In the last 10 years customer relationship management has emerged as a powerful business trend across the globe. CRM is here to stay but is about to evolve into a new dimension focused around one of its key users: the sales person, says Oracle's Anthony Lye.
For years, CRM has focused on pulling together and exploiting large quantities of information with powerful tools to analyse customer behaviour and support service agents in effective decision making. To date, CRM systems have taken a regimented approach to the data gathering process, delivering ever busier screens to users and demanding mandatory input in numerous fields. User adoption has often been driven by compulsory edicts from senior management, rather than a satisfying user experience.
This data and process-centric approach can be considered the necessary precursor to what is set to become the next evolutionary step in customer management technology. But now we have the opportunity to take advantage of new ways of gathering and distributing customer information and intelligence.
In today’s world, the rise of consumer-powered web platforms has become a reality, with the success of sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Wikipedia and eBay. The new models and experiences that these sites deliver are not only here to stay, but are becoming a de-facto standard by which every other application - be it within the enterprise or externally - is beginning to be judged. Developers need to appreciate that the static HTML web page is no longer acceptable to users and customers of their software; they will have to find more engaging ways of capturing and delivering information.
The most powerful environment for data capture
The extraordinary growth in usage of social networks and media – whether blogs, wikis or any other type of two-way, user-driven community tool – is an emphatic demonstration of how people’s expectations of technology have changed. The key to their success is that people are the contributors and controllers of these information repositories, and the accumulation of knowledge spreads freely in a viral manner, making social networking platforms almost certainly the most powerful environment for data capture ever created.
How does this affect business applications and the world of CRM? Software providers are beginning to look at Web 2.0 technologies and the models and experiences they deliver and are envisioning how they could be practically applied in the business space. One example is the use of mash-up technology to collate both internal data and external information sources for decision-making tools that can make informed recommendations and support sales priorities. Another is the lesson provided by social networks in gathering shared information while rules on data visibility control access to key information and maintain data security.
Collaborative participation in blogs and wikis, and the use of tag clouds and social ratings to classify and rank information, could deliver a whole new level of insight into customers, product lines or a particular piece of collateral.
So what’s the benefit of these new technologies to the CIO and his application users? The usefulness, interest and excitement that people find with Web 2.0 applications have triggered exponential growth and adoption. And there's little question that this is also becoming a major trend inside companies. For example, wiki platforms and blogs have already begun proliferating inside many businesses, and their ability to foster a new level of information transfer and user satisfaction has now been understood and accepted by the corporate community.
Building on these initial capabilities in the enterprise provides the CIO with the potential to deliver a range of benefits over and above those available from business applications today. Huge upturns in user adoption, viral distribution of knowledge and information, increased insight into the business, and the ability to combine external and internal information are just a handful of examples of how this new wave of technology could help businesses to perform better.
New ways to interact with information
In the past, CIO’s have struggled to identify the platforms, engines and algorithms required to extract intelligence from the wealth of information held within the business. In essence, they have lacked the tools that would enable them to capture the largest potential source of intelligence available: the company’s employees and customers themselves. Introducing low cost, simple systems that facilitate easier collaboration and deliver genuine commercial insight is now a real possibility – and one that’s been tried and tested in the internet world and found to deliver beyond all initial expectations.
Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 applications bring with them the opportunity of providing users with new ways to interact with information. A vast array of options exists to deliver information faster and in formats that are far easier for the end user to consume. At the very heart, CRM is all about knowing your customer better, which requires the right information, at the right time, delivered in the right way.
It is fair to say that CRM packages of old have not always excelled in this area. The future however is looking extremely exciting for those vendors who grasp the potential of technology’s new wave, understand how it can address the challenges of the modern CIO and their enterprise, and have a vision that can deliver. From the more innovative IT vendors, we are already seeing applications of new technology that deliver systems designed from the perspective of what salespeople need. This trend will grow through 2009 and beyond. We will see more and more applications designed to present information in a format useable to customer-facing personnel.
Applications will be highly customisable and easily configured in a way that does not rely on an IT expert to make it valuable. New systems will be provided that are able to perform specific key tasks, efficiently, without high levels of needless interaction. Simply put, users will be able to work quickly, intuitively and efficiently - drawing on information and comments from all appropriate sources, then using simple links to bring it into other applications of their choice.
Like Facebook and LinkedIn, user adoption of these new solutions will be driven by a social desire to contribute rather than a management edict to comply. Over-engineered complexity will give way to innovation and simplicity, which will be the key to delivering the next phase of business value from CRM.
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