The Courtship of CRM and CM

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For the past 10 years or so, customer relationship management (CRM) and content management (CM) have traveled along parallel paths inside the enterprise.

While they have a lot in common—both are, after all, databases for collecting and organizing crucial enterprise information—CRM collects structured data about customers and sales, while CM, for the most part, organizes unstructured documents. Even though the two systems have a great deal in common, they have rarely interacted unless someone built a communication bridge specifically designed for the task.

Yet it seems counterproductive for CRM and CM to remain database islands when they have so much information to share with one another to help users make meaningful connections among different content types. If they could get together, sales and marketing personnel, for instance, would not have to check one system for customer data and another for other customer documents to put together a sales presentation. It only makes sense to combine the two applications to enable employees to access all of the structured and unstructured data about a customer or project from a single interface. At the very least, it’s time to get CRM and CM systems communicating. That’s just what many vendors are beginning to do. The only question is: What took them so long? What Took So Long?

While it sounds logical to get CRM and CM together—and there’s been a need for quite some time—the reason it hasn’t happened sooner, says Tony White, a Gilbane and Company analyst who covers content management issues, is because it remains extremely difficult to combine structured and unstructured data. “Historically, there has been a big disconnect between the two types of applications and vendors,” he says. If you look at the content management, especially enterprise content management vendors, such as EMC Documentum, for example, these applications are still very much information silos that don’t communicate very well with applications like CRM,” he explains. Integration, White says, when it does exist, is more a point-to-point solution to move a specific type of information from one system to another, rather than a comprehensive way of sharing information across the two systems.

The problems associated with getting CRM and CM systems communicating, White explains, are the same types of issues companies face when trying to bring any two disparate systems together. Vendors, for the most part, have built proprietary systems and are lacking pre-packaged integration options. What’s more, the APIs haven’t been open or published, which makes it difficult for third parties to build connectors between systems. More recently, White says, vendors are starting to see the value of combining the two technologies as shown by Oracle’s purchase of Stellent and Salesforce.com’s purchase last spring of online CM vendor Koral. What’s more, some vendors, such as SpringCM, are setting up platforms and APIs to make it easier to move data between a CRM and CM system, he says.

The Time Is Right
If it has been difficult to cross-pollinate these disparate systems before, what has changed? Ben Kiker, CMO at Interwoven, thinks that as companies extend their online presence, it makes sense for the applications to join forces now. Kiker has worked in several CRM companies over the years, including Siebel Systems (now part of Oracle). He explains that part of the reason he moved to Interwoven was because he saw a convergence coming between CRM and CM and he thought he could bring his experience to bear on helping to make this happen. “I saw the traditional web content management arena, where Interwoven has played in, really starting to converge with the CRM world that I came out of, as more and more businesses quite frankly tried to transform their online presence and really move to a more web-centric model.”

One big signal of this trend was when Salesforce.com purchased Koral last spring. Mark Suster, VP of Salesforce content and founder of Koral, believes there was a profound business need to bring these two technologies together. “The overwhelming majority of content is unstructured and, in fact, that’s the type of content that is growing the fastest. And the so-called knowledge workers that we have all been trying to serve for the last 10 or 15 years by and large are still using uncontrolled management of their day-to-day documents and content,” Suster says. He adds that the explosion of non-document content like wikis, podcasts, and video is only exacerbating the problem. Salesforce’s goal, he says, is to manage all content regardless of where it lives, and purchasing Koral has given Salesforce entry into how to manage the unstructured data, while providing access to the structured data in the CRM database.

In fact, the content management component will appear as a tab in the Salesforce interface, making it possible for a user to look up information on a given client and find all of the information they would expect to find in a CRM system, and find all documents related to that client fulfilling the vision of integrating structured and unstructured data.

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