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Context Integration, the Future of System to System Interactions

April 22, 2013 1 comment

Context integration is the future of system to system interaction. By prioritizing relevance, customer needs and jobs-to-be-done, context is the reason to operationalize big data.

Definition: Context integration is the instantaneous combination of information and process integrated at a point in time, location, to the right person, on the right channel and on the right device.

During the past 20+ years, the way in which system and/or application integrations have been conceptualized has not really changed all that much. Sure, it is possible that I am being overly simplistic, but up until now, there have been only two types of integrations process and data. Yes, the protocols have changed, APIs, REST, SOAP – pick the acronym, and designs changes (spoke and hub, point-to-point, bus,etc.,..). However, what is often assumed is that a person will make the determination as to why a particular data element is on a screen, or not. Now, there is too much data, too much information it is time to refine the process.

Data Integration

Data movement in one direction is the easiest (not always easy, mind you) type of integration. Yes, there are nuances, but overlooking these nuances puts the complexity on the low end of the spectrum. One directional data integrations are typically read-only (or a copy). For example, taking data out of an operational system and putting it into a reporting system (I am not talking about transforms just yet). If you desire the data more quickly, say real-time, slide the complexity to the right a bit. Want to be able to write/update and have this reflected in the source system; bidirectional, slide the scale bunch more to the right.

Action item: we need to progress from data integration to information integration, there is too much data, people need information.

Process Integration

Process integration often require detailed use cases, user scenarios and can often be quite complicated. Process integration is best described by old school triggers. Something happens in system A, but the users on System B need to be both alerted, they need to do something and hey need to know what to do. Too often, this type of integration ‘channel jumps’ and the recipient receives an email, text or page in order to go take some action, in some other core system. These types of integrations take place in everything from sales, to support, operations and marketing, as well as everything in between.

Similar to the data integration conversation, when it is one direction and the originating system does not need to be notified upon completion, complexity is reduced. Now, if there are multiple process flows in the secondary system, and each is complex and the originating system needs to be aware at each stage (think credit check, for example), slide the complexity scale a bit to the right some more.

Action item: We need to move beyond the task list of things to do, to being told what to do, how to do it and when to do – why? only if asked.

What does Context Integration Look Like?

As stated above, context integration is information plus process, it is real-time, but may or may not be bidirectional. What I mean is that communication is bidirectional, but it might not be operating on the same data. Delivering the right information to the right person at the right time is hard, just start by sliding the scale way way to the right. For starters, there is now a third system involved within each integration scenario, the analytics engine. Breaking it down further:

  • Information equates to ‘what’,
  • Process equates to ‘where’ and ‘how’;
  • Context equates to ‘why’, as-in ‘why is this important to me, now’?

In order to accomplish this feat, we need more insight. We need to spend a bit of time translating data into information, processes into specific tasks and actions and help the user to understand why something is displayed or being done. In a very real way, right time information may also be considered to be proactive, as expectations are low in this area, but changing rapidly.

The two primary systems and their users need intelligence, something that has been done by humans, until now. The possibilities are awesome, the complexity enormous, the risks, very real. The intelligence comes from the aggregation of social data, combined with filtering, analysis and direct (ie predictive) insights. The salesperson wants more than just new information, he/she wants the question they forgot to ask – don’t only tell me something new, suggest what I should do.

The following are just some quick ideas, there are so many more and if you would be willing to add your own, I would appreciate it!

Example – Sales

  • Data – The CRM (SFA) application has a copy of purchase and/or case history, maybe event data, purchase history and company financial information

  • Process – The Marketing Automation System responds to a visit by a lead to landing page a task is created to make a call or send an email

  • Context – The intelligence platform creates a set of tasks, based up information from Linkedin (say through InsideView integration) that certain people are active on Linkedin and have changed jobs, company purchase history and trends are used to suggest tone of message and 3 independent tasks are created. If the CRM system notes the user is accessing information on an iPhone, the tasks are delayed a few hours, as the emails and tasks are better done on a larger screen. Tasks and reminders are created and scheduled.

Example – Service (Customer Support)

  • Data – The Contact Center has account service history, household purchase history, number of claims displayed on the screen (or a couple clicks away).

