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To Be or Not To Be (centralized)

We just finished a presidential primary race in our neck of the woods. It is interesting to watch, but the television advertising gets quite fatiguing. Another interesting element of the process is that it will eventually end with one winner – first for the party, then for the entire country. It is an evaluation process that has some pretty wild criteria along the way to the final selection.

On a regular basis I will go through this with a client. Not to select their president but to select their CRM platform. It doesn’t always happen for the entire company, like a presidential election works for the entire country. Most of the time it is more like selecting the governor of a state. We pick the best technology for a division, a country, or a function. But, every once in a while we go for the whole enchilada – one platform for an entire multi-division, multi-geography enterprise.

When is it a good idea for a large complex organization to rely on one technology to run all or most customer interaction management? From my experience, not all that often, but it is possible.

Size Matters

As your organization grows and becomes more complicated, it starts having more parts with needs that differ from other parts. Getting the organization to use one ERP is one thing. CRM is a different beast. Geographies have different business models; business lines sell to different segments. Acquisitions cause more differences, in some cases that should remain, in some cases that should not. If you are not too complicated, it might not matter. If you are big and complicated it probably does.


The first question to ask, if you are big and complicated, is why would you want to go to one system? There are common answers:
- Executives want one pipeline and forecast
- IT wants to manage one system instead of 20
- Many groups don’t like what they have, and just want to change
- Clients are irritated that they are treated differently by different groups that can’t communicate
These are fairly valid reasons, but might not necessitate one technology platform. The easiest way to kill an initiative looking into a single technology approach is to request a business case. Can you justify the expense of migrating everyone to a single platform in order to resolve one or more of the above issues? That kind of business case is usually a quixotic endeavor. The other challenge is whether you can satisfy everyone with one system. Looking back at recent elections, it is hard to get a country to accept one president.

The other question to ask is whether the conditions that drive you to investigate a single technology approach might be satisfied with another approach. There are a number of things that must be accomplished to satisfy most of the issues raised above. For example:
- You probably need to standardize your data. If you can agree on data standards, you will solve much of the need for bringing together technology.
- You probably need to standardize some processes, in order to have the chance of achieving data standards. Again, this will possibly take you much of the way there.
- The final component of getting this all to work is the connection of platforms, although this can be a challenge under the wrong circumstances. Integration can be more expensive than migrating to one platform, but in many cases it is a better solution, especially when one platform will not satisfy every group.

So, when does it make sense to go with one platform?

The biggest condition is when each customer-facing function across the whole organization is willing to perform most processes in a similar approach as each other. The sales team in one group is willing to perform similar process steps as a sales team in the next group. Timing is another condition, when the majority of the business is ready for a technology upgrade or change. The business case is much stronger when there is a need to change many groups at one time. A third major condition is when moving to a single cloud environment enables you to reduce technology management costs to offset the migration of business units that don’t need a change. If you can stagger your migration over time, the business case gets even better. Don’t make everybody change all at once, but get there eventually.

Still, all in all, I don’t see this all working very often in big and complicated companies. Business units get frustrated that they are performing processes in a way that satisfy another business unit’s needs (or at least that is their perception). Regions feel they are different and can’t conform to the region that the system was built to satisfy (in their perception). The technology gets thrown under the bus and the business unit or region goes rogue – they go out and get their own CRM and disconnect from the mother ship. I see it continuously. It is just like an election.

We have to go with the majority vote but there is always a new majority that wants to change, sometimes very four years.

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