Pure-Play CRM Vendors:
an Integrated or Best-of-Breed Solution?
There are a LOT of CRM vendors. If you count the pure-play Integrated
CRM vendors and niche, or, fill-the-cracks vendors, there at least fifty
from which to choose. Should you go with a one-source solution, reducing
the need for integration with other corporate data sources, or go with
a best-of-breed approach, getting the best in each category but being
left with standalone applications that must be integrated? Every vendor,
of course, has their own opinion. And, of course, we have ours.
You'll read plenty, as you scan around the web, from both independent
analysts as well as the large integrated-CRM software vendors, that integration
is the Holy Grail. Why? Because companies are wary of spending two years
or more trying to link disparate systems within their own companies, let
alone deal with the push which is on to allow both customers on the front-end
and suppliers on the back-end to see and interact with their data.
IT department in the world, short of an IBM or Microsoft
(or maybe an Amazon, which had and still has plenty of cash), can
afford the time, manpower, and skill to: 1) learn multiple systems; 2)
learn a language that will tie these systems together, and; 3) keep it
all running on multiple OS's, or on multiple networks?
come to the oasis of Nortel (Clarify), or PeopleSoft,
or, the current King of the CRM Integration hill, Siebel. Ahhhh.
That feels better, doesn't it?
the kingdom. Become 'Clarified.' Sure, it'll cost you many camels
to enter, and you'll need to rely on the big CRM vendor to do all that
messy integration for you, but you've been promised Time To Market, a
smaller IT investment, happier users because of smoothly-flowing interfaces
and access to information, and, ultimately, happy customers, who have
multi-channel access to help and information, 24 hours a day. Beautiful.
Oh, no, say the Best-of-Breeders such as some still-independent
Business Intelligence companies like Business Objects and
Cognos, and e-Business and webification products such as Right
Now! Technologies, or partial-story vendors such as Kana or
eGain. They claim that users should be wary of an all-Oracle,
"one-stop shop" approach, which is all things to everyone, but not the
best to anyone.
want you to lead with your business processes, which closely align with
your business strategy, then pick and choose those applications that meet
your specifications the closest, and unite them through your own integration.
And, they say, those integration techniques are getting easier.
integration, within the realm of EAI (Enterprise Application Integration),
called for database-to-database coding for the batch transition of information
between systems. Or it called for message-based brokering, where a message
broker would step in and let you send data from a given transaction to
another application, for close to real time processing. Or it's now calling
for what's (confusingly) being called a brokered integration solution.
With this new approach, a central integration hub is built, and all the
logic that's required to integrate applications is developed and managed
within this broker's interface instead of out at the tens of point-to-point
interfaces. Companies such as TIBCO, Vitria, and Oberon
are players in this space.
New Interesting Developments
Other vendors, still, are recognizing the dilemma that companies face
and are going into business as 'BSPs', or, Business Service Providers.
They're in a new class of service provider that focuses solely on providing
business infrastructure. They claim to combine best-of-breed software
with custom technology and integration services. Let a BSP host your suite
of applications, and they can have you up and running in 60 to 90 days
and can incorporate new technologies or update existing applications more
quickly than can a typical in-house IT staff. According to Rene L. White,
the senior vice president of marketing for eConvergent Inc., they
can blend 12 or more off-the-shelf applications with their own integration
framework, known as emerge 3.0, to create a multifaceted but seamless
second movement comes from the software vendors themselves, realizing
and accepting the fact that customers might not want to put all their
eggs in one basket. Donna Fluss, a research director at the Gartner
Group, believes that customers want to do less integration, but
still want best of breed. The solution? Over the long term, she predicts,
e-CRM vendors will be forced to create products that support pluggable
components, so customers can have both best-of-breed and integrated suites,
but she doesn't expect that movement until 2003.
third movement, designed to promote the second one, above, is independent
software vendors that are defining integration interfaces - a common language
- in which different applications could speak to each other if they choose
to. Put a bit more technically, they provide infrastructures to encapsulate
applications within objects, and allow the objects to communicate with
each other. As long as the interfaces between the objects
remain the same, no changes need to be made in how applications communicate
company called ObjectSpace has a product on the market called Voyager.
According to their web site, the Voyager package includes an Application
Server, a pure Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) environment that allows for
the de-coupling of application logic from systems programming logic. With
extensions, and what they call JGL libraries providing more than 50 generic
algorithms, the solution provides a common language, and some advanced
words within that language, to the software vendors, to allow each to
come together and communicate.
Things are certainly a mess, and getting messier, quickly. With integrated
solutions, its true that much integration is already done for you.
But don't think that you still don't have a lot more work to do
to mold that one-size-fits-all package to meet your own, individual corporate
needs. The old ratio of about 1:3 or 1:4, cost of software package to
cost of implementation still holds. Remember, too, the following things
about integrated packages:
nimble will those players be when new technologies arise? If they have
a NIH (Not Invented Here) mentality infused in their very blood, well,
you'll be late to the technology party, and with a potentially inferior
solution as well. You're locked into their solution, and their pacing.
It's dangerous to put such important tools in the hands of one vendor,
and be at their whim for fixes, updates, and new technology developments.
do you want an outside vendor to have so much control over so much of
your company's data? And just how flexible will they allow you
to be in customizing their product to meet your needs? Oracle's Larry
Ellison has publicly stated that he hates the fact that users modify his
code. Users should just accept Oracle's "vanilla" version, along with
its inherent user-interface and workflow model, and shape their company's
behavior to fit the software. Huh? No wonder Larry is the second-most-hated
CEO in software-dom (Mr. Redmond is the clear leader). Larry has the gall
to tell you to not touch his code, and to do things his way or not at
Siebel Systems suffers a bit from Larry-ism. They insist
that you use their own tools, and not write custom code, if you want flip-the-switch
updates from version to version. Otherwise, converting between versions
is not so easy.
the flip side, with best-of-breed solutions, we must admit that
integration is painful. Listen to David Linthicum, CTO of SAGA Software,
Inc., for one fifty minute session at a CRM conference and you'll realize
how immature, complicated, and confusing the EAI marketplace still is.
He'll talk to you about four different types of EAI (Data level, Application
interface level, Method level, and User Interface level); he'll tell you
that EAI is expensive; and he'll explain why the existing EAI methods
fall short of their promises (security issues; non-real-time data transfer;
customer coding requirements, among other issues). As an aside, for in-depth
understanding of EAI, Mr. Linthicum has written two excellent books that
we recommend: Enterprise Application Integration (Addison-Wesley,
1999, ISBN 0201615835), and B2B Application Integration: e-Business-Enable
Your Enterprise (Addison-Wesley, 2000, ISBM 0201709368).
Do your homework. Analyze and prioritize your business needs. Match the
top two or three business requirements to the best-fit solution that exists
today, and make it happen, quickly. Expect that the solution you implement
today will have about a three year lifespan before new technologies and
capabilities will require re-work. If Siebel has the two or three top
features or functions that satisfy your most pressing business needs,
go with it. If two best-of-breed solutions satisfy those pressing business
needs, find a top-notch systems integrator, integrate, and move forward.
bottom line is that you need to do intense due diligence, by matching
your top several requirements with what exists today, not what might exist
on the horizon tomorrow, since things are changing so rapidly, and consolidation
may mean that independent vendors go away. Make significant changes happen
in phases within 90 days, and expect lifelong changes and adaptations,
as your most pressing business needs change, and technology advances.
And move quickly. As the inside flap of Linthicum's B2B book states: "Woe
to the executive who tarries!"