CRM’s Have a Big Data Technical Debt Problem: Here’s How to Fix It

Big data can be an important asset in the quest to fight technical debt among CRMs.

Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms are very reliant on big data. As these platforms become more widely used, some of the data resources they depend on become more stretched.

CRM providers need to find ways to address the technical debt problem they are facing through new big data initiatives. This will be easier as advances in big data make this more possible.

The Relationship Between Big Data, CRM Technology and Technical Debt

With more and more CRM customers hitting the 10-year mark on their respective platforms, the crippling effects of technical debt are becoming significantly widespread. Although misunderstood, technical debt can result in slow performance, reduced agility, sluggish adoption, and the failure to meet business requirements. And this has seasoned IT executives wondering what to do with the complex problem of technical debt and how big data can help.

To help combat the situation, data-driven CRMs like Salesforce now offer services geared towards tackling technical debt. As part of this, Salesforce recommends that customers devote a percentage of each release to clean-up work. But while everyone agrees that technical debt is bad, there hasn’t been much discussion regarding exactly how technical debt reduces CRM performance and agility. Without understanding this, it is difficult to know how to fix the problem – or avoid it in the first place.

What is technical debt anyway?

In software development, technical debt is often defined as the cost of choosing an easy solution now instead of a better approach that might take longer. CRM analysts like to associate technical debt with the complexity that results from extensive customization.

Metazoa CEO Jennifer Mercer doesn’t think that either of those definitions is very helpful, especially when it comes to Salesforce.

“First of all, Salesforce orgs [accounts] need to be highly customized in order to address important business requirements,” states Mercer. “Complex Salesforce orgs can work just fine if they are properly managed. And secondly, we have found that the loss of agility and performance in older Salesforce orgs can often be traced to specific malfunctions that can be fixed. We do not think the problem is too many customizations, but rather, vital systems in the org that have become unhealthy.”

Metazoa is the company behind the Salesforce ecosystem’s top software toolset for org management, Metazoa Snapshot. Created in 2006, Snapshot was the first CRM management solution designed specifically for Salesforce and was one of the first Apps to be offered on the Salesforce AppExchange. Over the years, Snapshot has grown into the industry’s most comprehensive toolset for org management, relational data migration, documentation, technical debt removal, and more.

What about SAP and Oracle?

For those operating under SAP’s CRM platform, the team at Pillir has its own leading solution. Realizing why companies struggle with innovation, the Pillir team created a unique, ABAP tool (ABAP is a high-level programming language created by the German software company SAP) called SAP technical debt dashboard to help SAP customers understand how much time, money and resources are spent on unnecessary customizations and how to lower technical debt in the process.

“ABAP has a storied history, but also comes with a heavy price tag,” stated industry analyst Brian Fitzgerald. “As with Salesforce’s APEX, SAP’s ABAP is what drives the CRM’s extremely complex ecosystem. As such, when it starts generating piles of technical debt, customers are at risk of system failure. And this is true with Oracle’s Application Express, also called APEX.”

Oracle, the third leg of the big three CRMs, isn’t immune to issues with technical debt. As a matter f fact, it is such a big problem that the company teamed up with Deloitte to try and reduce technical debt for its customers. This resulted in the introduction of an end-to-end cloud migration and managed services product called ELEVATE.

Now that you know all that’s need about technical debt in CRMs, what can you do to combat the issue? The answer is complex at best, but there is hope.

Visualize the problem

To get a good sense of where the problems are, you must first assess all your data.

“Once you have accounted for all the CRM’s data, and metadata type, administrators will then need to take a comprehensive snapshot of the account,” added Mercer. “This can be difficult within CRMs like Salesforce because the system has some limits. Tools like Metazoa Snapshot make it painless, however. And once an overview of all the data is available, the problems will become apparent.”

Unused assets

“There are several different metadata asset types that can end up being left behind because of configuration settings within CRMs,” added Fitzgerald. “For example, maybe an asset is not assigned to a user.”

There are analogous problems on the data side as well, where data can be underutilized. Reports and dashboards can also go stale. This information includes the Description, Help Text, Business Status, Security Classification, and Compliance Group. Special attention should be given to the date the asset was created and last modified, and which admins were involved.

Deleting these unused assets is a great first step towards CRM cleanup and optimization!

Inactive users

Over time, CRMs can end up with more inactive users than active ones. For example, with Salesforce there are over 50 different ways that an inactive user can remain connected to a Salesforce account. Inactive users can still manage active users, receive system emails, remaining team members, and serve as the running user for dashboards and other important enterprise systems. These zombie users not only complicate CRM management and software development, but they also pose multiple security threats.

Tracking down and removing all of the connections between inactive users and the CRM account can be a very complicated process. The connections can be by username, user email, and user ID. The best practice is to identify these users and either delete their connections to the Org or replace them with an active user.

Conclusion

Salesforce, SAP and Oracle provide some amazing options for running entire enterprises. But with great power comes great responsibility. Without proper due diligence, dynamic CRMs will become crippled with technical debt over time. And unfortunately, there isn’t much warning when your system is headed for a technical debt meltdown.

But don’t worry; there is light at the end of the tunnel! Fortunately, there are some powerful tools available that can both find technical debt and fix the problems associated with it as well. Metazoa Snapshot, Pillir’s technical debt dashboard and ELEVATE are great examples.

JT Ripton
JT Ripton is a freelance business and technology writer out of Tampa. He loves to write to inform, educate and provoke minds. Follow him on twitter @JTRipton