  • Process – Add to the above, notifications of device recalls, health alerts, community posts, credit checks, invoice verification, payment verification, (think billing and finance).

  • Context – In financial services, think fraud alert. For example a user social check-in in New York and credit card use in Paris. In travel, make agents aware of weather or flight delays, tell client new flights are booked. Help systems should be product and location aware as well as being proactive.

Example – Customer (Me)

(There are too many customer examples to count, feel free to add your own)

  • Data – Give me access to my account information through a portal or smart device

  • Process – Notify me of potential fraud, account balance issues, credit issues, ask and wait for response. If an application is incomplete, point me to the place to complete it. If a doctor or hospital is too busy ask me if I want to reschedule.

  • Context – Notify me of weather on my travel route, give me options: car; a new route, plane; a special number or email address, finance; tell me my bank account is low before the rent check is due. Tell me to watch out for an issue, before I have it – the customer side of proactive support.

Who is the Clutch Player on your Team?

January 17, 2013 1 comment

In sports, a “clutch” athlete is one who performs well in pivotal or in a high-pressure situation. This includes many instances where a good performance means the difference between a win and a loss. There is a bit of debate as to whether the player is acting above what they can normally achieve, but we can skip that for the moment. Whether it is a penalty kick, a three pointer, the winning putt or a diving save, the situation presents itself.

JW

In the business world, this is the master presenter, the sales person you bring in to close the deal, the cool, calm and collected, person who does not sweat and is able to withstand the most hostile beat-down and walk away with the the deal and their pride intact. The common thread is that given the chance, does an individual seize upon the opportunity of a pressure situation and ‘kill it’.

Now, here is where I take a little poetic license and change gears, literally. The mechanical use of a clutch is to match the transmission and power or motion needs between a power source and something spinning. Most of us know this as the 3rd foot pedal in a car (which if you are in the US, your parents or your younger self, drive). The key here is that there are two things moving at different that need some help to match speeds. If done properly,  the car does not feel like a bucking Bronco.

You need a Person who can do both

The pace of change in technology is moving faster than the pace of change of your teams ability to manage or adapt to it. Technology is moving so fast that Enterprises are struggling, culturally, to keep up. Often, it is a rough ride.  Your customers are also moving fast, their expectations are outpacing your ability to deliver. ClutchWho can bridge the gap?

This person will understand both the technology and your customers, they can make the diving save (think customer service and disaster avoidance).  This person can also help to match the speed between the technology and the culture, soften the blow. In the corporate world, matching speed is not easy, it takes a lot of patience. The gears will grind every once in a while, but we all need this person, and it may not always be the person you expect.

No one like to ride a bucking Bronco – well almost no one.

(First Image: http://www.nba.com/history/legends/jerry-west/index.html)
(Second Image: http://wannaspeed.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=83_97)

Some Thoughts on Cloud(s)

November 26, 2012 Leave a comment

When business people discuss ‘Cloud’ they think Salesforce and maybe Citrix or Microsoft, while technologists think Amazon, Google and Rackspace. Business owners want and believe that they can swipe the credit card, and ‘the system’ is ready tomorrow. To technologists, it is a bit more complex than that, but they too want simplicity. To the IT organization if there are no physical goods, servers, tapes, power supplies, then it is not real. To the line of business, they are tired or asking IT for permission, giving IT the upper hand in business application decision making. Therefore, what it really comes down to is this: To the business it is about gaining control, the IT department it is about losing control. Do not underestimate the emotional elements that go into the decision making process surrounding ‘Cloud’. I did not bring up the most important person, the CFO who has read the first half of the Op Ex v Cap Ex article talking about how Cloud is cheaper (the second half is not quite written yet, but it will say that depending upon the application the cost lines cross at between 4 and 6 years).

