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Why SOA Is a Good Fit for CRM Solutions

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Components of CRM OM
CRM OM spans the entire lifecycle of an order and includes a number of customer-facing and back-end components (see Figure 2). Customer-facing components include a rich user interface (UI) that supports orders captured from multiple channels, including Web, call center, custom clients, and devices with numerous form factors. In addition, these components require support for order validation, shopping cart management, and a self-service mechanism to track order status.

The first component, order capture, includes several key components, including catalog, configurator, and pricing. Catalogs (both dynamic catalogs and preferred vendor catalogs) hold product information. The configurator ensures that a valid order is created and that the right product recommendations are shown to the customer for up-sell. For products that have numerous options and accessories, the correct options must be selected to ensure a low cost of returns and high customer satisfaction. The pricing component provides the current price with appropriate discounts based on promotions and customer profiles. The deal management component handles price negotiations with vendors.

On the back-end ERP side, the order fulfillment component ensures that the captured order is fulfilled through the warehouse and shipping systems. Once the order is delivered to the customer, the order settlement component takes care of billing and reporting. For retail customers, billing occurs at the time of order capture. However, for large customers, billing and invoicing are based on predefined relationships and occur after product delivery. The final component is order completion, which encompasses returns, repairs, customer support, and service contract management.

In the coming sections, we explore some critical Web services in market-leading CRM applications, and outline how orchestrating these services using standards-based products, such as BPEL and ESB, can build a heterogeneous order management system.

Why Extend CRM Now
Now more than ever, customers should extend CRM processes to back-end ERP applications and create composite order management applications to deliver a rich user experience. There are two driving forces for this: the first is that the technology is ripe for use, but the second and more important force is that customers and competitors are requiring companies to adopt a new approach.

Many companies are moving toward a self-service-based online order-capture process as customer preferences are quickly changing. Customers expect a rich order-capture experience that includes product recommendations, product reviews and comparisons, e-mail notifications, and aggressive pricing (including dynamic discounts). On the order fulfillment front, back-office employees are expecting the automated completion of order information through lookups to credit-check systems, preferred-vendor pricing systems, and simplified shipment and fulfillment interactions. To top it all off, companies want consistency across all channels and customer touch points (for example, partner channels) with a richer user experience and automated processes.

On the technology front, a number of factors are converging that promise to make enterprise-wide business processes a reality. First, BPEL is now the de facto standard for business processes. Even though the middleware industry converged on BPEL a few years ago, CRM vendors are finally starting to embrace BPEL, with some vendors even shipping BPEL process templates. For example, one leading CRM application includes BPEL process templates for the new telco order process and the mobile number portability process.

Second, and of even greater significance, is the upgraded Web services stack inside today's CRM applications. Most vendors support bidirectional Web services with wizard-based tooling. This includes support for the Web Services Interoperability Organization basic profiles, Web service security, and the Remote Procedure Style and Document literal encoding types. Although the standards are by no means complete, they do represent a basic set on which real solutions are being built.

Finally, the list of out-of-the-box CRM Web services keeps growing with each release, allowing for richer BPEL-based process orchestration. For example, the list of new CRM releases has expanded to include complex product configurations that use service interfaces. These applications provide numerous Web service interfaces that include catalog Web services, such as get catalog and publish catalog; product configuration services, such as begin configuration and update configuration; and shopping cart services, such as validate quote, get promotion definition, and submit order; and network order services, such as validate network order.

More Stories By Nishit Rao

Nishit Rao is director of product management for Oracle Fusion Middleware. He is focusing on enhancing and evangelizing the middleware platform to meet the demanding needs of Oracle customers. He has more than 15 years experience in engineering and product management for messaging, Common Object Requesting Broker Architecture, J2EE, integration, and SOA products. He also has experience rolling out middleware solutions as an architect for a large global logistics company. He holds an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a BS in electrical engineering.

More Stories By Murali Varmaraja

Murali Varmaraja is director of order management product strategy at Oracle. He has more than 15 years of experience in the information technology industry, including 8 years of enterprise product management. His experience spans a wide spectrum of technology, including Web, client/server, and multitier and distributed architectures involving Oracle and IBM DB2. He has experience with CRM business processes for the transportation, communications, media, energy, finance, high-tech, and manufacturing industries. He holds an MS degree in computer applications from Sadar Patel University in Gujarat, India, and is currently pursuing an MBA at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University.

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