Data integration means combining information from various sources into something useful. It’s about efficiently managing data and making it available to those who need it. IBM defines it as “discovery, cleansing, monitoring, transforming and delivery of data from a variety of sources.” If you are a marketer, you know that data integration can make or break your marketing analytics. To drive your marketing activities, you need to collect information from many different sources, whether they are social media platforms, ERP solutions, CRM systems or even Excel files on a colleague’s laptop. It is not uncommon for marketing departments or agencies to use up to 50 different technologies on a daily basis to keep track of their customers’ activities and their purchasing journey. Before data integration, marketers had to deal with data stored in siloed data centers – sometimes in different locations around the globe, in different formats. With data integration, marketers can access all this data from one place.
Why is data integration so important for marketers?
Marketers are already working with an overwhelming increasing amount of data, but it’s only just the beginning. IDC estimates that, by 2020, the digital universe will reach 44 zettabytes, making the life of marketing professionals even more complicated. Integrating data sources and marketing technologies will be vital for companies, whether B2B or B2C, to successfully deliver relevant customer experiences and drive accelerated sales revenue.
With one single source of information, marketers can manage and optimize marketing through KPIs, metrics and dimensions, which would not be possible with separated, individual source systems. Marketing is responsible for attracting, engaging, converting and retaining audiences and customers that move across many touchpoints. In order to scale marketing’s performance and impact, a connected view is needed to evaluate which programs, channels, campaigns, audiences etc. are best driving their strategic goals. Marketing can define the future of your organization – and data integration is the future of marketing.
Data integration is the way to go – but where do you start?
A good place to start integrating data is where the core of your customer information lies – in your ERP and CRM systems. Your CRM solution fuels your organization with new business, and your ERP system allows you to manage and drive your business around obstacles, allowing you to deliver according to the promise made to your customer, and do it in a profitable manner. By integrating the two systems, you will provide your marketers and your sales force with much-needed information that can be shared with new stakeholders.
From an operational point of view, you can achieve much greater benefits by integrating the two systems. For marketers, this is the first step towards getting the much desired 360 degree view of their customers. From prospect, to sales and support, to finance and accounting, together these systems provide complete visibility into your customers’ needs, buying habits, order history, preferences, account standing, etc. you get better insight into your customer base, and you can use it to build lasting relationships with customers and determine where there is potential for future growth.
Some years back, it was quite common to handle data integration by building direct batch interfaces where data was extracted to a file that was sent to the target system and imported also via a batch job. It required a lot more work upfront, both in terms of programming and in testing. Some of the pitfalls of that method were that 1) you had to figure out how to deal with incorrect data and 2) you had to be able to keep the systems in sync afterwards. If the systems remain untouched, then this could run for years. Now, when it comes to more agile systems like ERP and CRM systems, it is more cost-efficient and a lot more robust to use a data integration platform where most of the work is reduced to simple a configuration and mapping of data.
Delaying an integration project because of it seems overwhelming and insurmountable is a reasonable reaction. However, with today’s technologies, setting up data integration projects is a completely different experience, one that can be done without changing a single line of code in your programs. No need to fear that your company will lack bandwidth to implement the integration thoroughly. For example, in most cases, when we implement an ERP-CRM integration for our clients, the entire effort is typically covered within 3-8 man days in total depending on the scope, so it’s much easier to implement than most people perceive. In fact, the trickiest part is probably to decide what you should integrate! But that’s another discussion. If you are interested in that topic, I invite you to read about the 9 most common ERP-CRM integration points.
With over 25 years’ experience in strategically propelling businesses forward, Henning is considered a business development entrepreneur with a passion for transforming businesses, sales and marketing operations through out-of-the-box thinking, concepts building and process automation to improve overall performance and scalability.