By: Zak Pines
You’re a Microsoft Dynamics CRM/365 administrator. Like many businesses, your company has other applications running alongside your Dynamics instance such as a marketing automation system. You know that optimizing the performance of all your systems, as a unified engine, is key to user productivity and business growth. You also need to ensure your company has trusted datasets to power business analytics and unified views of your customers.
So the question becomes: What’s the right approach for Dynamics and its system siblings? Do you migrate, integrate, or consolidate? Let’s walk through key considerations for each option.
Migrating applications and their data to Microsoft Dynamics would allow the latter to take over a wide range of business functions, including:
- Finance and Operations
- Customer Service
- Project Service Automation
- Field Service
As you consider this option, consider the full scope of what it will mean to be best in class in serving these business functions. There are increasingly specialized applications optimized around each of these areas. Within marketing, teams use software such as HubSpot and Marketo outside their CRM to manage marketing databases, programs and reporting. Which applications you migrate to Dynamics will therefore depend on your business needs.
Before you decide to turn off an application, you should ask if users will be successful when working with the Dynamics modules. Do you have users that closely identify with user communities of an existing application? Will it be challenging for them to adopt a new application for their business function? How will switching applications affect recruiting new users into that function? Only adopt modules within Dynamics in areas where you believe a user community is most likely to grow and flourish with the talent you add to work within the system.
After you have given careful thought to these business questions, only then should consider the technical side of migrating applications and data to Dynamics. Remember that such projects usually require extensive time and resources. To determine the specs for transforming certain fields, you’ll need to learn who has the rights to create, read, edit, and delete data from your systems. A good project plan must carve out time for testing, data migration, change management, and training, as well as time for post-launch quality assurance and optimization. Anticipate glitches, and be prepared to positively validate whether data from the legacy system supports new users after a migration. Moving hundreds of thousands of sensitive records is tricky business, such that even the most seasoned admins cross their fingers when testing a migrated system’s performance. So as you consider migration as an option, resist the urge to compromise capabilities merely to keep data under one roof.
Some software applications are just too good to give up. They have a proven track record of performance for companies that fit a company’s size or industry and are tailored to your team’s strengths.
In this instance, creating connectivity between Microsoft Dynamics and those applications can increase efficiency and streamline processes. By integrating Microsoft Dynamics with other best-of-breed systems, you might dramatically improve how all your applications perform. Marketing automation applications enhance the features in Dynamics. Integrating means you can optimize different areas of the business, while keeping them aligned.
For example, take the case of integrating Microsoft Dynamics with a marketing automation system. Such an integration will result in more collaboration between marketing and sales. Marketing will be able to deliver qualified prospects to sales in a timely manner. Sales will gain greater visibility to key data about prospects before they engage. And using CRM data for segmentation and targeting will foster closed-loop reporting, a big win for both departments.
While integrating third party applications can help Dynamics spur growth more than if it was a standalone application, keep in mind that CRM integrations don’t happen at the click of a button. You’ll need to decide which rules will match like records across applications (i.e. de-dupe keys) and which will resolve data conflicts (i.e. system of record or last updated), on a per field basis.
And what about reporting? If you’re at a company adopting a “best of breed” strategy, although your business’s teams will benefit from enhanced application performance, they might also come to loggerheads about which data source is more accurate and up-to-date. A sound integration strategy should account for which application generates the most reliable reports, since users will be beholden to the reporting capabilities from multiple applications and need to trust their data. As an administrator, it’s mission critical to ensure that users spend time acting on their data, rather than debating its accuracy.
By “consolidation,” we’re referring to the increasing trend of taking data from Dynamics and companion applications into a third party data warehouse for business intelligence, unified analytics, and a single view of the customer.
Although we posed the question as “Integrate, Migrate, or Consolidate”, we often see Dynamics users Integrating and Consolidating, as the two approaches are complementary. A consolidated dataset means that teams can derive actionable insights from reports, use SQL or any BI tool of their choice to report, all while keeping the applications and systems universally adopted throughout their organization.
When considering whether to consolidate, it’s a question of weighing the positive impact this could have for your business vs. the work required to support it. The issues you’ll encounter will be more around process and stakeholder management, not technical. Anticipate this by ensuring there’s clarity on which types of reports should originate from the applications, and which types of reports should originate from the consolidated data view.
The positive impact starts with what your company would do with a 360-degree view of customers, by having consolidated activity data across Dynamics and other systems. With object relationships mapped, and records merged and normalized in a cloud data warehouse, marketing is often better prepared to acquire new customers; sales can close better deals; and support may strive to make loyal customers even more successful. Across the business, customers get a unified experience because your CRM data works in concert with data from companion applications. A consolidated data model orients an organization around solving problems and connects investments to outcomes.
Also, consolidating data from Dynamics and other systems is a boon to compliance initiatives such as GDPR. This ensures all customer records are available through a trusted, centralized resource, while also allowing the individual SaaS applications to continue to perform their important business functions. Since data must be secure across all applications and systems, to comply with GDPR companies can’t afford to silo data among so many repositories and processes. If a unified data layer, a location where personal data can be easily found, secured, shared, and deployed, is what’s needed most, consolidating your data is a no-brainer.
Fortunately, consolidating data is much easier than it used to be. A new class of modern tools reduces the manual work of collecting, cleaning, and organizing datasets. These tools modernize ETL and automate data pipelines, saving admins and analysts time. In the past, IT teams would have to manually extract data from integrated applications, wrangle and format it for consistency, eliminate duplicates, resolve conflicts, and normalize it into a single schema. And we’re not just talking about a flat data file, we’re talking about an entire data set of object relationships between systems (e.g. the link between Contact and Account) that had to be accessible via one trusted location, merged with all the opportunities, activities, tasks, and tickets with which they were associated.
In this brave new world, generating complex reports across an entire dataset is both faster and more possible with one trusted data source and primary record for each customer, than had that data remained siloed. Data are more consistent, accurate, and easy to update. This type of data consolidation, to complement everything your Dynamics instance is already doing day-to-day, could shift the business from doing great work to making an even greater impact.