Connecting Sage ERP X3 and Sage CRM provides companies with greater visibility into their business," said Doug LeBahn, senior vice president of Sage product management and marketing, in a statement. "It enables their accounting, operations, sales, marketing, and customer service teams to have a single consistent view into their customer relationships so they can deliver a great customer experience."


Because there are so many options, experts also recommend a close evaluation of the infrastructure on which the systems will reside. "Make sure that whatever company you go with, it follows best practices for redundancies, backups, and security," FinancialForce's Roberts says.

The security issue is a big one. If all of the company's customer information is stored in one central hub, it creates fewer entry points for potential hackers. Internal threats are just as real, but they can be minimized with simple access controls that let users see only the information that is needed for their particular jobs. The shipping clerk, for example, doesn't need to know the customers' credit card information.

"An important part of all of this is not allowing anyone to directly connect to the data sources," Reser says, "but offering access through a data hub that you can control with user authentication and encryption."

You also should ensure that your decision today won't limit your options in the future. "You might want to find one platform and then look for vendors that fit in with that platform," Roberts says.

And finally, the data in both systems needs to be as current and accurate as possible for any integration to be successful. "CRM is the engine that drives the business. ERP steers the business. Data is the fuel," Reser concludes.

News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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