Salesforce1 is the new platform with a big ambition: to connect business applications and users, creating an integrated mobile Salesforce experience with APIs and mobile support. It represents a more API-focused view of Salesforce and, being built on the Chatter social platform, takes the view that our work lives are increasingly defined by connections.
This ties in very nicely with a concept I’ve been using for a while, the “enterprise portal” where systems integration is used to automate all enterprise processes and provision data to staff where and when they needs it, making it available through a single portal. Mobile users are developing ever more ambitious requirements as they see how much more efficient mobile devices can make them, and Salesforce1 could be the ideal portal to their data.
Why Build An Enterprise Portal?
Integrating customer-facing and back-office systems is essential in order to maximise each system’s output, reduce errors, and improve the overall efficiency of the organisation, but this is only the beginning.
When your systems are siloed, busy users have to navigate through multiple windows and systems, manually duplicating data entry in multiple systems and having to mentally keep track of their workflow. Unsurprisingly, this constant switching and manual entry leads to errors, missing or incorrect information and makes effective monitoring impossible. It also leads to frustration and fatigue in your users.
On mobile, the picture is even worse: users will simply put off or avoid more complex tasks which cannot be easily handled on a small screen with touch input (assuming the system is even compatible with their device) and switching between systems on mobile is highly frustrating.
With an increasingly mobile workforce trying to access their data across multiple devices with varying screen sizes, input methods and levels of corporate control, it’s becoming vital to provide your users with a single source of information that fits your business logic. As mobile devices make users more efficient and flexible, they want to be able to manage more of their workflows through a friendly, easily manageable interface, and your CRM could become the ideal candidate to become a portal to their data.
The goal of the enterprise portal is to provide a flexible, customised view of corporate data to all users, with benefits across the business that increase productivity, reduce expenses, increase revenues, improve customer satisfaction, and increase collaboration:
Allowing a salesperson to quickly perform a credit check, or see outstanding invoices, before visiting a client
Enabling customer service to inform sales of up-sell opportunities, or inform technical staff of problems, book meetings or even bring them into the conversation, all while talking to the customer through any channel
Allowing users to customise their screens and select the information that is useful to them, with neither restrictive silos nor information overload
Providing a single, familiar screen through which all enterprise systems can be accessed and processes automated, and which can easily provide that data to any device
Providing role- and location-based access to all enterprise systems via a single login, reducing frustration while maintaining access security
Facilitating collaboration by connecting sharing tools directly into employees’ workflows
Integrating both external and internal social tools with back-end systems so users have access to their conversations and data, on the go and on any device
Providing an end-to-end process overview of the progress of customers from lead generation to cash collection.
Of course, these examples are just typical ones, and every organisation will be able to add specific ones that fit with their unique blend of systems, processes, people and challenges.
The Integration Challenges
Even when enterprise systems provide full, documented APIs as is the case with Salesforce and SAP among others, creating the level of integration required to build the enterprise portal remains challenging because of their sheer size and complexity.
After all, most organisations need to integrate far more systems, such as Oracle JD Edwards (whether IBM “Blue” or Oracle “Red” Stack), Syspro, Sage, Oracle E-Business Suite, among other ERPs, data warehouses, or physical warehouse inventory management systems, not to mention email clients, collaboration tools and social media.
Further, while platforms such as Salesforce1 provide excellent connectivity to the Salesforce and Force.com ecosystem, connecting these to legacy enterprise applications can be daunting.
However, the alternatives are to either replace these systems altogether (which is prohibitively expensive and risks you losing all your hard-won business data and logic), or to leave them isolated (which defeats the object of creating the single source of information in the first place), or to manually write customised coding to each system (which is lengthy, complex, and has to be rebuilt every time the environment is changed). When integration is achieved by custom coding, there will typically be less room to incorporate live process management, monitoring or auditing.
Fortunately, using a process-based integration platform can allow you to connect to broader enterprise systems, social tools, analytics and legacy applications, allowing processes to run smoothly between these and the modern, advanced platform chosen as the basis of the enterprise portal.
While any CRM system could form the basis of an enterprise portal, the main advantages to using Salesforce1 are its background as a social tool and that it has been designed to be easily integrated. Salesforce Chatter was already widely used to build these forms of integration as its ability to “follow” items can be extended to customer records in ERP systems, for example. Salesforce1 has also been engineered to handle mobile, which is becoming both a key enabler for staff and a major headache for enterprises.
A widespread headache in mobile development is making your highly customised Salesforce deployment’s logic echo onto mobile, especially since the customisability of the Salesforce logic is one of the CRM’s main selling points. With Salesforce1, your customisations of the main platform are always echoed across to the mobile view, and kept up to date.
By David Akka, Managing Director at Magic Software Enterprises UK.
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