How good is your CRM supplier at integrating systems?

11 November 2014 by smartimpact team

This blog is part of an ongoing series where I’ll look at various aspects of successful CRM projects and focus on some key areas that often lead to project failure or under performance. Today, I’m thinking about integration and hope to cover some insights and some of the questions you can ask to make sure you get this right in your organisation.

 

This blog is part of an ongoing series where I’ll look at various aspects of successful CRM projects and focus on some key areas that often lead to project failure or underperformance.

Today, I’m thinking about integration and hope to cover some insights and some of the questions you can ask to make sure you get this right in your organisation.

A typical membership organisation not only needs a good membership system; you need and, no doubt, will already use other systems such as an accounting package, website with CMS, email campaigns management and maybe even some social media tools.

A good membership solution will have these integrated with a CRM system at the heart so that you’ll be able to see all relevant information about a particular member and use this centralised information to drive tailored member services, marketing and other business processes.

However, integration has long been a stumbling block for overall project success. The truth is, in the many years I have been involved in IT projects I have observed that the ratio of suppliers who do integration well compared to those who are not good enough is about 1:10. Sometimes this is simply the supplier’s technical inadequacy; other times it is caused when the customer (it could even be you!) forces the supplier to cut corners due to budgetary constraints.

A popular misconception is that integration is just about getting data from one place to another. In fact, it is more about knowing all the things that can go wrong and building in routines and measures to handle them automatically. This is why good integration projects can take longer than you may expect at first glance. Thoroughness takes time and is well worth the investment. If your integration works well 80% of the time, how much does it cost in using incorrect and untrusted data, or down time while you resolve the issues caused by the other 20%? Good integration should be 100% reliable. Make sure it is.

So, how do you check out your supplier’s skills in integration?

  1. Ask them how many other projects they have delivered where they have integrated to exactly the other products you use. It’s not good enough to know they have integrated to Sage. Sage has a range of products, with many versions and releases over the years. Specify the exact version and release
  2. Tell them you expect to be able to speak with the various customers where this has been done
  3. Ask those customers how long the integration took compared with how long it was predicted? How reliable is it? What sort of issues come up and how do they handle them? Is it real time or batch and would they like it to be more immediate? What happens when one of the integrated systems is upgraded – how much rework is needed for the integration to work?
  4. Ask the supplier to walk you through how they intend to do the integration. Is it though an API (a middleware interface that helps map the corresponding data fields between your CRM and all the other systems you use) or is it point to point between each system? (i.e. you could end up with four or five integration pieces that need maintaining) If it is an API, who built it and who owns it? How is it charged for and licenced?

    Some third party APIs are based on the total number of users of each system to be linked no matter how many of each set of users actually needs the shared data. This can end up very expensive in cases where you have hundreds or thousands of members accessing one of your applications.
  5. What was the volume of data involved in the integration? Integrating a CRM system with a website with thousands of transactions is different that integrating with a website with occasional transactions.
  6. Does the integration cover just data transfer or does it also include business processes? If so, where are those processes managed? Ideally, they should be centralised so that you only need change a process in one place. For instance, if you alter your member recruitment procedure but have processes defined in your website, membership system and accounting application, it is difficult to be agile. How can you be sure they always interact as you expect?

Integration can seem confusing and sometimes a daunting task but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

At smartimpact, we are often called in by organisations who have become disappointed with their current solution, so we think we have a good insight into what makes a good supplier and system. We’ve listed some of the questions you should be asking of your system – we hope you are happy with the answers you get, but if you would like some more insight, or just a casual chat about your situation or concerns, please contact us and we will try to help you out without any obligation.