Software customization, training, maintenance and license fees arent the only things that raise the cost of CRM deployments. Integration, experts say, can also be a major, costly challenge.
Thats because, in most large enterprises, customer information is captured and stored in multiple systems. Bringing it all together for analysis in a customer resource management system usually involves time-consuming integration using proprietary APIs provided by CRM and other enterprise software vendors.
A possible solution to that problem may be on the horizon. OASIS, or the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, the XML interoperability consortium, recently embraced a variation of XML intended to serve as a standard, automated way for systems to share information about customers and customer interactions.
The proposed standard, called extensible Customer Relationships Language, or xCRL, is a set of XML vocabulary specifications for defining customer characteristics such as name, age, customer number, e-mail address and so on. In addition, xCRL defines in a standard way how individual customers and organizations interact with one another. So, at least in theory, if a given CRM system and, say, an enterprise resource planning system both understood xCRL definitions, they could automatically interoperate without needing expensive, custom integration.
"Enterprises could use xCRL to mix and match customer information without the need to do hard-wired integration," said Ron Schmelzer, an analyst at ZapThink LLC, a research company in Waltham, Mass.
As potentially beneficial as that sounds, however, its far from clear how quickly enterprises will see the benefits of xCRL. Although last month OASIS said it had accepted the xCRL definitions as a standard, most CRM and other enterprise software vendors have yet to embrace the standard.
Schmelzer predicted CRM vendors such as Siebel Systems Inc. and PeopleSoft Inc. will do so reluctantly and only under pressure from enterprise customers. Supporting something such as xCRL would not only bring added development expense, Schmelzer said, it would also make it easier for enterprises to mix and match CRM products.
Indeed, some major CRM vendors recently seemed cool to xCRL. A spokeswoman for PeopleSoft said the company was not familiar enough with the specification to comment on it, and an official from Siebel said that while the company has provided mapping and transformation services between its applications and some vertical-industry XML definitions, Siebel has no current plans to support xCRL in the same way.