CRM Integration Best Practices

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1 CRM Integration Best Practices

2 TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction... 1 Should every business consider integration?... 1 Methods: Data Integration vs Systems Integration... 2 Data Integration... 2 Systems Integration... 3 Which Integration Method is better?... 3 Strategy and Planning... 4 Why should requirements be documented prior to integration?... 4 How do you select which systems should be integrated?... 4 Who should be involved in the integration planning process?... 5 Do we need an integration partner if our IT experts can do it?... 6 Software... 7 Middleware vs Custom Solutions... 7 Cloud Solution vs On-premise: Which is better?... 8 How to choose the right CRM implementation partner... 9 Timeframe and Cost How long should the integration take? What are the bottlenecks that delay the timeline of integration? How much does integration cost? Data Should data from CRM and other systems be cleaned before integration? Which data should be integrated?... 12

3 Should data migration happen simultaneously with the integration? How should the data communicate between systems? What are the use cases for Real-Time data integration or batch integration? Where should all the data be stored? Reporting Why should report requirements be established? How should the business define metrics? Training and Support What is the best way to train users and how often? Should the integration process be documented? Why, and how much? Who will support the integration if it errors? Conclusion... 18

4 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 1 INTRODUCTION Integrating a CRM system with other internal applications can significantly improve customer service by harmonizing workflow efficiencies across multiple business departments. Typically, the most popular system integrations involve CRM and ERP applications, or Enterprise Resource Planning, as it bridges the communications gap between customer facing interactions and internal operations or processes. However, businesses considering integration have so many different approach options, which can cause confusion and stress. It s why we ve created this best practices Ebook. The aim is to educate and simplify the understanding of a rather heavily technical process - because the end goal isn t about acquiring the most sophisticated technology, but rather to continue adding value to your customer relationships. Should every business consider integration? The biggest determining factor in integration boils down to the current state of the business; mostly because the integration style is dictated by the existing systems or databases. Aside from streamlining operations and improving customer interactions, there other benefits to CRM integration. Like any investment, it is important to consider the

5 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 2 potential risks and ask the telling questions. How does the integration process work? What are the software options and costs? Are the necessary human and server resources available today? Who will set up and manage the system long-term? To avoid wasting time and money, take the time to learn about integration best practices and become comfortable in discussing the technical aspects of the process. Methods: Data Integration vs Systems Integration They are two different types of integrations with separate approaches, methodologies and tools. Each has its own role, one for managing the data and one for managing system interactions and it is critical to know which of these integration approaches is right for the business. Unfortunately, "Data Integration" and "Systems Integration" are commonly considered synonymous and tend to be used interchangeably without an understanding the significant differences between the two. It s this kind of technical confusion that leaves businesses on the risky side of an integration investment. Data Integration Fundamentally, Data Integration involves the synchronization, standardization, transformation, mapping, quality and transport of data usually in large quantities between different systems. Specifically, there is a need to develop "maps" between different data sources, for example how a customer record in one system "maps" to a customer record in another system.

6 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 3 Systems Integration On the other hand, Systems Integration serves to link multiple applications together to deal with events at a transactional or customer service level. Essentially, the systems are aware of how different pieces of information come together to create one data unit that cannot be broken down and cause data inconsistencies throughout the system. A typical use case for this type of integration involves placing a customer order, then generating an invoice that is automatically updated in an accounting or financials database. So really, Systems Integration is designed for event-based interactions so that as soon as something happens in the originating application, like the customer order, the transaction is sent over to the destination application, such as an accounting system. The goal is to achieve data communications in real-time, so that multiple systems are always synchronized. Which Integration Method is better? Data Integration is neither superior to, nor inferior to Systems Integration. It is simply different. The goal of data integration is to gather data from different sources, combine it and present it in such a way that it appears to be a unified whole. The applications for data integration locate, retrieve and integrate the information for you. During the integration process, the applications manipulate the data so that the information from one source is compatible with the information from the other source. A downside to data integration alone is that applications can become complex and difficult to program as the number of data sources and formats increase. However, Systems Integration is always driven by a business need to improve processes or other transactions by unifying multiple applications to create one master system.

