Distribution Architecture: Beware of the CRM-Centric Approach


Asset managers spent decades implementing portfolio accounting systems, making them the center of their systems architecture by integrating numerous other applications into it. We call this an app-centric architecture. Fast forward, the industry has been unwinding this and moving towards a data-centric architecture. Why the shift? To engineer in essential business agility required to respond to opportunities and threats, allowing for timely insights, innovation, and transformation. Such nimbleness simply wasn’t possible with the monolithic accounting platform as the beating heart in the middle and data trapped in various pockets throughout the architecture.

“History repeats itself, but in such cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done.”

Sydney J. Harris

I am seeing evidence of the app-centric mistake on the Distribution side of the house. By trying to do too much with the CRM, housing too much data, creating an abundance of custom fields, and configuring unnatural workflows, the industry again is running the risk of inhibiting its nimbleness. And this is happening at precisely the time agility is most needed given rapidly evolving digital selling and servicing paradigms.

To be clear, we believe the CRM can and should be the centerpiece for sales and servicing users. The ideal scenario for your CRM is that it has achieved elevated status, i.e., the business users genuinely believe it helps them target and sell better, retain more, and get more share of wallet. But where the users live is different from how your distribution platform is architected underneath.

Take market segmentation and scoring. Since it requires a blend of unique internal and external data sets, these valuable sources are best curated in a strategic distribution data platform accessible by multiple applications. Another emerging symptom we see is asset managers looking for a CAP do-over after forcing their CRM to be their client, account, and/or product master.

There is significant overlap in terms of the data required by your sales enablement, marketing automation, website, client portal, client reporting, and other distribution architecture components. A data-centric approach, ideally cloud-based, ensures you have a single source of truth of high quality and accessible data to fuel those systems. It also provides insulation when you decide to make an application change. (Maybe you cannot imagine a Salesforce-less world, but when was the last time you heard mention of Siebel, the last market-dominant CRM?). And, potentially most importantly, a data-centric architecture provides a powerful platform to drive your distribution intelligence, which combines your internal data with externally purchased data to feed your sales analytics.

In short, data-centric good, app-centric not so good.

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