If it is possible to suffer from being too good at what you do, then Salesforce is an excellent candidate. Salesforce is such a powerful platform that a number of myths have grown up around it. One of the myths that poses the greatest danger to a successful integration is that Salesforce is so advanced that there is no need to make any advance preparations. While it is true that Salesforce is a robust solution, it has not yet developed psychic abilities, nor has it evolved into a product that can successfully integrate your existing data without a little help from you. If you want to avoid unnecessary delays and additional expenses, there are four things you need to handle prior to attempting integration.
- Clean up your data. There may be a company somewhere with squeaky clean data, but most company’s data is dirty. The product master has items that have not been manufactured or sold during this century, accounts receivables still list each account for a customer who has been through four name changes and the vendor master has suppliers who have been out of business for years. There may be a vendor credit of $10 listed — but you refuse to buy from this vendor, as every purchase has been fraught with problems. This is the perfect time to purge your data and eliminate obsolete accounts, write off uncollectible debts or delete products you will never sell again.
- Select a Middleware Tool. Another myth related to Salesforce is that you can use your back office system to generate a data file, save it to an FTP site and let Salesforce work its magic to load the file. In reality, if you want to automatically load data originating from another system into Salesforce, you must do one of three things:
- Purchase a Middleware Tool license
- Have a custom interface developed to leverage a Salesforce API
- Leverage an ETL tool that you already possess
- Address security and compliance issues well in advance. If your business is subject to regulation, you need to make sure that your data remains secure. You might need to install a secure agent on any machine that can access sensitive data, for example, so bring the issue up early in the planning stages to make sure you remain in compliance.
- Involve the right people and assign responsibilities. A typical integration requires the combined efforts of at least five people.
- An IT professional — This individual should be familiar with the existing data, right down to the field level. He or she will need to advise others on what is or is not possible in Salesforce, map the data, sequence the integrations and, if necessary, develop or modify the ETL you plan to use. This person will also have the potentially unpleasant task of reining in business users who think that they need to duplicate the entire data warehouse in Salesforce or use Salesforce to replace the existing ERP.
- A business representative — The business representative needs to be able to define the data that needs to go into and come out of Salesforce. He or she must also be prepared to state how often this data needs to be transferred; in other words, is it monthly or as close to real-time as possible?
- Project manager — Someone must manage all of the different tasks involved from the planning phase through project completion. The project manager will also supervise staff members who are involved in the process.
- Sponsor — This is the person who has the final say on all decisions and who is responsible for evaluating options and the return on investment.
- Testing manager — You will need someone to plan integration testing, define the tests and execute them. You need to verify that your existing data is being successfully integrated and resolve any issues before you “go live” with Salesforce. The testing manager is typically responsible for setting up and controlling a testing “sandbox” environment.
No two integrations are likely to face identical challenges, and it is extremely unlikely that there will be no challenges that must be met. However, given the benefits offered by a Salesforce solution, it seems probable that companies who choose to embrace these challenges will be the ones who thrive.