Getting Your House in Order

More CIOs are focusing on their organization’s ability to execute and support customer relationship management (CRM) by taking a hard look at their infrastructure. This comes in the wake of the rush to quickly deploy CRM applications and, before that, the push to force-fit new enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to replace non-Y2K-compliant legacy systems.

The re-examination of technical infrastructures comes none too soon. Outdated, two-tier (client/server) architectures, as well as the lack of configuration management and technology standards, remain major impediments to many organizations’ ability to successfully deploy and execute their CRM strategies.

House Not-So-Beautiful

Imagine a house whose architecture represents a hodge podge of different and incompatible systems, connections, and pathways. It is a nightmarish jungle, where nothing is coordinated, consolidated, or integrated.

In this imaginary house, there wouldn’t be consolidated areas and associated equipment designed for specific activities and needs, such as a kitchen for cooking, a dining room for eating, a living room for entertaining and relaxing, a study for solitude and contemplation, or bedrooms for sleeping and dressing. Instead, there are different combinations of all these spaces and associated appliances (tables, lamps, showers, toilets, bookshelves, countertops, stoves, dressers, etc.) scattered throughout.

Few, if any, of the electrical, plumbing, or phone lines work the same way from one room to another. For the most part, they are incompatible and require expensive, custom-made adapters to work elsewhere.

And what is true about the underlying component systems is also true for higher-level, more-complex activities. Family members live in complete isolation from each other. The house is a maze of different sections and pathways. Some hallways only go from one type of room to another. In many cases, you can’t get from any one place in the house to another, no matter how close in proximity or similar in function.

The Sad State of Technical Architecture

You now understand the complexity and sorry state of the technical architectures of most mid-sized to large organizations. These organizations are too large, too complex, or both — often as a result of wave after wave of mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, and consolidations — to have successfully instituted one common technology standard. Hence, they represent, in the euphemistic parlance of information management consultants, “heterogeneous computing environments.”

In my “house not-so-beautiful” analogy, the various collections of different spaces and appliances represent the operational and technical infrastructures of the various business units or divisions of the corporations.

Though many back-office systems — such as financial and HR systems — have been integrated (usually through the forced standardization on some common ERP system), the technical architectures that support them haven’t been updated or upgraded to support the interactivity of Web-based applications.

And the state of integrated front-office applications? Don’t ask. Many front-office business processes aren’t even automated, much less integrated!

Conclusion

As a result of the rush to force-fit ERP systems in the wake of the Y2K scare, coupled with the subsequent addition of Web-based functions and computational-hungry CRM applications, many large organizations are saddled with “islands of computing” tied together with hard-coded, expensive-to-maintain, and nonscalable point-to-point custom integration “solutions.”

The time to put these broken and disparate houses in order has come — and none too soon.

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