by Andrew Hodgson
Solutions from major software vendors such as SAP and Oracle are popular in the essential industries, especially for managing core processes such as billing and CRM. However, customising these global products to handle all the industry-specific processes and data-flows can be a major undertaking – particularly in an environment where the market is complex.
Moreover, as many companies have discovered to their cost, heavy customisation of complex ERP systems doesn’t just increase costs during the initial implementation: it can also create problems for the future. If subsequent upgrades of the core software aren’t compatible with the customisations you’ve made, the code you’ve developed may need to be substantially revised, or even rewritten from scratch.
And in a business environment where industry processes and standards are constantly being changed and updated, continually tweaking your implementation to meet the new requirements is a change-management headache.
A better approach is to protect the core applications that provide general-purpose platform capabilities from the maelstrom of change. This can be achieved by moving the logic that governs data-flow management and localised processes into a separate system, and then integrating it with the core applications. To this end, many major vendors have worked with partners in various countries (including AMT-SYBEX in the UK and Ireland) to develop end-to-end integrated solutions that meet the data-flow needs of specific markets.
This approach of combining a global platform with a localised application makes perfect sense because it dramatically reduces the amount of development required and provides a single point of control for managing and updating data flows. Instead of teaching the CRM / billing platform to read dozens of different message formats and extract the relevant information (such as meter readings) to feed into its billing processes, you can deploy specialised industry support from localised applications with local support structures. The localised application acts as a “translation service”, masking all the complexity and just providing downstream systems with the data they actually need.
This avoids both the initial and ongoing costs of customisation, and greatly simplifies the upgrade process because it allows you to maintain a relatively “vanilla” environment from a CRM / billing perspective. This is particularly valuable for multi-national companies that want to standardise their environments across multiple countries: e.g. in European Markets where communication is largely based on EDIFACT messaging, each individual country still has their own national implementation guide which tailors the implementation to specific market rules and codes, with this approach each country can use the same global templates, with a different localised capability bolted on.
Best of all, this approach means you’re able to harness the expertise of a local partner with specialist knowledge of the industry data-flows that are relevant to your business. Instead of your in-house team having to keep track of the ever-changing messaging standards and formats, a plug-in solution from a vendor with localised support handles all the complexity for you. Whenever a change is required, you’re working with a team that knows exactly what needs to be done, and can implement it quickly and with minimal impact on your other systems.
In conclusion: CRM and billing implementations traditionally involve a trade-off between functionality and complexity. Customising these systems to your exact requirements can make them more powerful and efficient from a business perspective, but also tends to increase IT costs and reduce flexibility.
Working with a vendor that can add product localisation and deep integration to global CRM and billing platforms changes the game by giving you the best of both worlds: a solution that maps precisely to the needs of your business, while providing protection from the complexity of ongoing change.