Avoid the Quicksand of CRM Systems Integration

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Bringing a Customer Relationship Management systems integration project to a successful conclusion is a sizable task, and the success of an engagement depends on many factors. Applying a few effective strategies can make the difference between starting off on the right foot and stepping into quick sand. Here are some tips that will make your CRM System integration project easier and more successful.

Readiness assessment. The first step you need to take is to validate your organization's readiness to support this initiative. Don't underestimate the amount of work it will take. Selecting a partner can be a good idea, but it's also important to understand that a partner can't do the whole job alone.

Align your stakeholders. A key to keeping the project going smoothly is make sure that the members of the team, including the stakeholders, are aligned to support the overall goals and objectives of the initiative. Appointing someone as an executive sponsor and forming a steering committee also is important. However, make sure that these individuals are involved continuously with the initiative from the onset.

Understand the requirements. Documenting the requirements is a critical component of any project. The requirements should be as specific as possible and clearly identify what the application is to do. This will help you avoid ambiguity. Project charters and project scopes help you to understand the boundaries and direction of the initiative. A word of advice when creating project charters and scopes: Avoid the chicken and the egg syndrome and understand the project's requirements first, otherwise you will have to separate wish list items from valid business needs.

Put the right people in the right job with the right skill set. If you don't have the right people in the right job you are heading for trouble. You need an experienced, dedicated project manager who is able to bridge the IT and marketing departments, resolve conflict and manage your outside partners. You also need a technical lead and a business/marketing lead as well as subject matter experts.

Structured methods. It is estimated that poor project planning costs companies over $100 billion each year. According to the Meta Group, 70 percent of major IT projects do not meet expectations or fail altogether. This is a good fact to remember when selecting a partner to assist with the implementation. Make sure the partner uses a full lifecycle methodology to provide you with structured and efficient project management.

Minimize the variables. Don't try and tackle new people, new technology and new tools all at once. Remember that the latest generation of software, first generation hardware and new hires combined with an enterprise wide implementation will point you in the direction of the quick sand. Instead, think big picture but start small. This will help you to achieve short-term high impact results. Setting realistic expectations is key.

Proactively manage risks. Avoidance is the wrong approach in dealing with risk. It is important to recognize that all projects have risks. You need to seek the risks out, identify them and analyze them. This will help you to establish strategies to mitigate the risks and hopefully cut them off at the pass.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. There is no formula-based approach that will avoid all problems. The one magic bullet you have in your gun -- to avoid as many problems as possible -- is communication. Communication leads to true collaboration, which in turn will help resolve problems more easily as well as capture opportunities for improvement as they arise.

Commit to continuous improvement. Undertaking a relationship-centric solution is a journey and not an event. Which relates back to a previous point, "Think Big -- Start Small."

A structured methodology minimizes risks, results in more accurate planning, sets clear expectations and leads to increased satisfaction. Hopefully, these nine tips will help you start off on the right foot, lesson the stress and avoid the quick sand that can be associated with a CRM systems integration project.

Jean Berube is a vice president of systems integration at Harte-Hanks Data Technologies, Billerica, MA.
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