Our experience in the Indian market has shown that organizations have ended up using different applications to manage customer information. Sales and customer service employees use CRM applications while accounting and finance teams use ERP. While CRM applications have been developed with cross organizational collaboration in mind, most ERP solutions have been restricted to use within the finance department.
Further, many companies have tended to buy their CRM and ERP from separate vendors who are specialists in their respective areas. This combination of factors has resulted in applications struggling to address key business process needs where the customer lifecycle crosses the front-to-back-office divide. The result is, a) departmental silos of information, b) process duplication, c) inefficiencies d) manual intervention.
The ‘prospect-to-quotation-to-payment’ cycle is an example of where these issues can arise. Given the departments involved at various stages of this cycle, namely, account management, quotations, sales orders and accounts receivables, mistakes at any stage in the process can be costly and result in delays. For example, if a sales person makes a quote based on an outdated price list or stock availability and then converts this into a customer order, imagine the nightmare that would result in the organization.
Also, sales and customer service representatives may struggle to provide order related information to customers due to limited visibility of transactional data.
Front-to-back office integration is the ‘final piece in the customer-centricity jigsaw’ as it brings together disconnected business processes, applications and data. This then gets translated into a) improved management of customer relationships, b) decrease in costs, c) increased profitability, and d) overall competitive advantage.
Front-to-back office integration is made up of three elements:
• Consistent data sharing between related entities within the CRM and ERP applications. Customer data is always structured according to specific application types. Therefore we need to be able to create dynamic links from entities within the CRM system (eg: company) to the corresponding entity within the ERP system (eg: account). Therefore a CRM’s out-of-box ERP integration will provide for bi-directional synchronisation of customer information, both financial and non-financial.
• 360-degree customer visibility, regardless of whether customer data originates in the CRM or ERP application. Providing the CRM and ERP users with access to both financial and non-financial information eliminates customer data ‘blind spots’. Further it enables all to share deeper and more meaningful customer insight based on a combination of CRM and ERP derived intelligence.
• ‘Straight-through’ processing which enables a user to initiate a transaction which then automatically triggers all related business processes as appropriate and passes seamlessly from one application to the next without the need for manual intervention.
Small and medium businesses in India often struggle to make this happen given certain immediate priorities they may have in the short term. However many of them are now realising that ‘standalone’ systems would probably not exponentially enhance internal efficiencies and customer satisfaction. In this respect we are seeing several segments open up to the idea of front-to-back office integration. Some of these include:
• Systems Integration firms: This is a fast growing business given the increased IT investments by organizations across the board. These firms have large sales teams and a distribution business that often spans across locations. The ‘quote-to-cash’ cycle is crucial for this business given the complexity in their quotation mechanism with multiple vendor price lists that need to be referred to and often getting changed with promotional offers. Being a highly competitive business it is important for the sales person to have up to date information that could be used to ensure accuracy in quotes which may later be converted to orders.
• Medical equipment companies: Given the healthcare boom, there are numerous opportunities for all related businesses in this sector. The Medical equipment business is no such exception and we now have a mix of Manufacturer distributors and also Importer distributors. The exponential growth of this industry will necessitate these organizations to quickly adopt front-to-back office integration. We expect them to jumpstart from excel to integrated CRM with ERP
• Industrial equipment companies: This again is driven by rapid growth of industries across segments. This has ensured proliferation of businesses selling industrial equipment. We expect to see various distribution companies move up the curve and adopt integrated systems.
The time has come for businesses to realise the ‘final piece in the customer-centricity jigsaw puzzle’. Those who discover this faster will necessarily ride the growth wave with front-to-back office integration, gain competitive advantage and build a base of satisfied customers.
The writer is managing director, Sage Software India