Oracle CRM On Demand data integration raises big issues

Oracle CRM On Demand data integration projects require strategic thinking and a whole lot of soul searching, experts say.

Integrating data from hosted Oracle CRM On Demand applications with on-premise IT systems can improve overall effectiveness

and productivity everywhere from the call center to the sales department to executive offices, but companies had better take a hard look in the mirror before getting starting, according to industry experts and IT professionals.

It's a lesson that Wayne Sadin, the CIO of Loomis, a158-year-old secure cash handling and automated teller machine servicing company headquartered in Houston, knows all too well.

Sadin oversaw his firm's recent migration from Salesforce.com's hosted sales force automation (SFA) application to Oracle CRM On Demand, the hosted CRM offering Oracle acquired from Siebel Systems Inc. in 2006.

Ever since going live with the product just over a year ago, Loomis has been using Oracle CRM On Demand primarily to let sales representatives manage the process of moving a lead from suspect to prospect to order to billing. Sales managers, meanwhile, use the system to follow the progress their sales teams are making in the field.

Today, Sadin and his team are preparing to integrate Oracle CRM On Demand data with its internal IT infrastructure and applications.

Loomis currently uses Oracle CRM On Demand for SFA while running a host of other Oracle E-Business Suite applications, including on-premise customer service applications. As part of planning for the data integration initiative, Sadin said, his firm had to get a very precise handle on what it hoped to accomplish, because identifying and stating those goals clearly would ultimately help dictate how the company should proceed from a technological standpoint.

Voices of CRM
Loomis on switching from Salesforce.com to Oracle CRM On Demand

 The firm decided that the primary reason for the Oracle CRM On Demand data integration project was to make sure that the company's sales reps had better information at their fingertips when meeting with clients. Oftentimes in the past, sales reps would enter into a meeting hoping to sell the client on a new product or service, not knowing that the client was behind on his payments or was miffed about some sort of service-related snafu. Loomis also hopes to provide its sales reps with better information about where they stand with regard to their commission payments.

"The challenge is [that] you've got sales on demand and everything else on-premise, and we have a lot of data," Sadin said. "Now, how do we best get that data to the salespeople?"

After identifying the goals, the company quickly realized that the actual Oracle CRM On Demand data integration initiative was one of the last pieces of the puzzle. First, Sadin said, the company would have to launch some new applications. They included Oracle's incentive compensation system, which will serve as the commission-tracking system, and Oracle I-Receivables, which is an electronic interface to Oracle E-Business Suite Receivables that will allow Loomis to customize bills and interact with customers when they have billing questions.

As part of the Oracle CRM On Demand data integration project, Loomis invested in Oracle's Application Integration Architecture (AIA) and its general-approach Product Integration Pack. Through Oracle's AIA and Product Integration Pack offering, users can build and customize connections between applications whether they're hosted or in-house.

"We looked at Oracle's approach and [realized] that if we buy all the stuff from Oracle, it fits together really beautifully," Sadin explained. "All the stuff dovetails and so we can do things like pull commission information out of the accounts receivable system, and we can start with a sale [and] flow that data into our billing and contract system. And with the commission system, we can calculate the commission and show it to the rep."

Oracle CRM On Demand data integration: More things to consider The whole idea of combining on-premise data and applications with data gleaned from Oracle CRM On Demand – or any other hosted, on-demand or Software as a Service (SaaS)-type application – brings up architectural concerns that require a company to understand exactly where it is now and where it would like to be in the future, according to experts.

"This raises a pretty big issue, and that is how to proceed across multiple sources for data services and SaaS-type activities," said Dana Gardner, principal analyst with Interarbor Solutions, a Gilford, N.H.-based IT architecture and consulting firm. "For [perhaps] decades, people have been dealing with integration, and now they've got basically another integration point."

Tactics versus strategy For Loomis, which already had a major investment in Oracle E-Business Suite, the path was clear: Add the E-Business Suite applications necessary to accomplish company goals and connect those with Oracle CRM On Demand and existing in-house applications through Oracle AIA.

Industry experts say, however, that other companies using Oracle CRM On Demand may be dealing with a greater hodgepodge of vendors' applications in-house, and the choices may not be as clear. Those firms may be tempted to conduct point-to-point data integrations to satisfy the needs of the moment, but experts say that isn't always a solid long-term solution.

"I think in a lot of cases what you've got are tactical versus strategic issues," Gardner said. "On a tactical basis, companies might just look at one particular application like CRM and decide that they don't need to do an architectural reevaluation because they're simply going to bring in one little data stream and use that across several different processes that they're focused on. But if you start doing that for multiple applications, you're going to run into a complexity roadblock."

Instead, Gardner said, companies should be thinking more strategically. That means focusing on how the firm can make the Oracle CRM On Demand data integration work across applications at the enterprise level. The strategic approach, he said, requires deep thought about service-oriented architecture (SOA), standards, and more methodological approaches to things like governance and data quality.

"For a lot of companies, it makes sense to start thinking about your strategy even if you're only embarking on some of these tactical activities," he said.

For companies dealing with that greater hodgepodge of in-house applications, there are third-party software vendors that can help out with an Oracle CRM On Demand data integration, according to Liz Herbert, a senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

"Some people do like point-to-point coding type integrations if they're not interested in using any of these tools," Herbert said. "But I think that is sort of dying off. Up until about a year ago, that approach was still heavily used."

Don't overanalyze One key lesson that Loomis's Sadin has learned through his experiences with Oracle CRM On Demand is not to overanalyze the project in the boardroom. Instead, he said, grab a test server and take a look at what the data flow from Oracle CRM On Demand will look like when it's hooked up with an in-house system. Doing so may reveal some unexpected benefits.

"If you have a running E-Business suite and you have a running on-demand system, you can analyze this to death, or you can take the approach of putting the product right into test," Sadin said. "You'll probably find that you need to modify less than you thought. With the Oracle system, it's easy to change certain things or certain behaviors, but the data stays fairly constant unless you really take a hatchet to it."

Sadin's closing advice to those embarking on an Oracle CRM On Demand data integration project?

"Don't be afraid to integrate on premise and on demand," he said. "The world is moving to the cloud, whatever that means to you, and the sooner that people start figuring out that you don't control everything anymore, the sooner they're going to build the governance and the management infrastructure to help their company change more quickly."

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