Everything is Perspective

Cloud is an overused term, all started when we were too lazy to draw lots of servers and explain what was outside of our firewall – we drew a picture of a cloud. Which, back in the day, was meant to represent the ‘Internet’ – Yes, the whole thing. Lots of people, including myself at a point in time, used the electricity model to describe cloud. To the uninitiated, this works just fine. To others, the metaphor begins to break down and then everyone starts picking it apart. To those folks, I simply say “relax” it is, after all, a metaphor. The detailed oriented among us start to go on the attack and say “well, no security is required for electrons”. Yes, that is true, you win. The simple idea is that companies need a way to innovate, adapt, move and grow at a much faster pace. Having one less thing to worry about, to many people is a good thing. There are those among us who would suggest that Cloud is one MORE thing to worry about. Then don’t…

You – the CIO or IT department will be (or have been) asked to do more with less, optimize your computing power, deal with more data, have five 9s uptime, spend less on electricity and drive innovation. You are asked to think about things you never considered to be your job, like cooling systems, how much weight the floor can support, the electric bill and so much more. It is starting to feel a lot like a data center. So, there might just be a cloud and/or data center inside your firewall (physically or logically). In the end, it is as simple as balancing resources, time and money and enabling your organization to sell, support, collaborate and innovate. Do you need cloud in order to do that? An unconditional – It depends.

I am looking forward to exploring these topics as well as a few others next week at the CIO Cloud Summit. Maybe I will see you there?

Categories: SocialCRM Data Tags: , ,

What is Wrong with this Picture?

November 5, 2012 2 comments

This is an open letter to the VPA, Vermont Principals Association

(To regular readers, this is a Vermont localized issue. Feel free to read, but it might not be that interesting to you)

Dear VPA,

The topic is fairness and a situation that needs to change. I am a parent, a former coach, a player and fan. I am also a businessman and a very logical person. In none of these roles can I come to terms with awarding home field advantage, on turf, to a team playing in a state championship game (lower seed, too). Take a look at the picture above, what is wrong?

  • BHS is written on the scoreboard (instead of “Home”)
  • The actual home team  (by VPA rules) has their score on the “Visitor” Side
  • The field is turf (maybe you cannot see that)
  • The scoreboard says “Seahorses”

What else causes concern?

  • The “away” team is playing a “home” game
  • The CVU parents in the stands were informed that they were in the “BHS student section” and asked to move.
  • The posting on the VPA website has the scores reversed (by convention)
  • The ranking system allowed a team with fewer D1 points than the 13 seed to be ranked 1st
  • VPA paid the ‘Visitors’ for the use of their field

There are so many way ways to reconcile this situation, yet no attempt was made to do so, you really need to figure this out. The game could have been switched with the Division 2 venue, this would have been the easiest. To be open and honest, my son is a CVU player. Why playing on turf is so important to VPA (more important than a neutral site)?  A very large percentage of games (90% +) are played on grass during the season. I know the issues with grass (mud, etc.,..). But, there is a way to make things right. If field conditions warrant turf, then make that call. But, realize that the differences between turf play and grass are very very big for Soccer. It would be like moving the finals of Wimbledon to Asphalt – what it takes to get a team to the finals is suddenly very different from the season. Even within turf, the fields are different (South Burlington is different from Burlington). My simple point is that VPA awarded Burlington home field advantage.

One could easily make the case, a strong case, for many other issues, like the rankings, referee (2 ref system, versus 3) but that will be for a different day. With this, there are also many more issues to account for, I understand that – but it is absolutely wrong to award home field advantage, with a different surface to one team in the finals. Burlington is a strong program and will be in contention year after year.  The point, this issue is not simply going to go away and should not be left to chance. I could think of a number of very simple alternatives to make things more fair – there are two issues the home field and the surface.

Alternatives:

  • Higher seed is allowed to choose between two alternative venues
  • Two venues (one grass, one turf) are preselected
  • Use a neutral site (as in a University or College)

VPA, do you have any comments? Is a letter of apology forthcoming (to CVU players, coaches and administrators)? I waited to write this, in the hope that CVU did win, so that it did not come out as a ‘whine’. I made the issue clear, offered alternative solutions in an objective manner. I now hope VPA has the courtesy to respond.

Mitch Lieberman – Father/Taxpayer

(photo credit: Vermont Sports Images, modified)

Categories: SocialCRM Data

Time to hit the Pause Button

Thank goodness I do not have a title for this blog, as my posts have been, well, a bit all over the map lately. Not quite ramblings of a mad man, but close. This may give you the idea that I have random disconnected thoughts. Well, I do, and to make sense of them I write and often realize that there are connections. Here is the thing, writing  forces me to focus, think through the idea, put fingers to keyboard and see if it makes sense. Twitter fits into this category, as squeezing a rational thought into 140 characters that does not feel like a sound bite is hard.

