Islands in the Enterprise
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CRM is using information application platforms to unlock the ‘Information Islands’ that are emerging in the enterprise and create real value from the technology, says Ceri Jones, Actuate director of marketing and sales development, EMEA.

Speculation over whether IT projects should prove their worth by showing clear return on investment (ROI) has led to increased interest in ROI metrics. Not having the deep pockets that they once had, organisations are not endlessly ploughing money into new IT projects – they are trying to get the most out of what they already have. As a result, legacy data is building up in the enterprise and CRM is one of the most common tools being used in an attempt to provide a holistic view of the company, its data and its customers.

How can CRM actually prove it gives ROI? Measuring ROI is not always possible, particularly when CRM is feeding from systems such as ERP, knowledge management and content management which are all providing decision makers with information independently, yet at the same time overlapping and interconnecting, forming a complex web of data. It is hard to pinpoint where one project ends and the next one begins, which is why it is difficult to show ROI on any one system.

Arguably the best way around the tricky problem of quantifying ROI is to enable CRM to provide undeniable business benefits to the business user. CRM is now struggling to do this as it is being stretched beyond simply providing customer information and is now expected to present one view of the organisation. With CRM projects being placed under scrutiny from financial and IT managers because of tightening budgets, CRM is turning to Information Delivery technology – a platform for retrieving and delivering business data – to unlock the potential of enterprise information.

The shift is causing a syndrome called Information Islands, where systems such as ERP, knowledge management and content management are giving information consumers incomplete pictures of enterprise information. Rather than giving a complete view of the enterprise, these systems are presenting isolated snapshots, which business managers are struggling to interpret, and gain value from.

Information Islands can best be imagined by picturing one massive pool of data being interpreted in five different ways by five different tools for five different information consumers. None of these business users can interpret each other’s data, and likewise, no single business user can have a single view of the organisation. Only ‘power users’ or statisticians can perform such a task and these people do not run the business.

Information applications developed for enterprise-wide use provide a bridge between traditional reporting tools and the kind of enterprise wide applications implemented by SAP, Siebel and PeopleSoft. They can be integrated into a portal, or delivered via email and the Web directly to business users.

As the reach of enterprise data grows beyond the handful of report developers and power users served by traditional CRM tools, a new class of information consumer has emerged as the focal point for such information. By equipping the business user with the tools needed to have an enterprise view of an organisation’s information applications provide decision makers with the means to achieve direct and measurable business benefits from CRM and not just create islands of information.

Information applications are not a new concept. Many global CRM vendors are already embedding reporting technology into their applications so that they can give users access to their systems’ data stores. But to link the Information Islands that are being created, IT requires an information application platform that can retrieve business information from any corporate database or application and deliver interactive Web pages and Excel spreadsheets to customers, partners, and employees.

Information applications take BI one step further by linking operational data to tailored user interfaces enabling business users as well as business analysts to access data, processes, and live applications to make business decisions based on real time operational information.

Although information applications are different from BI, it does follow the same market trends. According to analyst firms Gartner and IDC, the BI market is set to flourish in the current business climate. They claim the BI market is a growth sector for IT vendors, and will succeed in empowering business users for analytical decision making solutions. Gartner predicts the market will grow by 11.6 percent by 2006, when it will reach $29 billion.

With increasing focus being placed on CRM creating value to the business user, information applications are doing more than bridging the gap between Information Islands. It is providing clarity to IT investment decisions by making ROI to the business more transparent, regardless of whether – and indeed if – it can be measured.

Acuate can be contacted at [email protected]



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