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CRM on the cloud – a good move for your business?

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By Steve Lumley, Technical Writer

Implementing or upgrading your customer relationship management (CRM) software is a big commitment – both in terms of time, money, resources and planning. The vendor selection process used to be a straight forward task of determining which software best met the needs of my organisation. However now – thanks to the advent of cloud computing – you have another major decision to make:

Should you host the CRM software on your own servers or make use a cloud-based / SaaS solution?

Whether or not you should use a cloud-based solution isn’t that straight-forward, though it’s a great test-bed for establishing why a business should make more use of cloud computing services.

…with most legacy CRM vendors offering a cloud-based solution, and a whole raft of “born in the cloud” CRM vendors entering the market, it’s clear which direction the vendors are taking us…

And now with most legacy CRM vendors offering a cloud-based solution, and a whole raft of “born in the cloud” CRM vendors entering the market, it’s clear which direction the vendors are taking us…

Hosting CRM on the cloud

Staying with conventional practice and hosting the software on your own servers may seem like the safer option – after all you have IT teams managing other software, you may have server capacity in place already – and you can point a finger at it and say “there it is”.

However what may look like the safer option may not be the better option – or indeed the safer option after all. Your business needs to assess the overall impact on existing management and support capabilities, resources, and assume responsibilities for service uptime and licensing.

The question of data security is of huge importance – both in terms of its protection and location. Just because a cloud-based solution means your data resides outside of your data centre elsewhere, doesn’t mean you can assume it’s less safe or more safe. Ultimately you have to do your own research and ask the right questions of both options – the results may surprise.

Just because a cloud-based solution means your data resides outside of your data centre elsewhere, doesn’t mean you can assume it’s less safe or more safe.

What can be said is that hosting your CRM on the cloud in general, does open up some very interesting opportunities that can appeal to every stakeholder in your business. Such advantages include the “on-demand” nature of cloud provisioning – the ability to scale up and scale down as needed, whether it be compute capacity or user licensing. The opportunity to outsource the management of the software to the actual vendor (or business with such expertise) can also be attractive – as they will then look after the software including its compute resources, updates and patches – and since this is their focus they should be better at this than you are. Another major opportunity is accessibility; whilst not exclusive to cloud-based solutions, they are likely to better tuned to remote access via mobile apps, and have better integration with social media.

For those businesses that have to avoid a “shared platform” and are happy to forego contractual and resource flexibility, the Cloud has an answer for that too – in the form of private managed cloud solutions. These may be single-tenant (as opposed to multi-tenant) architectures where software or both software and hardware is dedicated to you, but still managed by the CRM provider / ISV (Independent Software Vendor or expert outsource partner. (See Basant Singh’s blog on SaaS tenant variations here)

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online 2013

This month, Microsoft announced that its cloud-based CRM offering – Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online 2013 – roll-out is underway. Microsoft may be a bit later than most to the party, however this is a major consideration for such a large software vendor, who knows its core customer-base won’t tolerate round after round of beta initiatives and trial and error.

By launching a cloud-based version of Dynamics CRM 2013, they are in effect giving their backing to cloud-based application delivery and SaaS, so if Dynamics is sub-par then they stand to lose a great deal.
To challenge the most prominent enterprise-level CRM operators – such as Salesforce.com, Oracle and SAP – and their cloud offerings, Microsoft has to get this right. By launching a cloud-based version of Dynamics CRM 2013, they are in effect giving their backing to cloud-based application delivery and SaaS, so if Dynamics is sub-par then they stand to lose a great deal.

In Microsoft’s announcement, they echo many of the factors we’ve discussed:

“Dynamics CRM 2013 and its cloud-based counterpart offer features aimed at helping sales and customer service organizations better engage with a new generation of educated, social-media-savvy business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) customers”, says Microsoft Dynamics CRM Vice President Bob Stutz.

He continues: “The new Dynamics CRM has been refreshed to be more user-friendly; especially by those staff using tablet computer devices. Microsoft has linked up various elements to bring an effective offering to the marketplace.”

Reportedly, it’s the effective “joined-up thinking” that is helping Microsoft redraw the CRM landscape. For instance, users can make Skype calls directly from within the Dynamics CRM software, workflows have been improved as have the social media elements.

And with a simple price plan of £28.70 per user, per month, and native mobile apps being launched – it’s sure to grab many people’s attention.

The single most important question regarding cloud CRM

This move by Microsoft underlines how the world of technology and how we access information is changing rapidly. It also means that a firm looking to invest in CRM needs its staff to access and use its capabilities fully – and that probably means they’ll need access from anywhere from any device.

Let’s face it, BYOD and mobile access is an unstoppable juggernaut with demonstrable productivity advantages – so it makes sense to adapt and enable, rather than be rigid and preventative.

Cloud-based CRM (and all that it encompasses) offers a great deal, but the most important question is “can it help me look after my existing customers, as well as nurture and develop new ones?”

Given the operational advantages for the business and the user, I believe that in the vast majority of cases it can.

Cloud-based CRM is no longer for the early adopter, Microsoft’s announcement means it’s now for the majority – so its heading in one direction, you just have to decide whether you’re fighting the tide or going with the flow.