Getting Your House in Order

Arthur O'Connor

Updated · Jun 28, 2001

Photo Arthur O'ConnorAccording to a recent survey of CIOs (chief information officers), more of these executives are focusing this year on their organization's ability to execute and support CRM (customer relationship management) by taking a hard look at their infrastructures. This comes in the wake of the rush last year to quickly deploy CRM applications, and, in the prior year, the push to force-fit new ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems to replace non-Y2K complaint legacy systems.

The re-examination of technical infrastructures comes none too soon. Outdated, two-tier (client/server) architectures and the lack of configuration management and technology standards remain a major impediment to many an organization's ability to successful deploy and execute their CRM strategies.

House Not-So-Beautiful

Imagine a house whose architecture represents a hodge-podge of different and incompatible systems, connections and pathways. It is literally a nightmarish jungle and jumble, where nothing is coordinated, consolidated or integrated.

There wouldn't be consolidated areas and associated equipment designed for specific activities and needs, such as a kitchen for cooking, a dining room for eating, a living room for entertaining and relaxing, a study for solitude and contemplation or bedrooms for sleeping and dressing. Instead, there are different combinations of all these spaces and associated appliances (tables, lamps, showers, toilets, bookshelves, countertops, stoves, dressers, etc.) scattered throughout your house.

Few, if any, of the electrical/lighting, plumbing or phone lines work the same way from one room to another. For the most part, they are incompatible and require expensive, custom-made adapters in order to work elsewhere.

And what is true for the underlying component systems is also true for higher level, more complex activities. Family members live in complete isolation from each other. The house is a maze of different sections and pathways. Some hallways only go from one type of room to another. In many cases, you can't get from any one place in the house to another, no matter how close in proximity or similar in function.

The Sad State of Technical Architecture
You now understand the complexity and sorry state of the technical architectures of most mid- to large-sized organizations. These organizations are too large and/or are too complex — often as a result of wave after wave of mergers, acquisitions, divestitures and consolidations — to have successfully instituted one common technology standard. Hence, they represent, in the euphemistic parlance of information management consultants, "heterogeneous computing environments."

In my "house not-so-beautiful" analogy, the various collections of different spaces and appliances represent the operational and technical infrastructures of the various business units or divisions of the corporations.

While many back-office systems — financial and HR systems — have been integrated (usually through the forced standardization on some common ERP system), the technical architectures which support them haven't been updated or upgraded to support the interactivity of Web-based applications.

And the state of integrated front office applications? Don't ask. Many front office business processes aren't even automated, much less integrated!

As a result of the rush to force-fit ERP systems in the wake of the Y2K scare, and then adding Web-based functions and computational-hungry CRM applications, many large organizations are saddled with "islands of computing" tied together with hard-coded, expensive to maintain, and non-scalable, point-to-point custom integration "solutions."

The time to put these broken and disparate houses in order has come. And none too soon.

Got a question or a comment on integration issues or heterogeneous computing environments? Please contact me at [email protected].

Arthur O'Connor is one of the nation's leading experts on customer relationship management (CRM) and customer-facing IT systems and strategies. He's currently the national columnist for and this year serves as the chairperson of the Institute for International Research's CRM Conference. Arthur has over 20 years leadership and management experience in the area of customer management, strategy and new business development, including 15 years as a senior corporate officer of two NYSE-listed international corporations, and over five years experience as an independent management consultant and Big 5 firm practice manager selling and managing large-scale IT engagements.

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