The XRM Trend

Posted by Optimation Editor on 9 May 2011

XRM, or eXtended Relationship Management, is one of the many buzzwords currently floating around the CRM space, along with the likes of Social CRM, cloud computing, SaaS and many more.

As with most of these terms, there is genuine business value to be obtained - but first you must cut through the hyperbole and come to grips with what specifically is being referred to; is it relevant to my business? And where do the key benefits lie?

XRM solutions have evolved over the last several years as your "classic CRM" platforms have grown beyond the traditional 3 pillars of CRM - Sales, Marketing and Service. As CRM became more popular and the CRM platforms became more flexible, their use expanded into managing relationships in other areas such as partner relationship management, employee relationship management, and a range of miscellaneous subjects such as events, tasks, fleet, property, asset… the list goes on. As the diversity of solutions has grown, so has entered the phrase extended relationship management (XRM).

XRM solutions are able to take your Line of Business (LoB) applications (often things that have been managed using paper forms, spreadsheets and Access databases) and implement them using a CRM platform as the framework to build the solution on.

I've spent many years working with various "application builders" which all aimed to work in a similar fashion to XRM whereby a platform is used to define data capture forms, processes and reports with the aim of allowing an entire application to be built by end users, or business analysts with minimal coding effort - in theory enabling reduced implementation costs and risks.

It has been interesting coming back into the CRM space recently and seeing how it has matured and grown over the last 5 - 7 years. The CRM based approach to this "application builder" model, XRM, looks pretty solid and certainly provides many benefits over other application building platforms. In addition to providing flexibility to quickly build specialised LoB solutions, the XRM approach allows multiple solutions to all sit within a single platform, providing integration options and the ability to leverage all the facilities of the underlying CRM platform (e.g. dashboards, workflows, activity management).

Microsoft's latest offering, CRM 2011, is certainly no exception, and it looks to provide the full range of expected CRM functionality, as well as a great deal of flexibility for not just extending the solution, but for using it as a platform for building whole new systems upon. While you probably won't want to try building a new accounting system on CRM 2011, it is the ideal the platform to introduce when you have multiple small applications that may have organically grown within your business over time.

Now the benefit of being able to bring these various applications onto a single consistent platform is significant, and this is something that most CRM/XRM platforms can offer. But when looking at Microsoft CRM 2011, what stood out were 3 core benefits that look to be unique to CRM 2011, these being:

  • Familiar Office style interface
  • Online / on-premise options
  • Outlook integration

A common problem with introducing new solutions is ensuring user uptake and use of the system, and trying to minimise training requirements and the time it takes users to get up to speed with the new system. As CRM 2011 uses the familiar Office ribbon style toolbar, any custom XRM solution built on top of CRM 2011 will also use these, meaning all your custom LoB solutions can utilise to standard, common navigation and toolbar style based around the Office ribbon.

Most custom developed solutions, and XRM based solutions will give you one of two options; depending on the developer (or XRM platform) you will either need to deploy and run the solution on your own infrastructure and servers, or you will have a web based solution hosted on someone else's infrastructure, commonly called cloud computing. Something unique to CRM 2011, is that it is offered in both of these flavours so you can choose whichever suits your own business needs.

You can also take it a step further and start with one hosting option, then move to the other if your situation changes. For example, you can use the Online version to start with for building early prototypes and test versions without the need to invest in additional servers, and only pay for a few user licenses for test users. Once the new solution proves itself and is ready for a larger deployment, you can either ramp up the number of online licenses, or package the solution and install it on your own infrastructure.

The CRM 2011 Outlook add-on is probably my favourite as this gives a whole new twist to XRM and custom developed solutions; by giving end users the ability to interact with your custom XRM solution directly from within Outlook (without the need to actually develop a separate custom Outlook module as the CRM / Outlook plugin takes care of this automatically).

All the data, customised views, and forms built for your XRM solution can be accessed directly from within Outlook simply by installing the CRM Outlook client. Without any additional work, you've gained a whole new interface, including off line capabilities (using the standard Outlook offline facilities) and even better at no additional cost as the Outlook plug-in is a free add-on to any CRM 2011 solution.

Many business users spend a large part of their day "living" within Outlook, and being able to view and interact with an XRM solution directly from Outlook makes it that much easier to obtain buy-in and usage of any new system - no more "not another application I have to learn and use" excuses.

There are many options and app builder platforms out there offering similar frameworks for quickly building LOB applications at lower cost and risk than traditional custom development. But the 'out of the box', deep Outlook integration, familiar ribbon style toolbars, and flexible cloud or on-premises hosting options add together to make CRM 2011 something to be considered carefully as an option for any CRM, XRM, or custom Line of Business solution you're looking at implementing.