For most organizations, having to fix the Y2K bug has been an enormous headache. Sure, there are some companies that used Y2K as an opportunity to replace old and ailing operational systems; but for most organizations, Y2K simply meant having to divert lots of money, people and time to fix systems that would otherwise have broken in the new millennium. It meant delaying the development of strategic applications to instead focus on something that was highly tactical in nature. In other words, addressing the Y2K bug was a matter of survival rather than a strategic move. And, once they've finished making their systems Y2K compliant, most businesses would prefer to forget about the whole ordeal and get back to business.

That's a shame. You've put a lot of energy into Y2K remediation ­ doesn't it make sense to see if there's some way to leverage those efforts strategically? Well, as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining, and it holds true for Y2K. Wanting to just put the headache behind you is overlooking a highly valuable, and highly strategic, by-product of your Y2K efforts. I'm referring to the fact that in order to update your systems to make them Y2K compliant, someone went in and analyzed, audited, cataloged and documented your existing operational systems to determine where fixes needed to be made. The information collected during this process is your silver lining: it is highly valuable toward helping you build sophisticated and highly integrated CRM solutions more quickly. And the more effort you've put into this information collection process, the more of a head start you'll have when embarking on implementing CRM solutions.

Leveraging Y2K for Data Warehousing

The first way that this information can be used strategically for CRM solutions is to help you build analytical applications which can be used to understand your customers' preferences and behaviors. The best way to understand everything you can about your customers is to integrate all the information you have about them within your organization. The problem in doing so, however, is that this customer information is spread across multiple disparate systems. Important information is contained within your sales systems, your marketing systems, your distribution systems, your manufacturing systems and so on. This is where the concept of data warehousing comes in. The whole process of data warehousing is designed to take data from disparate systems, clean and integrate it and then load it into a unified, consolidated system. The result is a holistic view of your customers.

However, a major hurdle to building a data warehousing solution is that you first need to have an in-depth understanding of what data is kept in each of your IT systems and what that data means. In fact, it's not unusual that over 50 percent of the effort of building a data warehouse is focused on understanding the source systems. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you already had the information you needed about your source systems? If you've completed your Y2K fixes, chances are that you already have much or even most of the information you need. This gives you a great head start in your efforts to build a data warehouse that can act as the foundation of a powerful CRM solution.

Leveraging Y2K for Enterprise Application Integration

The information gathered by your Y2K efforts can be used strategically for CRM solutions in a second way as well. Not only can it be used to help build analytical data warehouses, it can also be used to help integrate your operational applications. To clarify, I'm not talking about integrating just the data from these systems (which is what I previously discussed). I'm talking about functionally integrating the applications themselves so they can all work together and communicate with each other. This brings us into the emerging realm of enterprise application integration (EAI). Imagine how powerful it would be to have your sales, marketing, manufacturing and distribution systems all integrated. A customer could call your organization. Depending on your business model, the person answering the phone could have the ability to look at a complete customer profile, enter orders, check on shipping status, send brochures, enter information into a sales pipeline, check on items in stock or anything else that you think would be valuable. This type of system could provide your customers with unprecedented levels of service, which is a key component to any complete CRM strategy.

Again, however, a major issue you face when trying to integrate application functionality is very similar to the issue faced when constructing a data warehouse ­ you need in-depth information about the functionality of these systems, the data they contain and what the data means semantically. But, again, you've got a significant head start by leveraging the information gathered from your Y2K efforts. You've already got much or most of the information you need.

Leveraging the Past to Move Forward

I'm sure most businesses wish the Y2K problem never existed. It was an unwelcomed project that every IT department worldwide had to face. Hopefully, by now you're done addressing the problem. If so, I congratulate you on biting the bullet, dealing with the headache and taking on a project that wasn't sexy and wasn't strategic ­ but was both urgent and important. Now, it's time for you to get back to what you like to do: build systems that have significant strategic value for your business. But, at the risk of awakening old nightmares, I urge you not to try to bury your Y2K memories. There's an opportunity here to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear ­ use the information you gathered from your Y2K efforts to give you a jump-start on a CRM solution. And given that three of the hottest topics in IT today (CRM, data warehousing and EAI) can all benefit from your Y2K efforts, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing after all.

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