7 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 4 STRATEGY AND PLANNING Businesses that plan CRM integration strategically and then implement tactically are the most successful. Obviously having a current CRM system in place is essential before even considering integration. Why should requirements be documented prior to integration? Documenting all requirements and understanding the desirable outcomes ensures that the integrated systems communicate successfully and have the flexibility to adapt to future business needs. In addition, establishing the requirements from the beginning allows the business to determine which integration technology is appropriate and to prioritize which applications need to be integrated first. How do you select which systems should be integrated? A common misconception about CRM integration is that it s as simple as connecting all existing applications with the same data. Keep in mind however, that it s not wise to believe that all can be integrated at once. Since each application has different priorities, structures, user interactions and levels of importance to the overall business operations, consider which ones should be prioritized first and which ones could possibly be integrated at a later phase.

8 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 5 Another point to consider when selecting which applications to integrate involves a system of record. For example, in a non-integrated system environment, user groups will tend to work in different applications where each has a certain kind of data. In a larger company or a company dealing with specialties within it, the different user groups within a company may work primarily in one primary application but still want bits of information from a secondary application. This primary one generally operates as that user group s system of record. If an organization is disparate enough, there may be multiple systems of record for different types of data (marketing data, billing data, etc.), and even the same types of data in some cases. Who should be involved in the integration planning process? Just like the case of CRM implementation, there needs to be a team dedicated to the overall strategy in addition to the technical side of the integration process. Establish a project manager who will coordinate efforts of the team and who will act as the go-between with management and any outside resources. There may be an opportunity to leverage the original CRM team, but this will depend on the complexity of the integration and the resources needed to stay within the scope of the project. It is all too common for employees to be made part of a project team but not be able to fully participate in the project. This represents a risk to the project timeline, other business initiatives, and ultimately the success of the project. Here are some team members to consider: Project Manager The Project Manager is responsible for scheduling all work and acts as the liaison between you and your consulting partner (if hired). This person will help facilitate the project, monitor the project milestones and budget, and should attend all the planning meetings. Subject Matter Expert Aside from a project manager, there needs to be at least one individual on the team that is fluent in both data and systems integration. These personnel tend to fall in the IT category, however,

9 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 6 most businesses find that an outside expert or an integration partner is best suited to provide best practices and can help the executives make the best decisions for the business. Testing Resources Technology experts should understand the infrastructure, but also be available to test the final product for any bugs and errors. It s also advisable to include a few end users throughout the testing process to ensure the integration truly serves to increase workflow efficiencies and is easy to use. Executive Sponsor The Executive Sponsor is the one driving the integration efforts. They provide the strategic vision of the company and are involved in selecting the integration team. This person should also have the authority to make decisions related to the project finances and business processes, and at times may need to serve as the mediator with the final say in critical decision points. It s also important to have the executive present and openly supportive of the integration during roll out. Do we need an integration partner if our IT experts can do it? Since most business opt for integration software that is pre-built, the expertise of an integration partner is extremely beneficial. Even if your business plans on having IT personnel develop a custom integration solution, you ll still want to make sure the project is overseen by someone with integration expertise. Since the nature of integration is heavily technical, it s wise to leverage outside help when internal resources aren t available to ensure the project is finished correctly and in a timely manner. Plus, you ll want to make sure IT or an integration expert is on board to provide any ongoing maintenance and support. While there is technical expertise that a partner can bring to the table, it is equally important to involve business experience. This is particularly important since those who will be using the data in system integrations are business users and business managers.

10 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 7 SOFTWARE For software to be useful, it needs to capture and regurgitate information that the company needs. While there are a lot of integration technologies available in the marketplace, choosing the right one depends on the businesses approach to integration. Middleware vs Custom Solutions There are so many middleware (also known as ETL, or Extract/Transform/Load) tools on the marketplace that can easily create the communications bridge between systems and databases. In fact, about 95% of business end up selecting a middleware option over a custom solution because in most cases it s more affordable and requires less time to deliver an integration. Plus, given the variety of middleware tools, there are more choices for user and management interfaces, functionality (i.e. data translations), record processing, alerts, s and more. Selecting a well-known middleware will help ensure that the integration can be maintained by others who have the technical skillset for that middleware. The key to choosing the right middleware depends on the current systems to be integrated and the complexity of the requirements.

