All corporations implementing CRM solutions want to achieve business agilityand the most widespread - almost unanimous - answer from IT  in the recent years can be summarized in a keyword: Cloud.

But is Cloud enough to achieve business agility? In this article I am going to show you what the mainstream does not usually tell you.

Who knows me by now knows that I love challenges - I loved them when in 2006 I embraced  Cloud implementations in Europe, when no corporation wanted to deal with it - I knew it would have disrupted a very slow and cumbersome implementation process. I still love them and that's why I feel the need to challenge some part of this new mainstream - after observing how the customization and functionality limitations of some CRM cloud applications have been ignored in favour of some pure marketing strategy.

For those who might not have read my point of view, I would like to summarize it in a pill:

Cloud CRM solutions have simplified  deployment, upgrade and administration but have complicated the customization process without offering a complete set of functionality

Now... we all agree that delivering CRM functionalities via an on-premises server application is probably going to be soon a thing of the past, and it will continue to make sense only in some specific cases. Yet some argumentations related to business agility and the hidden costs of on-premises solutions are ludicrous. The following is a classic representation of on-premises solutions as a big iceberg:

While it is true that deployment and certain maintenance costs have been dramatically cut (yet renouncing to big part of the control), some others argumentations are just pretentious - and this is simply false misleading advertising.

The reality is that the limited customization capabilities and out-of-the-box features of some cloud applications have open the way to the return to custom development in many corporations

A much more realistic perspective would be in fact represented by the following picture:

Of course it does not imply that all cloud solutions will end up with a higher TCO  in the long runbut some pitfalls have surely been overseen...

First of all my experience has shown very few cases of corporations that have not relied on external consultancy for the customization of cloud applications; if that consultancy could have been cheaper when cloud applications were at their beginning, rates from consultancies have slowly aligned - if not exceeded - the operational costs of consultancy for legacy or on-premises applications. At the end of the day speculation is always where the trend is, isn't it?

Secondly it is clear how the integration of cloud applications with on-premises legacy systems (that to some extent will always exist) is a major challenge in terms of implementation, maintenance and security issues, considering the flow of information across different networks.

Nevertheless, leaving aside the point related to the ongoing risks, the crucial point for each corporation implementing a CRM solution should be the following:

Is my CRM application aligned with mybusiness strategy?

Despite corporations may feel initially comfortable with a limited set of functionality, they always need to adapt or develop custom functional processes that support their corporate strategy. It was like this 20 years ago and it will always be the case.  The problem is that many of the current cloud solutions do not offer an educated and flexible customization capability framework- rather they promote the use of functionally unstructured and heavy coding - often supported only by new proprietary languages. 

This means that, similar to 20 years ago, before the advent of Packaged Applications like Siebel CRM, the answer is once again very similar to greenfield development, with the only difference that - in comparison with 20 years ago - the platform on which the functionality is implemented is on anhosted environment that includes a basic structure of data and a preconfigured user interface. So not only the TCO could bite back in the future, but above all there has not been a real answer to the above impelling question.

Maintenance, traceability and above all control of code will always be a pain for corporations whose business is not IT itself.

Even worse, if the main functional processes supporting the corporate strategy have been implemented via that code (and not via a functional and technical framework of best practices), it is obvious that corporations will have less and less control of the strategy implemented in their CRM solution.

Packaged Applications may have failed their promise to many business users out there, but the answer cannot be represented by going back to old custom approaches, rather promoting a new generation of Packaged Applications 2.0 and bring declarative development to the next level. The Oracle Siebel development team is working in this direction.

Don't get me wrong - business should enjoy Cloud computing benefits - the question is whether current cloud applications can first of all achieve a corporate business strategy via the customization process capability they offer, because...

... you cannot talk about business agility if first of all you don't attain the corporatebusiness strategy

Our solution e-Tools embraces Cloud computing philosophy as it is delivered in aSaaS mode - so no need for installations to get updates or patches - but gives the power to its users to store the project artefacts in their premises, as we believedata should be owned by the company. gif maker

e-Tools objective is making sure business agility is achieved firstly in the implementation process, because that is the only way to align a CRM application to the corporate business strategy. Thinking that a new, new CRM application can be the answer to frustrated users and management is a concept that has to be stopped - now - after 20 years of disparate CRM implementations.

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Stay tuned for more news coming in the next months!