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So the SEO and Marketing folks finally got me to give in and begin blogging. So first off thank you for reading my first blog post ever. I thought it appropriate to begin with what xRM means to us and how we approach it.
xRM is an acronym coined a few years ago and derived from CRM (Customer Relationship Management). We techie folks borrowed a page from the calculus guys and replaced the C (Customer) with the x meant to represent anything. So now x can represent anything from traditional sales, service, and marketing to other business processes in non-traditional industries like finance, health care, and entertainment. This is the industry understanding of xRM, where now any business process can be modeled and implemented in a sophisticated CRM system.
I look at it being a little deeper than just that. Again, I borrow some ideology from my calculus days where the purpose of the x in the equation was not to simply figure out the arithmetic value of x, but to “solve” the equation. And here is where I see the real value of xRM. It does not merely fix the current business issue. It delivers a solution and strategy empowering the business to solve future unknown problems they may face.
I think the best way to justify this position on xRM is to consider a business requiring a new line-of-business application and weighing the benefits of going with Microsoft Dynamics CRM/xRM or developing the solution internally. When such an evaluation is performed, we always tend to get caught up in the desires of the moment instead of a more strategic approach. In fact, most businesses tend to look for new solutions because they have outgrown their previous one for one reason or another—scalability, functionality, flexibility, access, etc. So here are a few questions I believe are also warranted that more clearly illustrate the difference between providing an answer and providing a solution.
How is security implemented?
Microsoft Dynamics CRM leverages Active Directory. Most businesses already have Active Directory implemented. It is responsible for allowing users to log in to their desktops every morning, access file share, check their work e-mail on their smart phones, etc. This is a tried-and-true technology with additional benefits like single sign on, a familiar administrative interface and providing a single place for a business to control access to all its solutions.
How is the data stored?
The Microsoft solution is to leverage SQL Server Data Services (SSDS). Again, most businesses and their IT folk are already familiar with SQL Server technologies. SQL Server is one of the most reliable, scalable and high-performance database solutions available. It is also fully Active Directory aware, ensuring that the data is always accessed in the context of the user, ensuring sensitive data is protected at the source and not at higher levels as with most other solutions.
How is the data accessed?
The Microsoft solution is Internet Information Services (IIS), part of Windows Server. This technology is responsible for providing a web-based access point to the solution. This is in essence the gateway between the users and the solution. Again, this technology is part of the familiar Microsoft stack and is also fully Active Directory aware.
How do I get analytical information?
Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) is the reporting framework for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. It allows the business to produce summary dashboard-type reporting but also contextual reporting at the individual record level. However, it does not stop here. The solution also allows you to export the data to Microsoft Excel to allow you to manipulate as you see fit—from producing simple pivot tables and charts to full-blown, multi-dimensional trend analysis with SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS).
What is the end user interface?
The end user interfaces for Microsoft Dynamics CRM/xRM is varied yet familiar. A user can access the solution via the Internet Explorer browser, or via Microsoft Office Outlook or via their smart phone. All of these interfaces are used daily by the user in various different scenarios, both in a business or consumer setting. Thus, users are placed in an environment that they are extremely comfortable with, where utilizing and navigating the solution comes instinctively.
Can the solution grow with my business?
I think this is one of the most pivotal questions. The selection of any line-of-business application is critical to the success of the business itself. Not only should it have an immediate positive impact but will also need to deliver on the promise of meeting future business needs. And it is here that I think Microsoft truly delivers. From the flexible and intuitive workflow engine (based on Microsoft .NET Framework technologies) to the customization interface, the Microsoft solution begs to be tailored to the business need—today, next month, next quarter or next year. The solution now allows the business analyst through simple point and click steps to configure the solution, reducing the burden on the development organization. This has a huge impact. Analysts can now interface directly with the business and also be responsible for the delivery. This reduces the communication delays and distortion allowing the solution to be delivered faster without sacrificing accuracy.
What about reliability and scalability?
All of the technologies mentioned above are tried and true and fully scalable. The solution can be scaled out to multiple tiers with each tier having independent clustering and load balancing capabilities. That being said, it can be also scaled down to a single virtualized resource, thus providing a solution for the small, five-user business, or scaled up to the enterprise 70,000-user organization.
What about interoperability?
Another key question: Will this solution integrate with the existing and future systems of my business? Again, Microsoft Dynamics CRM delivers. Interfacing with other Microsoft applications like SharePoint, Exchange, Communications Server, etc. are simple point-and-click configuration options providing a seamless and transparent user experience. Integration to other systems is also much easier by way of the rich web-service layer. This provides an agnostic layer for multiple systems to interface with each other in real time or as a batch process, either pushing or pulling data between systems.
What will it take to support the solution?
The Microsoft solution leverages the core Microsoft stack components that most business already have implemented and are very familiar with. This becomes an incremental change for the IT organization as the components that are being leveraged are almost always already managed by this team. The Microsoft solution already presents a compelling option from a financial perspective. When you consider the total cost of ownership and factor in administrative, maintenance, and support activities, this becomes even more compelling.
At xRM.com, we have embraced this approach for not only our customer deployments but also all our internal systems. From Project and Asset Management to an Intellectual Property Library, these internal systems have been delivered with Microsoft Dynamics CRM and surfaced on a browser, Outlook, and even my Windows Mobile phone.
Thanks for listening.
xRM.com is Microsoft Partner with core competencies in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Hosting. Desigan Reddi is Chief Technology Officer at xRM.com.