Where's the biggest need to standardize? It's not the applications, it's not the business processes, it's the data.

Many users insist that the goal of CRM is to get a "single view of the customer." But that's probably a bigger bite than most companies of any size can reasonably take at once. Few businesses of any scale have really thought through what it would take to get a consistent taxonomy of the labels used for customer information, much less how to get all of that information into one usable location.

When they do take on what Saugatuck's Guptill calls "one big grunt of a project" to centralize data, the benefits are compelling. IP telephony provider Avaya Inc. recently centralized its database of 4,500 resellers under a partner relationship management application from Siebel Systems. "All of our data is in one place," says Robin Doherty, IT technical manager. "We can see where our partners are, what they're selling and what they say they're going to sell."

Some analysts believe that what will differentiate CRM in the future will be the ability to connect CRM software to Enterprise Resource Planning backbones. That would seem to sound a warning bell for stand-alone CRM application vendors, and give traditional ERP manufacturers such as SAP and PeopleSoft Inc. a leg up, thanks to their advantage in building strong connections among their own large-scale programs.

As always, though, it comes down to what you're trying to do: If your long-term goals include integrating all your customer-centric information and processes, you'll probably want to simplify your systems, and for some companies that will mean single-vendor relationships. But if your business goals lean more toward nimbleness and flexibility, independent applications that you stitch together yourself, from vendors such as Siebel and Amdocs Inc., may still be the way to go.

Ask Your Data Guru:

Where do we keep data about the customer?

Ask Your Integration Team:

Is it better for us to pull customer information into a data warehouse?

Ask Your Systems Architect:

What does your gut say we'll have to do in three years—continue to go best of breed, or consider single-vendor alternatives?

This article was originally published on 11-02-2002
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