Data integration: Getting Microsoft Dynamics to Talk to Itself
By Henning Lund - June 21, 2017
Maybe you’ve met that perfect communicating couple. They finish each other’s sentences. They always know the other’s schedule. When they send out party invites there’s no question who will contact whom. They don’t tell each other to pick up dinner on the way home, because the other has already stopped at the shop. It’s almost like they share a sixth sense. Don’t you wish your software could be like this?
Microsoft Dynamics is a powerful and widely used suite of products, but just like a company that makes coats, pants, and shirts, their products don’t always work together as a suit. The name Microsoft Dynamics is shared by the company’s CRM solution (now branded as Dynamics 365 customer engagement apps), which has been on the market since 2003, as well as for their ERP products, such as NAV, used by finance and operations. But the shared name does not make integration automatic or even easy. This problem dates to the origin of the ERPs as separate, standalone products, purchased by Microsoft, rather than built in-house.
Sales teams, which rely on Dynamics CRM, shouldn’t work in isolation from the financial heart of the company. Sales strives for quotes that turn into invoices that eventually generate cash for the company, the so-called quote-to-cash pipeline. After the first sale, sales teams benefit from knowing the invoice and payment history of customers, especially when a salesperson is dealing with an account that is new to them. They also need product lists and pricing guidelines from the ERP to generate accurate quotes. Sales teams jealously guard their rolodex, the raw material for future sales, but names must be shared for invoicing, fulfillment, and after-sales service. And, that is not the only way for new sales to reach the company, sometimes a customer reaches out, and new accounts and contacts get added in the ERP. Combined, this information is a core asset, and every part of the company benefits when it can be updated by one and instantly available to all authorized employees.
Data integration to bridge islands of data
When a company installs Microsoft Dynamics CRM and NAV, the starting point is two islands. Nice islands, but still separate. You can always ship spreadsheets and other documents between them, but it is better to build a bridge, with scheduled truckloads of data that neither side has to think about. Better yet, why build a bridge when it’s not your company’s core competency and there are experts to do it for you? Then, when you need data, it’s already there.
One way to achieve this would be for everyone in Sales to have an ERP account but this requires more training, increases the burden on the sales team, and just masks the double-entry of information and the use of ad hoc communication methods, like emailed spreadsheets. Sales people see it as a hassle, slowing them down from earning commissions. Information that isn’t updated enthusiastically is updated neither quickly nor accurately. You no longer have a bridge, but a river crowded with boats, large and small, trying to avoid each other, with the inefficiencies quickly exceeding the cost of a bridge.
A better solution is to provide a solid link between the islands. The first product to evaluate is the Microsoft Dynamics connector, already included in your subscription. For companies with straightforward implementations, this is a good strategy. But there are many situations where the connector does not bridge the gap, at least not without getting programmers involved. Part of the problem is that Microsoft provides more lanes from the ERP to CRM, and fewer flowing the opposite direction.
Some specific needs that this connector cannot fulfill without coding include:
country and region specific fields
custom fields created in the CRM (that need to be conveyed to the ERP)
synchronization of fields that don’t have a direct translation
the conversion of CRM quotes to ERP sales orders, and
multiple ERP installations.
In addition, the salesperson assigned to a customer in the ERP must be manually connected with a CRM user.
When the Microsoft connector is not sufficient, or the cost of the necessary programming exceeds the savings of the ‘free’ software, an alternative is to use a third party data integration platform, such as the cloud-based software that we at RapidiOnline provide. There are more standard transfers that are built into the software. More sophisticated synchronizations can be performed through configuration, without resorting to coding. And, if you need to synchronize multiple NAV implementations with CRM, or perform other synchronizations, such as with Salesforce, it is all part of the product.
Once you get your CRM and ERP communicating perfectly you can try to suppress a smile when your boss asks whether they can put their significant other in the system just so they will never forget a birthday or anniversary again, and won’t forget to call when they promised. I’m sure they’re just kidding, of course.