Integration for Everyone

Written By: Betsy Billhorn

from April 9, 2013

Last year, Scribe performed a study focused on understanding what customers and partners were considering in regard to customer data, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and how it is integrated with the rest of the organization’s business operations. The study revealed only 15% of respondents had fully integrated Microsoft Dynamics CRM or customer facing systems. That is pretty low.

On one hand, it is a great opportunity for integration vendors like Scribe. On the other hand, it shows there is a lot of work to do to make integration accessible to businesses large and small. Results of the study showed businesses understood the value of data integration but it was somewhat difficult to figure out how to make it happen.

Integration is somewhat like deciding to run a first marathon. Some start with the all-in “We have to integrate everything!” attitude and realize the complexity, commitment, and price is too high. And as a result, integration is not done. Others run too fast and too hard – “We’re going to integrate our financial operations with Microsoft Dynamics CRM in 10 days!”  Only to find the integration failed or is half working.

Organizations started integration projects and ran into roadblocks such as an integration approach was not the right fit, the tool chosen was complex or hard to learn, or the organization had a poor experience with the implementer. The company walked away and resolved to think integration is too hard, too complex, too expensive, and just undoable.

Almost all organizations can attain the benefits of integration – there are a range of options to fit most budgets and problems. To successfully implement integrations, there are a few key elements to consider.

Be Real
Depending on what users read in the media, integration is often presented as an enterprise vision of all user systems and data talking together. Important business phrases like operational efficiencies, customer centric and social enterprise, line of business effectiveness, and the challenge of engagement are used a lot.  Sounds very strategic and grand, right?

Even when toning down a level to talk about solutions to business problems, talk is still “large” like front office to back office, social, and supply chain. What does integration of a Microsoft Dynamics CRM system with an ERP system mean exactly? What is the actual benefit? Where and what is needed to start? What is most cost effective?

This is Project Management and Planning 101 but it is worth repeating – step back and look at the business problem needing the solution. Be tactical and find things that will have impactful results that can be seen, felt and touched. It is often the little things which make the biggest impact for sales or support teams.

Live Within Means
Understanding the cost – money, resources, and time – is important. Setting a budget and sticking to it is equally important. Combined with a realistic integration goal, budgets drive the approach and help to narrow down choices to a reasonable level. It is easy to get wrapped up into “well, this has MDM capability for only $500 a month more.” If the organization can’t define MDM or how to it applies tactically, resist the urge to buy for “someday” or “for only $$$ we can do XYZ too”.  To ensure success and encourage the business to want more integration, stick to the plan and the budget.

Large startup costs or an enterprise platform are not necessary to get the benefits of integration for the business. There are a range of integration options out there, some starting as low as $99 a month (like Scribe).

The Right Tool for the Job
No one would build a house with a screwdriver or drive in nails with a sledgehammer. The same is true for integration. Buy the right tool for the right job. If integrating Microsoft Dynamics CRM to Microsoft Dynamics GP is the most major business problem and goal, look at vendors that have products with application specific connectors and templates to get you there with a minimum of fuss and custom work.

Plan for the Future
This is a tricky one – the organization does not want to blow the budget or get overwhelmed with an integration platform. But, companies also don’t want to pick an integration approach or platform that is so limited that 6 – 12 months later something else must be purchased to accomplish the expanded integration needs. Make sure that the integration platform has enough flexibility to change as needed and that it has a suitable range of connectivity options that can add other applications or endpoints to later on.

That said – avoid getting swept up in the hype of current trends and go with an integration platform that is too big, broad, or complex for the business. It’s easy to be impressed by things like MDM, Big Data, Social, and a laundry list of connectors and solutions. If the vision of when or why the business will use or integrate with Big Data isn’t clear, do not buy a platform because it can handle Big Data.

Asking for Help
Some organizations need help planning the project, picking the integration approach or platform, and implementing it. A good partner will know the industry and applications involved, and have experience integrating them. The organization will gain the benefit and expertise of someone who has done integration many, many times and has encountered all kinds of projects and scenarios. A partner can advise on best practices and what has worked for other clients.

The price tag can seem hefty up front but in most cases, it’s far less than what would be spent in time, money, and resources if the company were to tackle integration on their own. Customers who use outside help have a higher level of success and satisfaction with their integrations. It is truly money well spent.

Get Going
Integration doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are a lot of options out there and partners who are willing and happy to help. Focus on the business problem and look at the information contained today in the business applications. How can the data be better used and in the most useful location for all teams? Start small with an integration project that is relatively simple which completes and fulfills a specific goal. Tangible benefits from the project will be seen, the business will appreciate it, and the focus can continue to build up the sophistication and complexity of integrations over time.

If you’re interesting in viewing the Scribe report, The State of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Data Integration 2012, please visit: scribesoft.com/State-of-CDI.