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CRM Integration: How to Thrive in Today’s Changing Market

The Changing Landscape of Enterprise Integration

New ways of integrating enterprise data seem to arise all the time and understanding the different approaches is imperative for selecting the best and most cost effective solution for any particular project.

Microsoft’s Common Data Service, and its complementary tools, can meet many integration needs quickly and easily. David Evans, CTO of InaPlex, provided a summary of their relative merits at eXtreme CRM 2016. A copy of his presentation, ‘Integrating CRM with the Common Data Service’, can be found here.

Following is a summary of David’s talk.

Integration Opportunities and Challenges

It’s no secret that the field of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is changing dramatically.

In fact, the whole concept of CRM has transformed in the last couple of years. CRM systems have increased their breadth to accommodate a range of new features and functions: Extensive, user defined dashboards abound, email marketing has improved, and marketing automation functions are often incorporated to varying extents. There are even new products, such as TACT, that are rewriting the entire CRM engagement process.

Much of this change depends on integration to make sure data is available when and where it’s needed.  Some integration is handled by the CRM system or associated applications, other times a by a dedicated tool. Increasingly, many data transfer options are available.

As the provider of Inaport, a scalable integration engine, InaPlex should be happy about the growing need for integration. The truth is, while the evolution of CRM opens many opportunities for integration providers there are also increasing challenges, not least of which is a messiness arising from the sheer number of data sources and techniques that can be involved.

Microsoft’s Common Data Service

Microsoft’s Common Data Service (CDS) aims to simplify data management across a range of applications by providing a standardized database that is easily customizable. As Microsoft noted in a recent eXtremeCRM session, having a database with a standardized schema available makes it much easier to build Apps that use data across a range of different databases.

Although the CDS is still relatively new there are already options for moving data into it, such as Azure Logic Apps and Flow. Microsoft PowerApps and PowerBI can also integrate easily with the CDS to provide application and reporting capabilities. Depending on the requirement, different approaches can be used.

Options for Moving Data Between CRM Systems and CDS

David’s presentation at eXtremeCRM looked at several ways of moving CRM data into the CDS and then examined the relative merits of each approach. The scenario considered was a company with extensive data in its CRM system, and customers that required real time access to selected portions of that data.

David looked at meeting this scenario with the following approaches:

  • Querying CRM directly with a PowerApp
  • Using Flow to populate the CDS and then a PowerApp to read it
  • Using an Azure Logic App to populate the CDS and then a PowerApp to read it
  • Using a custom Web API and a PowerApp to read it
  • A bulk data import from CRM into the CDS

Then he asked: “What is the best way of moving data from CRM into the CDS?”

Each approach for moving data from CRM to the CDS had various benefits, as summarized below:

  • Querying CRM directly with a PowerApp
    • This approach was easy and quick to put in place (assuming you are familiar with developing PowerApps) but there was no query capability and limited security options
  • Using Flow to populate the CDS and then a PowerApp to read it
    • Flow was also fairly easy to develop and had better (but still restricted) query capabilities, but also suffered from limited security options
  • Using an Azure Logic App to populate the CDS and then a PowerApp to read it
    • There is still confusion about which CDS the Azure environment plugs into. Logic Apps offer better logging and debug features, good query and data transformation (but still hard to do joins on tables); again there were limited security options
  • Using a custom web API and a PowerApp to read it
    • This approach provided full query management, isolation of the client from changes to the source schema (previous approaches did not provide this), and complete control over security.

The web API was a clear winner for developing transactional integrations for this scenario, however none of these approaches could be effectively used to populate CDS with the historical data for the customer. This was done using Inaport for bulk data transfer from CRM to the CDS, providing a cost-effective, efficient, repeatable and scalable way of moving chunks of data to the CDS.

Plus ça Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose

If you are familiar with this saying you might think we’ve just proven the opposite – everything seems to be different these days in the field of integration.

Yet despite the fact that integration options and approaches are changing rapidly, one thing remains constant: many integration requirements are still complex and solutions need to be selected to match the need. Bring on the changes anyway. We are ready.

 

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