Customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) are two areas of IT that have a profound impact on the way IT managers work within an organization. As an IT manager, one of the challenges you may face is keeping up with how these enterprise application trends change.

This article includes a sampling of questions concerning CRM and ERP from some of our members and answers from industry experts. Take a look. If you can’t find the answer to your question, e-mail us.

Choosing the right CRM vendor
A TechRepublic member recently asked for advice about how to select a CRM vendor. In response, TechRepublic turned to Frost & Sullivan analyst Stan Prescott for the answer.

TechRepublic member: What should be the criteria in selecting a vendor or a partner for a CRM strategic project?
Prescott: First of all, the vendor or partner should be an established player and have a track record in the software package that you’re interested in. If you’re trying to do a CRM implementation for a vertical market and this vendor has experience in that area, that’s even better. Your choice of partners will also depend on your intentions to implement CRM in-house or outsourced through a Management Service Provider (MSP).
We can chop that down even further: If you’re interested in contact center applications, for example, then look for a vendor that specializes in this area. Of course, this will depend on your existing infrastructure and your mind-set as well. Some vendors will be very experienced in the old-school technologies such as computer telephony integration using PBX technologies. The new school of CRM vendor will be able to roll out a complete Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) solution for you.
It’s important you have an idea of what you want from your CRM implementation before you begin your vendor selection. There’s a ton of literature out there on the Internet about CRM vendors, the product suites, and the integration methods. There are also plenty of consultants out there who will step you through the decision tree.

Upgrading ERP applications
Another TechRepublic member asked about whether a large enterprise should sacrifice an ERP upgrade to stay with a company-specific version. TechRepublic asked Gartner analyst Yvonne Genovese to respond.

TechRepublic member: Is there any supporting evidence that justifies a large manufacturing enterprise’s decision to trade off the ability to upgrade their ERP application for the benefits of having a company-specific version?
Genovese: We receive this question frequently. The answer I give is: Don’t change anything in the software unless:

  • It is critical to your business (differentiates you in the marketplace, i.e. compliance with a large supplier, assists you in delivery of products faster, cheaper, better quality to your customers, etc.). For example, I would not consider a change to one of the accounting applications as critical on a normal basis—I would consider a change to the pricing, order management, purchase order management processes.
  • When necessary to modify, use application programming interfaces (APIs). Many of the major vendors offer APIs in critical places (like pricing routines). Using these APIs could protect your ability to upgrade to future versions. If they don’t offer APIs, create your own. Always attempt to get the software vendor to embrace those APIs in future versions.

Otherwise, don’t modify unless you are prone to being in the software business. What you basically do when you modify code delivered from a vendor is force yourself into a corner where it is necessary to hire people to maintain your versions and enhance your product, thus, you are in the software business.

The right CRM implementation process
Another TechRepublic member wanted to know what methodology to use to successfully track CRM implementation from beginning to end. We asked Gartner analyst Beth Eisenfeld for her advice.

TechRepublic member: Where can I find a methodology to follow for my CRM implementation?
Eisenfeld: Gartner recommends that projects undertaken using a proven phased methodology carry less risk and a greater chance of success.
The four phases are:

  • Strategize. Seek/confirm buy-in from senior management; form the initial project team (project manager, business and IT manager), form the project steering committee and define the overall scope of the project. Chart the vision for becoming customer-centric. Questions that should be answered in this phase include, “What are the key business problems we are trying to solve?”
  • Evaluate. Develop the full benefit case and board presentation, expand the project team (subteam leaders) to handle the request for proposal (RFP) and vendor selection. The team turns the strategies from the prior phase into tactical activities for enabling execution, recruits resources, defines detailed project structure and work plan, programs risks, and evaluates external services providers (ESPs) and vendors.
  • Execute. Execute the work plan, implement pilot and actual solution, as well as fine-tune benefit and return on investment (ROI) metrics based on pilot results. As the heart of the project, it looks at five key work components: process design, development, knowledge/information management, technical build, and change management.
  • Management. Attend to ongoing management of the solution and subsequent upgrades, as well as retirement or replacement planning and ongoing measurement.

Looking for solutions?

Are you in charge of selecting or running an enterprise application solution for your organization? What strategies does your organization follow to ensure success? Let us know how it is working for you by dropping us a line or posting a comment below.