Integrating CRM with business intelligence tools

Integration between CRM and business intelligence (BI) tools can be a challenge. Learn about a proven methodology for BI-CRM integration that can speed up the integration process.

CRM integration is a major challenge for organizations of all sizes. In this new series, SearchCRM.com will explore best practices for integration between CRM and other systems. If you have suggestions or comments about this series, please contact us at [email protected].

Don't miss the other installments in this CRM integration series
* CRM application integration with Web services
* Integrating Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM and ERP applications
* Benefits of ERP-CRM integration
* Four steps for an effective mobile CRM implementation

It can be a struggle to integrate CRM and business intelligence tools, allowing both front-office and back-office systems to meet business and operational needs. The answer for many organizations may be found in moving quickly, with maximum user buy-in and valuable end-user benefits.

Ultimately, a BI tool is most beneficial when that tool has deep, rich data to analyze, such as the information stored in a CRM system. The bottom line is that BI tools help companies organize and manage customer and transaction data, from top to bottom, by improving tactical and strategic decision-making for company growth.

Refresher: What is business intelligence (BI)?
BI is a category of applications and technologies that gather, store, analyze, and provide access to data, ultimately helping users make better business decisions. Any software that collects and presents information for analysis can be considered a BI tool. These range from the very basic, such as an Excel spreadsheet or the reporting tools found in most financial applications, to very sophisticated software that grabs data from a multitude of front- and back-office systems: financial, manufacturing, human resources, CRM, and so on.

Purpose-built BI tools such as QlikView and Microsoft BI Analytics are designed to pull information from a variety of business systems and organize it into a business "dashboard." Dashboards provide visual summaries of key business information. The power of the dashboard comes from connecting it to live data generated by, say, a CRM application. Dashboards consolidate information in real time and display key performance indicators (KPIs) or key financial indicators (KFIs), which are high-level gauges of how the organization is performing against specific goals.

A business owner can quickly scan KPIs through the dashboard and drill down into them to make informed business decisions and projections, spot trends, and manage the overall health of the organization. Typical KPIs include sales and revenue forecasts, financial budgets, cash flow, lead conversion rates (in sales), and inventory turnover (inventory management). The dashboard also allows users to add information or statistics that may be unique to a company or industry via customizations.

Objectives for a BI and CRM integration project

Each organization has a different set of challenges and customized systems. However, there are some typical overarching objectives for a BI and CRM integration project that can be categorized as follows:


  • Collecting and consolidating data: Keeping everyone focused on the tasks at hand and avoiding data collection overload.

  • Missing data: Storing data in a central location for marketing, sales and customer service. By integrating BI and CRM, the right information can be captured and added to the central repository.

  • Duplicate data: This is a common challenge with CRM applications. Many organizations consider integrating BI tools with CRM tools to reduce duplication.
  • Overcoming BI and CRM integration challenges

    Companies see the greatest benefit from integrating BI tools with their CRM system when they create dashboards to display and analyze information for finance and HR, partner relations, customer service, executives, sales, and marketing. Since each company has significantly different needs when it comes to integrating BI tools with a CRM system, there is no turnkey solution or commercial, off-the-shelf software that can be used as a plug-and-play component for integration.

    Therefore, it's all about employing a methodology that will ensure a "rapid" trip to the endgame: creating dashboards. We have developed our "RAPID" methodology. The RAPID acronym breaks down as follows:


    The RAPID methodology integrates speed, people, technology, and processes with a focus on critical business issues. In some circumstances, it has accomplished in days what might otherwise have taken months to complete. Following the methodology allows companies to build a working prototype in as little as a week, with about 80% accuracy.

    On a recent engagement with a leading global copier and printer manufacturer, Infinity Info Systems used RAPID methodology to implement Visual Analyzer powered by QlikView and Vecco, pulled in the SAP system, and completed the integration effort in about six weeks. As a result, the client was able to transmit on-demand forecasting to its overseas manufacturing arm and track unit placement to create revenue reports in one day, as opposed to the typical five-to-eight-day process.

    The RAPID methodology breaks down as follows:


    • Goals and needs -- and then determine the specific objectives for the BI-CRM integration initiative. There is no stock set of objectives because each enterprise has different needs across a variety of industries.
    • Business processes -- to understand how the data is coming in, and from where.
    • Which systems are used to generate reports -- and the compatibility of these systems.


    • Existing examples of reports, measurements, and tools that are used to run the business. This helps guard against data duplication, identify opportunities for growth, and streamline data gathering.

  • Metrics used to measure success. Without properly focused and balanced performance measures, companies won't see the impact of processes and functional performance.
  • Business processes – and document them.



  • To set priorities, development effort and project timelines.

  • To take inventory of resources. Is there enough experience to handle the implementation in house? Or will you hire a third-party consultancy to help with the process?

  • To determine schedules, the approach and effort needed to bring the initiative to fruition.
  • Implement:


  • Tools and pre-determined processes.

  • Timelines and budget.

  • Goals and plans to help communication thrive across the organization.

  • Dashboards and the reporting functions.
  • Deploy:


  • Schedules and procedures.

  • The best method after trial run-throughs.

  • A training program for staff, featuring the new form and method of measurement.

  • A feedback mechanism so that small changes can be made moving forward in real time.
  • It is important to deliver prototypes along the way. Prototypes are valuable to end users, since they provide flexibility to request changes, which helps ensure that the BI tool will meet user needs. This process dramatically increases end-user adoption, which ultimately determines the success of many CRM implementations.

    The RAPID methodology is built on the understanding that an all-at-once comprehensive approach is detrimental to success, because of today's complex business environment. For example, a company may spend a year building a data warehouse, but when the time comes to utilize the tool, the data and business needs have changed. In the example above, the company spent more than a year trying to fine-tune a manual process for tracking distributor sales, with the comprehensive information being relayed to field reps weeks later, after some of the information was already dated. Through BI-CRM integration using the RAPID methodology, the company now has the flexibility to transmit comprehensive sales information globally, in about a day.

    Deploying a RAPID methodology allows for the entire BI-CRM integration process to occur in a timely manner, while allowing flexibility to fine-tune the systems as business needs change. One of the biggest challenges for some companies is making the best use of data. By integrating the CRM system with BI tools, companies can make great strides with critical business intelligence data. Integration allows companies to collaborate and make decisions quickly, based on real-time information and metrics. An effective BI-CRM integration truly has become a change agent for many companies.


    Don't miss the other installments in this CRM integration series
    * CRM application integration with Web services
    * Integrating Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM and ERP applications
    * Benefits of ERP-CRM integration
    * Four steps for an effective mobile CRM implementation


    About the author


    Yacov Wrocherinsky, founder, CEO and president of Infinity Info SystemsYacov Wrocherinsky, Founder, CEO and president of Infinity Info Systems
    Yacov Wrocherinsky is the winner of the SBA's "Small Business Person of the Year Award" for New York State. Since 1987, Infinity Info Systems has been the premier front-office technology expert, specializing in contact management, sales force automation and customer relationship management. Infinity's business intelligence practice, called CRM-Driven Analytics, helps decision makers run their businesses more efficiently and effectively.

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