A few weeks ago, I was away from work, away from Skype, away from email (well, mostly) and I tried to focus on nothing, intentionally. The Euro Cup was on, I tried to avoid social networks. At first, I failed miserably, yep, I missed the news, current events, technology gossip (Ciboodle was part of it) and watching the flow of information. After a few days, it was easy, I read a few fiction books, watched soccer, had a few drinks and did relax. I did not spend time writing either.

Here is what I learned:

  • I am (many of us are) too connected, therefore I/we lose touch with people who are not as connected as I am (we are).
  • Things (change, technology,…) are moving at a pace that borders on bizarre, caution advised.
  • Keeping up with everything is nearly impossible, you will lose your hair trying; focus.
  • I need to read more foundational works, not just others interpretation of them.
  • Hitting the pause button gives a perspective that I think many people need right now. I know I did.

I will stop there before I get philosophical, then I will really get myself in trouble. Enjoy the weekend.

It Is About The Relationship Not The Transaction

July 17, 2012 4 comments

Co-creation emphasizes the generation and ongoing realization of mutual organization-customer value. Historically, organizations spent too much time and effort to extract as much value out of a relationship as possible. Unfortunately, customers are now more knowledgeable, connected and interactive than they have ever been. This was one of the themes in my Evolution of the Contact Center post last month, I subtitled this ‘Governance’. In trying to play catch-up on my reading, the June issue of Harvard Business Review took a similar stance.  They called it “Pricing to Create Shared Value” (by Marco Bertini and John T. Gourville).

While my focus was (and still is) customer service, the HBR article in the June 2012 issue focuses much more on pricing strategies. There are some great examples, ones many of us have heard before. The airlines (yes, the poster child for doing things wrong). Do everything they can to extract value. Once you have confirmed your seat, everything else is a cost; from baggage to pillows. In this instance, the overall customer experience is abysmal and the traveler is left with a sour taste in their mouth.

Where does value originate?

Before I read this article, I had not considered this point. According to the authors “value neither originates with nor belongs solely to the firm. Without a willing customer, there is no value.” Fascinating in the simplicity of the statement. When I was first reading the article, I was about ready to challenge the premise, until the last phrase. Without a customer, there is no value – simple really. The authors extend the premise by simply using logic. If you cannot have value without a customer, value must be shared. Value can be enhanced (expanded) via co-creation. It is true that there is a little bit of chicken and egg going on here, as the company must initiate the process of creating something valuable, but it is positive feedback loop if done right.

Price, Money or Value?

Money or currency always seem to be an afterthought in these conversations. Academics talk about value exchange, when they really just do not like say the word ‘money’.

“Consumers often come to identify with the brands they buy, and firms hope to encourage this, preferring loyal customers to ones who engage on a merely transactional basis. But pricing decisions often undermine the relationship between brands and their followers.”

Why is it that pricing decisions undermine the the relationship? Because, the firm tries to extract as much value from the individual as possible (to make the numbers). However, if the firm is transparent about how it makes money  – yes, businesses are there to make money – the transparency builds trust and loyalty. Within the article, there is an a great example, especially for those who have heard the phrase ” You do not actually want a drill, what you want is a hole in the wall”. Hilti is a company who created a Fleet Management program, operating on just this premise. The realization was that construction company’s do not really care about owning tools, what they wanted is the outcome of using the tools (aka a hole in the wall or a hole in the ground).

There is a whole lot more to the article, I only hit the tip of the iceberg, well worth the read.

Trusting Data Versus Trusting Your Gut

March 30, 2012 6 comments

As if the CIO did not have enough to worry about; Cloud, Social, Mobile, along comes Data  (BigData to be buzzword compliant). OK, I might have it a little backwards, Data has been a concern for a long time, but now, because of Cloud, Mobile and Social, Data is an even bigger challenge. The list of issues surrounding data is a long one; growth of, quality of, management of, storage of, interpretation of, access to and last but not least, analysis. Many of these are technological, but the real issue is when data crashes into a human…

Do You Trust Data or Do You Trust Your Gut?

