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CRM, ERP upgrades come with risks, rewards

Saddled with ancient ERP and CRM systems, one company took the leap and implemented an all-in-one system.

Shopping for new ERP and CRM systems to replace inefficient legacy apps can be frustrating, especially when there's...

a tight deadline involved.

Not every company has the luxury of employing the latest system. Some companies are saddled with archaic ERP or CRM systems that slow business processes and reduce revenue, having a domino effect on the bottom line. It can be hard to get out from under these inefficient systems, either because of the cost of upgrading, organizational unwillingness to evolve or other factors. But there often comes a point at which organizations have to move forward.

Network Communications Inc. (NCI), a publishing company that owns real-estate listing periodical Apartment Finder and sells advertising to 16,000 customers per month, was struggling with an on-premises ERP from Infor and the cloud-based CRM system Magazine Manager that lacked flexibility and agility. When the Infor system required an upgrade, NCI had a year to decide whether it wanted to go that route -- but upgrading would cost $1 million. This caused the company to look for a one-stop shop for its ERP and CRM needs, and it eventually settled on NetSuite.

SearchCRM sat down with Diana Young, NCI's senior vice president of finance and administration, to talk about how her company selected its new systems, best practices for implementation and what she's learned along the way.

Why did you need to upgrade your ERP system?

Diana YoungDiana Young

Diana Young: We implemented Lawson ERP [now Infor] in 1993 and upgraded it fairly consistently until right before the [2008] crash. When the economy started falling, we quit doing updates to our financial system. Lawson [told us] that we had to upgrade and that it was going to cost over $1 million because it had been so long since we upgraded that it was almost like asking for a new implementation. We couldn't afford a $1 million implementation just to upgrade our current system. We started looking at all types of products.

Tell me about your previous CRM system.

Young: We used Magazine Manager. The system didn't really work for us. We needed [something more robust]. It would just field feedback from our sales reps and IT teams. We have developers that have built our own website, and so we linked between the website and the CRM [to gather customer leads from the website]. The question was whether we could build a system to best suit the customer that also works well internally.

How did you go about choosing a new system? Why NetSuite?

Young: Three years ago, we started looking at 12 or 13 different vendors like SAP, Oracle, Sage and Microsoft. But where the tide turned [toward NetSuite] for us is the fact that we wanted an all-in-one [ERP and CRM]. It was like going to Target to buy my groceries and clothes rather than going to two different places. We went live with NetSuite ERP this past year, and we are two months into the recurring billing and CRM systems. It took eight months to implement the ERP and four to six weeks for the CRM.

[With ROI], you're kind of guessing a little.
Diana Youngsenior vice president of finance and administration, NCI

Has this helped your business?

Young: Part of it is the transparency. We now have so many people we can give different types of access to and we can afford it: We can expand and afford to have more people have access to it. Having [systems] talk to each other has been huge. We've been able to reduce headcount in almost every department -- overhead, human resources, accounting, general ledger and accounts payable -- because it's an easier system to utilize. For the CRM, we're seeing the same thing. It's probably going to save us $100,000 this next year.

When you're choosing a new system, how do you plan for ROI?

Young: You're kind of guessing a little. If we would have kept [the old systems] and with the limitations that we had before -- only letting our accounting department see into our system and having everybody call accounts payable to see if something has been paid -- we could've saved a lot more money. But as we've gone along the process, we've figured out that it's better -- despite not saving all of that money -- to not be as greedy, nonfunctional and cut off from everybody and to be transparent.

[Now, we can say,] 'Look, you can see if that customer had paid his invoice. You can see if we've mailed that check.' It also made it so I can have less people in my department because I no longer have one person only fielding calls asking whether a payment has been made.

Was the time frame for go-live a factor?

Young: We were going to get cut off from [Infor], so they gave us a deadline of upgrading or they weren't going to support us anymore. We had to choose a system and implement it in a year. It became a change management issue, because [employees] were so used to [Infor] for almost 20 years. To get them to change over to a new system and a cloud-based system was very different. It was like, 'Guys, you gotta jump on the bandwagon, because the train's leaving.' It got to be a little scary for a while.

What's your advice for companies planning to undertake a similar project?

Young: When we first did the original [ERP] implementation, we had the support of a consultant. That was key. We [initially] thought we could do it ourselves. We knew we had access to all our data from the [Infor] system and we thought we could've downloaded everything we needed -- we just needed to be shown how to upload it. If you don't know all the intricacies of the new system, I don't recommend [that approach]. I recommend having a consultant helping you with the implementation and to be there when you go live. You pay more -- they're not cheap -- but it's been a much smoother process.

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What's holding your company back from upgrading its CRM/ERP?
Very insightful article...directly coming from horse's mouth. Having all-in-one system is need of the hour to improve efficiency and bottom line. Also it is important from the point of view of change management.
A lot of companies are moving into creating all-in-one software because it makes a heck of a lot of sense in the CRM space.

When you're trying to juggle several pieces of software with different interfaces, even with tight integrations you face a lot more friction and a lot less data completion than with an all-in-one.

One thing that really helps out for some companies is a CRM + project management software combo. Keeps everything from the sale to the service to the resell all in one place which ends up being incredibly convenient.

Brad Hodson
That's an interesting outlook, Brad. Do you see the vendors which can offer a CRM/ERP combo all-in-one system as taking over in the next, say, 10 years or do you still see them separated?