In our previous article on the subject we recommended now is the time for you to start to talk to your staff about the technology they need to support them for the future. Here we cover off some of the considerations you need to have in mind when planning next steps.

The Cloud

It must be said that in my opinion, if your CRM isn’t sat happily within the cloud, then a large red buzzing alarm should be going off. If your system isn’t truly cloud based there will be a question mark over its ability to respond to and support the changing needs of your organisation.

The cloud is here now and it is the future.  If it is not already, it will certainly very soon be essential in the ability of systems to pass data between a host of different platforms, some of which haven’t even been invented yet!  The cloud is the backbone upon which your various solutions, systems and data sources will communicate freely and securely, enabling you to build a custom CRM eco-system designed and configured specifically to meet your organisation’s needs.

If not truly cloud-based, whilst integration will be possible with some effort, systems based upon “older” technology will remain limited by their inability to easily connect and move data between now commonly used services.

The good old database engine

Sure, your new system has a well organised and robust database engine.  That’s great and important as it is processing many thousands or hundreds of thousands of transactional entries from your lovely supporters every day. But if it isn’t able to communicate with other systems easily, if it can’t support the needs of your organisation either now or in the future, regardless of how robust it may be “behind the scenes” it will likely become a liability and a risk before too long.

Is it built upon rather “old” technology with a dated design? Many CRM database structures were created more than two decades ago and are now not ideally suited to support typical modern methods of communication and integration.  They have been extended but fundamentally changing a system from the ground up is a huge undertaking for a software company and a step they may be unwilling to take.

The user interface

Users now typically expect to work within a browser-based solution.  Most newer solutions offer this, however many “older” systems do not. But is it actually that important?

In my opinion, this is a critical issue and is absolutely not just an issue of aesthetics.

Modern interfaces are more familiar to users, helping faster adoption of solutions. They are also more flexible in terms of configuration, allowing your chosen processes to be mapped more easily, thereby giving your users a far better solution all-round.

Providing an easy to use, flexible point of access to your CRM for your users goes far beyond aesthetics, it is a key element of any solution and must be treated as an important element of any CRM review.  It is also directly related to ease of remote and mobile access as discussed below.

Remote and mobile device access

If your current CRM interface is limited in its ability to provide access to the system, if access remotely or via mobile devices is overly difficult or in some cases impossible to deliver, then this should be another big red alarm buzzing away right above your head!

Covid-19 has highlighted that secure but easy to deliver remote access to organisational data, including your CRM is essential.  Here at Mast we have definitely seen that those organisations who prior to lockdown had put in place an IT infrastructure that provides secure ease of access, had a smoother transition to getting their now remote workforce up and running and working effectively.

It should be made clear however that in our experience, implementing such a solution does not have to be large scale and is not necessarily related to an organisation’s size or available budget.

If your current system is desktop-based and has no browser interface, it is likely that remote desktop solutions are required to provide users with access. This often limits the use of mobile devices without the creation of specific solutions to act as a “gateway” to the back-end systems, which can be costly and time consuming to create, install and support.

Integration with cloud-based services

How “easy” is it to link your CRM with your web site?  How flexible is the solution?  Do highly skilled, high cost developers need to be employed to make this happen or is it available “out of the box” in some cases?

If not cloud-based, is it necessary to have a complex set of systems to ensure the data held on your internal network is at no stage compromised whilst giving access to the CRM database for your web site?

Unlike many more modern cloud-based solutions, integration options built into older CRM systems are limited.

They may have an API allowing for other systems to extract, update and add data.  However, in our experience, this can become a cumbersome method of integrating, often requiring software developers to bring their skills to bear.

How capable is your CRM of “talking” to commonly used cloud-based services?

Many organisations now use cloud-based services/specialist packages. Would it be possible for your CRM to link to the example services listed below without significant effort from a team of developers?:

  • Microsoft Azure
  • Google Cloud
  • Amazon Web Services
  • Office 365
  • Gmail
  • EventBrite
  • Justgiving
  • Virgin Money Giving
  • BTMyDonate
  • GoFundMe
  • MailChimp
  • DotMailer
  • Communicator Corp
  • Engaging Networks
  • Sage
  • Xero
  • Slack
  • Stripe
  • GoCardless
  • DocuSign

Many of the current cloud-based CRM solutions available have either built-in support or apps written specifically to allow easy integration with these services and many more.

If your current CRM does not provide built-in support for, or make it simple to integrate with the vast majority of these services, then yes you guessed it – it’s big red buzzer time again!

Integrations could be custom-built, however this can be a costly and time-consuming exercise and one that often requires regular development work to change and maintain this custom element of a CRM.

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