I apologize, but I must weigh in with yet another opinion about the wonderful world of customer relationship management (CRM). First, let’s expand the conversation to include all major forms of relationship management: customer and supplier relationships. Second, let’s agree to distinguish between OLTP and OLAP functionality.

Operational relationship management (RM) is a function of transactional activities. Transactions that affect RM include contacts, sales cycle events, support events and relationship cycle events. These events and their outcomes are tracked by a number of diverse and, until recently, dispersed systems. Enter CRM software from companies including Seibel, Oracle, See Beyond and others. CRM software offers buyers the opportunity to "integrate" their disparate applications related to tracking and affecting customer relationships.

Much has been written about the efficacy of this approach in terms of business impact. The technical and architectural impacts are of more interest here since we want to distinguish between OLTP and OLAP environments. The value of application integration in CRM products is based largely upon the ability of various functions to interact and exchange data seamlessly and in real-time. Integrated CRM applications bridge critical gaps between call centers, sales force automation, online and other support systems and even financial applications. Integrated CRM products can include more than 50 typically freestanding applications or modules to create this environment.

CRM products often tout a combination of operational and analytical features. This is where the scope and limitations of the products are most often blurred. CRM products clearly offer strategic value in terms of their ability to integrate key relationship functions. Their ability to extend this integration in an architected information factory is much less clear. It should be noted that even the largest enterprise-wide solutions (MRP, ERP, ERM) couldn’t provide a complete repository for transactional activity. Similarly, CRM products can only capture certain types of activity. This limits the scope of any analytical functionality to that limited transactional activity.

Bill Inmon, recognized as the father of data warehousing and co-creator of the Corporate Information Factory (CIF), has established and affirmed the need for distinct OLTP and OLAP functionality. Inmon continues to demonstrate the need for a separate and robust integration and accumulation function within the CIF. This basic tenet of the CIF architecture applies at the application level in enterprise-wide systems of all types. Recent examples include the expanded and clearly distinguished data warehousing offerings from ERP software providers. Absent an architected strategy for integration and accumulation of transactional activity, CRM analysis will continue to be limited by the inherent limits of the applications. It is also important to consider the need to integrate CRM-based data with other transactional and reference data in other systems. Enterprise application integration (EAI) is a partial solution because it does not provide an architected data store for long-term accumulation.

So, CRM analysis at the application level is basically business intelligence (BI) for OLTP, or enhanced reporting. Certainly valuable, but seriously limited in scope. CRM adopters are now facing the same situation many ERP adopters have been working through over the past few years, enhanced reporting but no true BI. These ERP experiences invariably led to a progression of steps aimed at filling the product line gap. Many ERP users implemented duplicate instances of their ERP system, one to manage real-time transactions and the other as a once or twice daily mirror for operational reporting.

This only solved part of the problem and was used as a patch until an architected operational data store (ODS) or enterprise data warehouse (EDW) could be built. Recent expansions in ERP vendor product lines to include extraction routines, basic data warehouse data models and standardized report formats indicate the strong market demand for enterprise class solutions. CRM vendors are working hard to provide a combination of enhanced data integration and data access services to support the use of their transactional and reference data in downstream processing.

Our engagements now highlight CRM applications and identify the means by which the output from those applications is analyzed. This is viewed in terms of point level analysis (point of generation) by the CRM application and enterprise level analysis. We make this distinction so that the value of CRM- generated data is immediately visible to enterprise architects. Our goal is the integration of CRM data into the EDW in order to support more complete analytical applications downstream. This does not replace the point level analysis provided by CRM applications, it provides the enterprise with integrated data for overall analytical functions.

Customers continue to utilize some level of DCRM and overall relationship management in many enterprise lines of business. The output from these important systems should be used to maximum benefit at both the operational and analytical levels. CRM plays an important role in both OLTP and OLAP environments. CRM is an important "fish" in the application environment as well as an important "fowl" in the analytical landscape.

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