The stakes are real – the future of your business. Leveraged well, data will provide an edge, properly used it is a difference maker.  Do phrases like: ‘My instincts got us here, and we are doing just fine’ or ‘it feels right’ fly around your office? Hyperbole, maybe, but most of us know the type and have experienced at least a bit of it. There is an argument that suggests that some people actually do know what the data says, and their ‘gut’ is right. As for the rest of us, I am not so sure, the answer is that balance is needed. According to HBR (Full source below), that balancing has a name – an informed skeptic:

At one end of the spectrum are the pure ‘trust your gut’ types on the other, the purists (“In god we trust, everyone else bring data”) types. The basis of the HBR article is: even if the data is good, decisions based on that data should be questioned – ie, be a bit of a skeptic. This is interesting and important.

“The ability to gather, store, access, and analyze data has grown exponentially over the past decade, and companies now spend tens of millions of dollars to manage the information streaming in from suppliers and customers.”

From my perspective, it is all about intelligence; using data, properly, to provide you and your business insights to make decisions. That is what you do, right; the data is there, everyone who needs it has access and the entire organization is leveraging it to its full potential? As the article also suggests, IT should spend more time on I, less on T – while it sounds fun, there is a small point there, not as big as the author makes it seem. To question data, to invite skeptics, everyone needs access

Do People Really Know What to Do with Data?

What are the reasons that data seems to scare people. Few will admit to being scared by data, but very few have the real background to argue on empirical terms when charts and graphs and conclusions are put in front of them. An IBM/MIT study (Source 3)  identified three levels of analytical sophistication: Aspirational, Experienced and Transformed, in a Year-to-year comparisons of these groups (which can be seen in the source report) it shows that Experienced and Transformed organizations are increasing their analytical capabilities, significantly.

(note: The IBM/MIT report did not present the information in the format above, I used the article to create an image similar to the HBR article).

“The number of organizations using analytics to create a competitive advantage has surged 57 percent in just one year, to the point where nearly 6 out of 10 organizations are now differentiating themselves through analytics” IBM/MIT

What is unfortunate is that it sounds better than it really is. If you really start to dig deeper into the data (oh, the irony), the story is a bit more complex. While things are getting better, I am not sure I would characterize them as ‘good’. Out of curiosity, I wanted to look at a topic important to me, Customer Experience. Based on my interpretation of 3 sources of information, many know what to do, but are struggling to do it. By my read of the IBM/MIT report, only 1/2 ( 10%) of the organizations who ‘really get it’ (transformational) are using analytics to make decisions regarding customer experience.  Turning that around, 90% are not, scary, unfortunate, reality.

“Typically, an organization’s highest-spending customers are the ones who take advantage of every channel, whether it’s the web, a mobile device, or a kiosk on a showroom floor.8 Unfortunately, these customers are most at risk for experiencing a disconnect in navigating channels that are not yet integrated. A unified multi-channel “bricks and clicks” approach can allow customers to move between website, smart phone app, or an in-store service counter with a consistent quality of engagement.” (Source 1)

The only way to know and really understand something like this is to have the data to prove it! It is not rocket science, but it does take some work. What steps are you taking to share data, train people and leverage what you have right there in front of you?

Conclusion

  • Something as valuable as Data is not a Problem, it is powerful and valuable Asset,
  • Help people to understand data, encourage them to be an educated skeptics (yes, question that Infographic)
  • Gut Instincts are not bad, just keep things in perspective, right place right time,
  • And for goodness sake, start using Data to better understand your Customers!

There is so much more to this story. In writing this post, I have a whole new level of respect for this topic…I hope you do too.

  1. Analytics in the Boardroom, IBM Institute for Business Value, Fred Balboni and Susan Cook
  2. Good Data Won’t Guarantee Good Decisions, Harvard Business Review, April 2012, Shvetank Shah, Andrew Horne, and Jaime Capellá
  3. Analytics: The Widening Divide How companies are achieving competitive advantage through analytics, MIT Sloan Management Review with IBM Institute for Business Value, David Kiron, Rebecca Shockley, Nina Kruschwitz, Glenn Finch and Dr. Michael Haydock

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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