Don't Integrate, InTRAgrate

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With few exceptions CRM applications have failed in their promise to effectively streamline and improve customer interactions. Integration--or the lack thereof--is to blame. The fact is, true integration can never really be achieved if an enterprise fails to examine its own business processes and to change its overall philosophy of what CRM integration really means. The problem with CRM integration today exists mainly because companies forget that CRM is more than a single application--it is an integral part of their overall business ecosystem. Simply tying their CRM system with one or two other applications doesn't necessarily mean that CRM functionality is extended throughout the organization. The traditional approach to CRM integration does not work, because the methodology of connecting one piece of technology with another is not enough. If a company is organized into separate, functional silos, as many are, it is difficult if not impossible to bridge these separate islands of information without a great deal of cost and complexity. However, if a company does not merge CRM with all its diverse systems and applications, it will never achieve the true benefits of CRM. The solution is intragration. For a CRM application to be truly effective it needs more than integration: It needs to be intragrated
into the enterprise. Defining CRM intragration The difference between CRM integration and intragration is the degree of unification achieved. Rather than just tying a CRM system with several other business systems or applications, resulting in a fragmented view of the customer, intragration brings together the management of all an organization's different applications and data into a single resource that users can access when they need. CRM requires access to data from many systems throughout the enterprise--order status, inventory, billing, etc. Only intragration with back-end systems and business processes across all departments of an organization can ensure the right person receives all the right customer information, at the right time. With intragration, customer service representatives don't need to access multiple systems to accomplish a task. By allowing information to flow seamlessly from end to end, enabling faster, better sharing of organizational data, intragration provides a single, holistic view of all customer interactions, ensuring a more productive, satisfying customer experience. Achieving CRM Intragration Companies must eliminate the traditional front-office-versus-back-office thinking and change their overall understanding of what CRM represents. To help close the divide between different departments and to present a more holistic view of customers throughout the entire business, a company must expand its definition of CRM beyond, just an application, to an organizational philosophy. To change its thinking about CRM a company must first examine its own culture and business attitudes. Asking questions such as, How are we currently interacting with both our existing and potential customers, and how successful are we at fulfilling their requests?, will help an organization understand if any improvements can be made in how it is currently servicing its customer base. Companies that are looking for that single view of their customers throughout their entire business need to reevaluate their workflow processes and closely examine their interactions with customers and their efficiency in fulfilling customer requests. For instance, does your marketing department have the same information about a customer that your billing department has? Does your customer service department's workflow complement that of your sales force? If not, efforts may be duplicated or worse, the customer could receive conflicting information from your company and therefore his request may go unsatisfied. It is only after these considerations have been addressed and after any necessary changes have been made that a company should begin to think about the technology they need. The next step is to identify a CRM solution that can achieve the goals the company has identified. Intragrative Solutions: the next generation of CRM There is a wealth of CRM solutions available that offer varying levels of integration capabilities. Only a few, however, can truly achieve the level of intragration described above without an enormous investment of time and capital. Enterprises must demand solutions that do not require them to change their business processes to fit the technology. Instead, they must seek out CRM solutions that are designed to adapt to and grow with an enterprise's ever-changing business model. A new generation of CRM solutions are emerging that deliver on the promise of intragration more easily and economically than ever before. The key elements of these next-generation CRM solutions are: Easy, intuitive deployment capabilities that enable rapid implementation without spending excessive time or IT resources. Preintegrated, easy-to-use workflow tools that do not require sophisticated IT personnel to achieve integration with such legacy applications as ERP, financial, data warehouse, and supply chain management systems. Customization capabilities that allow organizations to easily customize the product to fit their existing business processes without disruption. The best solutions grant companies the freedom to choose how they want to view, create, and update information. Intuitive interfaces that eliminate the need for extensive user training. For CRM to become successful, companies must stop relying on the one-dimensional view of looking to technology alone as a solution. It is time for the industry to view CRM as the intragration of applications with business processes as opposed to the integration of applications with other applications. As the CRM market matures, the distinction of how to go about consolidating a front-office application with a back-office system will become less important. The future success of CRM will depend on the convergence of front- and back-office enterprise applications and business processes, so enterprises can realize the benefit of a truly customer-centric environment. About the Author Dave Baeder is CEO and president of OpenBOX Technologies, a provider of solutions for connecting people, data, and applications.
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