Saturday, August 9, 2014

SugarCRM Integration and the Enterprise Portal

Following the recent SugarCon event where the company I work for exhibited and showed its integration and enterprise mobile application tools for SugarCRM and many other systems, I wanted to address one of the key questions we were frequently asked at the event, “how can I make my SugarCRM more than a customer database?”
This is becoming a key question because the open-source CRM software, SugarCRM, is currently reorganising here in Europe in order to deliver a more enterprise-grade flavour of Sugar into a market dominated by major players such as Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics among others.  Whether you already use SugarCRM or are considering a migration, I strongly advise you to consider integrating SugarCRM into your workflows, and even making it a central jumping-off point for day to day processes, in order to get the most value for your money.

Why Process-Based Integration For SugarCRM?
Businesses use back-office systems like SugarCRM to manage business activities such as Lead to Cash or Service Request to Invoice processes; which is to say that the SugarCRM is not intended to act as a spreadsheet but as a tool through which to run workflows.  The problem is that most of these workflows aren’t neatly limited by enterprise systems, and rather than remaining within the CRM or ERP they need to move between them.
Further, while these systems are typically chosen for how well they manage their specific area, applications are increasing in functionality and this is causing the data they store (such as customer and product information) to overlap.  Therefore today you could conceivably have two versions of your customer data, one in your SugarCRM and one in your ERP.
Today, your workflows also move between more systems: unlike in the old days when contact would be either by phone or email, today it’s equally likely that conversations could take place through social media channels and customers increasingly expect rapid turnaround on any issues they may have, driving you to find greater efficiencies in your processes.

Benefits of Integration

With business processes running through an increasing number of systems, further improvements in process efficiency can be lead by integrating and extending the functionality of your systems.  You have more information about your customers than ever before, but to make it work for you it needs to be easily accessed and updated across multiple systems.
For example, if you speak to a sales lead through a social channel, you need a lead record to be created and updated in SugarCRM as the conversation progresses, then passed through to the ERP when you need to perform a credit check, back to SugarCRM to close the sale and back into the ERP for order fulfilment and invoicing.  Every time one of those handoffs involves manual updating, you risk losing data, having an incomplete update or having different information in different systems.  It also takes time, and do you need to manually let other stakeholders in the sales process know what’s going on?
Process-based integration allows you to follow the business logic that your users already use when updating information across systems, turning your existing ad-hoc and informal processes into automated, robust ones.
Integration Challenges
Enterprise integration is not without its pitfalls, however, and I have written before about “Why Do Integration Projects Fail?” and well as “Debunking Enterprise Application Integration Myths”.  In reality, the biggest challenges in integration are management ones: enterprise integration moves the cheese of the IT department and wider user community.
  • Empowering champions helps you overcome the resistance to change by empowering influential peers with the big picture information to overcome the broad-based and possibly groundless fears of the group; but they also provide a way for management to understand when the concerns are grounded in reality and genuinely need to be addressed
  • Avoiding blame culture is critical and requires the entire management team to foster an attitude of cooperation, openness and problem-solving
  • Focus on processes, rather than data, because while data locked in silos leads to protectionism, processes create an end-to-end view that benefits users and the entire organisation
  • Remove negativity by focusing on processes as an empowering development that will help users work more effectively
  • Use continuous change: starting from a strategic view of what the business should look like, break it down into components, and after implementing the first, wait and see what happens so you can learn from each one as you go.
  • Deal with your suppliers, especially to ensure that they understand your vision and resolve any potential issues before the project starts.
Apart from management challenges, integration projects used to require a large amount of customised coding, which is time-consuming to write and becomes even more complex when changes need to be made.  As for upgrading, switching out or adding enterprise systems can lead to you running just to stand still.

Business Process Management: Solving The Challenges

Given that one of the appeals of SugarCRM is the cost compared to much of the competition, it may seem counter-intuitive to run an integration project with traditional integration tools.  This is where business process integration tailored specifically to SugarCRM and your other systems becomes valuable with business process management, the ability to orchestrate end to end business processes in real time.  Further, using a process-based integration platform allows you to benefit from live process monitoring, management and auditing, out of the box.
What should be integrated to your SugarCRM?
I’ve previously written about the concept of an “Enterprise Portal”, where your integrated workflows can be kicked off from a common portal, and they report back there too.  For example, by integrating an enterprise social tool into your processes, users can follow objects and projects, and receive automatic notifications when these are modified.  This means that your SugarCRM could become the common portal and user dashboard, boosting productivity and engagement by helping users work more efficiently and collaborate effectively.

David Akka is Managing Director at Magic Software Enterprises UK. David is a successful executive manager with a proven track record as a general manager with a strong background in sales, marketing, business development and operations. Past experience in technology and service delivery include both UK and European responsibilities.

Originally published on enterpriseappstech