Thursday, January 31, 2013

Saving Money with Microsoft Dynamics CRM -- the xRM Approach Part 1

We are putting the final touches on a white paper about using Dynamics CRM  to develop line of business solutions (Microsoft calls this xRM), so here is a preview of the highlights.

Budgets are tight for government at all levels, and agencies are forced to do more with less.    This is nearly always true but has become more acute since the 2008 economic slowdown and more recently with failure to pass federal budgets and resolve the federal debt.  

Information Technology (IT) is part of the problem, because government processes are so specialized that commercial software geared to other industries such as manufacturing or retail simply won't cut it for government.    The most common approach for these solutions has been custom software development -- the IT equivalent of tailor-made suits.  

My company InfoStrat has been in the custom development business for 26 years, but about five years ago we found a new alternative that makes sense for many government solutions.   Instead of custom development, we use Microsoft CRM as the baseline for a solution and then use a combination of off-the-shelf features, configuration, customization and integration to make the solution meet government functional requirements.  

One of the biggest drivers of costs in building any complex business application is the requirements analysis phase. This phase documents the business requirements including the data fields to be captured, the presentation of these data elements in forms, the associated workflows, and the reports for the proposed system.

Requirements analysis involves numerous meetings and iterations between the IT staff and the business users as they attempt to document every detail of features needed in the system to meet their information management needs. The task can be daunting because there are many decisions to be made and tradeoffs to consider. It is a major challenge for the end user of the system to envision every minute detail about every possible usage scenario of the new system A custom development approach essentially begins with a blank sheet of paper as the paradigm, and requires features to be defined from the ground up.

The xRM approach starts with pre-built off-the-shelf component parts and tools, so the requirements analysis phase becomes more of a “gap analysis” type of approach where only the missing functionality needs to be identified and described in detail.

The initial step in an xRM project is called the “Fit-Gap” phase which involves reviewing all of the functionality that comes “out of the box” and determining if it fits the business requirements already and, if not, identifying where the gap is, and describing the nature of the work (configuration or customization) that is required.  It is also much easier for customers to envision how the new system will look because they will be looking at Dynamics CRM “out of the box” as the baseline for the purpose of discussing needs and requirements for the new system.

Next -- saving on configuration instead of programming

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