The Must-Dos, and Must-Don’ts, of CRM Data Integration
With all the emphasis on digital transformation and the benefits and value it brings, organizations can’t let stand-alone systems be the bottleneck for innovation. Sharing information between CRM, e-commerce, and ERP systems enables companies to achieve new levels of efficiency and provide their customers with superior user experiences.
But despite the benefits, due to the level of risk involved, many IT departments put off system integration projects. The complexity of merging data from different systems can make a project spin out of control, resulting in delays and cost overruns with the possibility of losing data and disrupting normal operations.
Here are some must-dos, an undo, and a fatal mistake to avoid—pointers to help project managers keep system integration projects on track.
Do detailed data mapping. It’s important to have a comprehensive picture of all the data from one system that needs to flow into another system. Even with the most detailed inspection, you need to allot project time for surprises. More often than not, the first list of data is incomplete and data vital to the process is only identified after the first or second round of testing.
It’s important to detect incompatible data formats. For example, a field that should only contain a numeric value may allow alpha characters, which can cause fatal errors. One system might store dates in YYYYMMDD format, while the other system may use MMDDYY. Always include validation and error handling to prevent these types of problems from causing software defects.
Stick with must-haves. Small changes can have unintended consequences. Make sure to differentiate between the “must-haves” and the “would-be-nice-to-haves.” Must-haves may require a change of scope, since they impact the success of the project. Nice-to-haves are typically enhancements that should be considered for phase two. Failure to identify which is which, and to stay focused on the actual scope, often results in overages in time and money and can, in the worst case, lead to a complete failure of the project.
Integrate only the data you need. Mapping only the necessary data will save time and reduce complexity. Each department only needs a specific view relative to their functions. For Salesforce implementations, for example, there is typically a different set of data required for selling than data that is needed for manufacturing. Integrating superfluous data only complicates the integration and slows the development process, leading to an unplanned increase of requirements or scope creep.
Simplify processes. Streamline business processes before implementing the software. Many integration consultants focus on the data flow, but it's even more important to understand the processes so that the automation flows naturally with the business process to improve efficiency. Walking through the tasks with all the relevant users to identify pain points that the solution can relieve is the best way to ensure project success and the strongest user adoption.
Stop using emails to manage projects. Find a set of tools and get everybody in the habit of using them. Most people receive close to 100 emails a day, and it isn’t practical to weed through them to find real-time project status. A vital email from a client describing project setup could wind up in the junk folder unseen for several days, impacting the critical path for the project. Use collaboration tools and keep project information organized in one place, available to the entire team.
Avoid miscommunications. These have always been a problem when managing integration projects. Unlike other IT projects, integration requires knowing detailed processes and data not just for one application but for multiple systems, which leaves many more opportunities for miscommunications and misunderstanding.
During the requirement phase, use a Glossary of Terms to reduce communication errors by clearly stating exactly what a term means. For instance, if one team member thinks a “Part” is one individual piece, such as a bolt that is joined with other parts to make a component, while another team member thinks a “Part” is the assembled component, there will be errors. Always use simple words rather than industry-specific terms so that there’s no room for interpretation, which can often lead to errors.
Integrating systems is, by definition, complex and presents a high level of risk. All of the tips in the world can be boiled down into three simple words: Keep it simple. Make sure you only integrate the data you need; the business process it supports is clear; and every detail is fully communicated using simple terms that everyone can understand. In the end, when everything is well defined, understood and consistent, you have achieved project success, which is the most important must-do of all.
Cathy Sands is the vice president of professional services for Magic Software Enterprises Americas.
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