11 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 8 Is free Middleware OK to use? Not all web services are created equal, and free might not be as reliable for the sustainability, longevity and overall support of an integration. Besides, like most free technology, it s usually an entry level offering with a limited number of features. If the integration requirements are relatively simple in nature, then a free option might work for the business. Otherwise, consider other options like Zappier, Scribe or Boomi to name a few. On the other hand, it s perfectly appropriate to create a custom integration solution from scratch. Because there are no recurring monthly fees like those associated with middleware, custom solutions can possibly be less expensive and more maintainable. However, the business must first assess if they have the available resources to handle the scope and requirements of the project, otherwise custom solutions can be very expensive. Custom solutions have a tendency to hold the business hostage when the business knowledge is embodied in a single person. Sometimes custom solutions aren t able to work with the current systems due to coding issues or are unable to stand alone with connections to every other system. So, it s very important to determine requirements beforehand to make sure the right technology is selected to meet these needs. Cloud Solution vs On-premise: Which is better? Cloud describes the ability to remotely access the software and database while on-premise involves physically holding the software on an internal server. While both options pose their own benefits, determining which option is better uniquely depends on each business needs. Typically, businesses consider data security or accessibility (mobility) as the determining factors, but more often than not whichever solution the CRM system is currently operating from is most likely the solution of choice for the integration.

12 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 9 How to choose the right CRM implementation partner It s important to work with a partner that has expertise with several different software programs and solutions to integration. Mostly because not all businesses end up using the same approach to integration and even at times elect to use multiple solutions at once. However, the decision to hire an implementation partner will depend greatly on the current internal resources from personnel expertise and time. If external help is necessary, it is wise to involve them at the earliest stage possible so they can help you determine the most successful route for the integration project. Or, you may just have some questions along the way and you ll want to establish a rapport with an expert to give you quick, reliable answers.

13 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 10 TIMEFRAME AND COST How long should the integration take? Each individual integration project timeframe varies depending on the complexity of the requirements and the style of the integration. One simple, single object or data point, for example, can take as little as 8 hours to integrate. However, a more complex single object integration with all requirements, documentation, development, testing, and approval take as much as 24 hours of work time. One data point is, for example, customer record only. What are the bottlenecks that delay the timeline of integration? The same factors that determine the integration timeframe can also be the same ones that cause project setbacks. The best way to avoid delays is to conduct a thorough requirements assessment and determine if a phased integration approach is ideal to balance out the time and resources. Once the desired systems are chosen for integration, stick with the plan and avoid adding additional applications to the project until the first phase is complete. Most importantly, give the project enough time buffers to accommodate for any unexpected setbacks. It s easier to bake that into the plan beforehand rather than fall behind the scheduled go live date.

14 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 11 How much does integration cost? The type of integration to take place (Data or System) can determine the scope of the initial project, and the costs to manage it on an ongoing basis. As a general rule, the complexity of requirements has a tremendous effect on the expenditures because it usually involves the need for additional resources and approval from multiple departments. The design and technical expenses tend to be the top two determinations of cost. Although, there are other support elements such as ongoing maintenance and user training that can impact the overall integration budget.

15 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 12 DATA Should data from CRM and other systems be cleaned before integration? Data cleanliness is mission critical to the ability for applications to communicate. If there isn t a current data maintenance process for the CRM system, you ll want to make sure it s reviewed and cleaned before attempting to integrate it with another database or system. Having quality, accurate data will significantly reduce complications during the integration and save money as a result of errors and subsequent fixes needed down the road. Which data should be integrated? When it comes to the selection of which data to integrate, it is dependent on the needs of the business. If, for example, sales and accounting need to communicate on the status of customer orders, then components of the customer profile will need to communicate between systems. Here are some examples of data usage types to integrate: Profiles accounts, contacts and the core attributes of customer information Analytics and predictive analytics to help the forecast future business

16 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 13 Product information and inventory (or service information) Should data migration happen simultaneously with the integration? Data Migration is the process of moving data from one application to another, which is often necessary in order to set up a new system. On the other hand, Data Integration is the process of building and maintaining synchronization between the data in the CRM and another application. Now, if the data to be migrated is unrelated to the data that is going to be integrated, it is generally a separate effort. If the data being migrated is related to the data being integrated, then it must be considered part of the integration design and folded into the plan for integration. This is particularly true if the data for migration and the data for integration relate to each other in a parent-child relationship. As a consideration for the blended data design, it is common to have a process called data initialization to bring the data into the target system in mass as part of the data seeding process. How should the data communicate between systems? There are unique data flow requirements for each integration that are primarily dependent on current business processes. Then, the determination for one directional or bi-directional system communications will depend on how many applications need to communicate, how often they communicate and which information needs to be communicated. For example, accounting may only need to know when a sale is made which would be a onedirectional communication. Alternatively, if the sales rep needs to also know when accounting has submitted an invoice or received payment for that sale, then a bi-directional communication is needed between systems.

