CRML Standard Could Ease Data Integration Woes

A proposed specification for defining customer relationships could smooth the road to effective CRM systems, but it will take time, industry observers said.

Earlier this week, the OASIS Technical Committee adopted the CRML XML standard, which is designed to define customers by relationship--rather than specific data fields--in an application- and vendor-independent manner. Previous OASIS-backed specifications like xCIL and xNAL defined customers by characteristics such as name, address and phone number. CRML was proposed by MSI Business Solutions, an OASIS member based in Australia.

CRML support will be key for CRM software vendors like Pivotal, Onyx and Siebel systems, said Bernard Drost, vice president of Akibia, a Boston-based CRM solution provider. "They will need to provide an interface that will allow data to be sent via the standard. Also, their database schema will need to reflect all possible relationships that the standard will impose," Drost said. "Of course, the vendors will have to subscribe to [CRML]. If there is enough momentum behind it, it could become an industry standard."

A standard such as CRML could ease data flow between disparate systems, according to Erin Kinikin, an analyst at research firm Giga Information Group. "The problem is that the definition of the customer varies significantly by industry and application area," Kinikin said. A customer looks very different to a billing application than to a customer-facing application, she said.

However, many efforts to standardize the format and attributes of customer data have failed, Kinikin noted. "Many of these initiatives are dominated by customer data producers--companies like Acxiom, Experian, etc.--which all would get rich selling data integration services," instead of trying to make customer data structures more practical, she said. Experian provides credit rating reports, and Acxiom is a data integration company.

CRM solution providers are always evaluating standards, said Burley Kawasaki, vice president of e-business solutions at E-quarius, a Bellevue, Wash.-based solution provider. "This [CRML] may fit best if you take an extended view of CRM and are looking at managing a view of customers, suppliers, etc.," he said. "XML will play a key role in helping share this type of relationship information across enterprise boundaries."

By Barbara Darrow, CRN

December 20, 2001    2:04 PM ET