CIOs must shift from systems that simply record to systems that engage
Enterprise IT is slowly taking on the move from systems of record to systems of engagement – but this step requires vision and commitment
Slowly, but surely there is a big seamless technological transition happening in enterprises who are building systems that engage and that will enable brands to better interact with the whole ecosystem – from customers and prospects to employees and influencers.
This may all sound incredibly uncomplicated. But to complete this invisible transition, CIOs will need to give up their reliance on one way of working with data – the traditional SQL-RDBMs.
Instead, what is required is the delivery of context, agility or flexibility and real-time performance out of a unique underlying data infrastructure – graph technology. These differ from the data model used to build up the older systems of record, relational structures, which were adept at taking paper-based records and processes and automating them using structured business databases. That worked for highly-structured information, but the focus now has to be on systems of engagement in order to make data work harder to offer a compelling service to customers.
Context must be offered in such a way that profiles, preferences, interactions and connections are at the very epicentre of the business process. Quickly identifying the requested data without having to search through thousands of documents to find the related element using complex combinations of potential influences such as location or defined customer criteria.
Agility is key to business transformation and to these new systems that engage. They have the power to analyse large volumes of unstructured information types and identify connections that facilitate making sophisticated recommendations rapidly.
The systems of engagement that exemplify these qualities of context, agility or flexibility and real-time performance are developments made out of a unique underlying data infrastructure – graph technology. They differ from the data model used to create the traditional systems of record, SQL RDBMSs, which were proficient at taking paper-based records and processes and automating them using structured business databases.
This worked for highly-structured data, but what is required today to improve customer engagement is alternatives that specialise in identifying and exploiting the relationships between very large numbers of data points, in order to help organisations manipulate data more easily. The leader of these non-RDBMS alternatives is a graph database, used by Internet giants such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, to disrupt their markets with vast Internet-scale datasets.
Diverse areas of business are benefiting from graph database technology – from logistics, financial services, telecoms, health to government etc. All using graph databases to nurture engagement. Market research company Forrester Research forecasts that one in four enterprises will be using such technology by 2017, while analyst group Gartner reports that graphs are the fastest-growing category in database management systems, predicting 70% of leading companies will pilot a graph database project of significance by 2018.
Relationship is key
Graph databases are the very foundation for systems of engagement because they give equal prominence to storing the data i.e. customers, products and the relationships between elements of it such as who purchased what, when and in which region.
With graph databases, we do not have to bear with the semantically-poor data model and expensive, unpredictable joins of the relational sphere, as graph databases support many named, directed relationships between entities or nodes, giving a far richer semantic context. This means you can specify in far greater detail and have a greater understanding of your customer.
All these points make graph databases especially suited to formulating recommendations in real time – which is why they have the potential to transform the business world. Digital consumers have come to expect finely-grained recommendations, which leaves the ‘one size fits all’ concept out in the cold. Even Amazon, an expert on the benefit of personalised recommendations, is sitting up and taking note as competitors provide more complex recommendations through multi-layered, graph-powered data analysis.
Time to sign up with graph
You may think these systems of engagement are only for early adopters and innovators. Well you would be wrong. Today any company looking to exploit real-time recommendations to engage deeper with their customers, prospects, employees and influencers can do just that via graph databases.
The time has come to make systems of engagement an IT investment priority to create genuinely meaningful context-based, and highly responsive, highly personalised responses to your customers to drive your business to the next level – and get an edge on the competition.
Emil Eifrem is CEO of Neo4j. Committed to sustainable open source, Eifrem sees his role at Neo4j as steering a balanced path between free availability of powerful graph database solutions and enterprise-level options where mission-critical capability is required. Emil is a frequent conference speaker and a very well known author and blogger on...