17 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 14 What are the use cases for Real-Time data integration or batch integration? The movement of integrated data has a timing element to it. Depending upon the business drivers, a nightly movement of data (also known as a Nightly Batch ) may be all the end users need to keep them useful and the customer well-served. The benefits to this are generally simplicity in moving parts of the integration. This approach will generally fit well with data integrations. Occasionally the frequency needs to be increased, and the frequency will need to be set be as close as 5 minutes apart. Of course, it s then just known as a batch, dropping the nightly nomenclature. In other cases, there may be business processes that demand immediate action as is commonly seen in system integrations. These are referred to as Real-Time integrations. Where should all the data be stored? Depending on if the business elects to use a cloud or on-premise solution will determine how the data is stored. Although, each system should always keep in-tact their own unique data sets while the integration should translate information between the systems. Essentially, the beautiful part about systems integration is the way it further helps to centralize organizational data. However, it s worth mentioning that this particular document is not designed to speak to data warehousing. It s important to minimize data movement to only that which is needed because the centralization of key data is the goal of integration, not all data.

18 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 15 REPORTING Why should report requirements be established? It is equally as important to document the initial requirements for the integration as it is to document the reporting requirements especially when there is a need to obtain consolidated report information from multiple systems. Using the Stephen Covey habit of Begin with the end in mind, it is a good practice to review any required report samples up front if they are available. How should the business define metrics? Similar to CRM system KPM (or Key Performance Metrics), there are 2 categories to consider focusing on to ensure the success of the integration efforts. Strategic Alignment By defining goals and strategies in the beginning, it becomes much easier to make decisions on other elements of the integration process like training and reporting. Improved process effectiveness For real evidence on the success of integration, looking at the sales, marketing, accounting and customer service improvements is essential. Not only do these four departments have connections to the customer, they also are key departments that have direct effects on the ROI of the integration itself.

19 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 16 TRAINING AND SUPPORT What is the best way to train users and how often? In an ideal situation, there should always be an effort to continuously train users on the current systems, especially as updates or enhancements (like integration) are made. Even if the training sessions are short form or long form, you ll want to work with an integration expert that has help businesses develop a tailored training program to meet the budget, time and needs of the business and its employees. It truly is the responsibility of the business to initially train users but also to provide ongoing support. In the case of integration related training for end users, the focus should include proper understanding and usage of integrated data, and integrated processes. For administrators, this should include features of the administrative interface of any middleware, and enhancements to the mapping and data processing features available in the integration tool(s) of choice. Should the integration process be documented? Why, and how much? Absolutely. In fact, all internal processes should be documented in the event the person originally overseeing or in charge of the process has moved on to another capacity. Since the integration process is very technical, it s

20 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 17 important to ensure that the passing of the baton goes smoothly if any changes or updates to the integration need to occur. Be sure to include documentation for initial requirements, future requirements, technology being used, contacts, data elements and other reporting needs. Equally important to this vein is the solution design document which will guide the development of the integration solution. Also, maintaining it as a living document is key for making sure knowledge of the integration isn t lost and is readily distributable to all those who may need it. There is always that ubiquitous bus that seems to seek out those who are the only container of key business knowledge. Who will support the integration if it errors? If the integration approach involves middleware, the vendor may offer ongoing support that is included into a monthly recurring fee. Many of the middleware solutions have a useful administrative interface. It is fairly common to train an internal technical resource for at least level one support. Once an integration is in place, an organization tends to depend heavily on it, so uptime is a key concern. You will want to ensure that a backup plan exists in any case. For companies with multiple integrations, working with an expert (internal or external) who can provide realtime recovery and maintenance is important.

21 BEST PRACTICES FOR CRM INTEGRATION Page 18 CONCLUSION Integrated systems must be filled with useful information about customers so that you can effectively enable data communications. When businesses integrate CRM with customer-related systems or ERP-related systems, it provides more insight, and creates a single, 360-degree view of the customer. There are no longer departmental silos, but rather a collective working environment that anticipates and responds to customer demand more effectively. As a result, the business is better prepared for long-term profitability and sustainability.

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