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Technology Focus: Are CRM Apps Converging with BI Apps?

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Data about customers is central to both CRM and BI applications, and that trend is growing. Does that mean the two app types are converging? Even some CRM software vendors can't agree whether they are or aren't.

 

Customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI) applications both have data about customers and products at their cores. This is becoming more critical for businesses that deal in most kinds of products and services because serving customers efficiently and smoothly are considered hallmarks of winning repeat business.

 

That being the case, it's worth asking the question of whether or not the two types of software applications are convergingor might do so in the near future. If responses from CRM vendors who agreed to interviews with MC Press Online are any guide, there's no up or down consensus on that issue.

Yes, They Are

"I think in general the answer is yes," offers Jamie Anderson, global vice president, product and solution marketing, line of business customer solution, for SAP Cloud. "Speaking from an SAP perspective, I would say that that convergence is happening right now, certainly from the perspective of our Cloud for Customer Engagement applications. Because these applications are specifically targeted for professionals in the sales, marketing, and service space, they require the user to be able to access real-time information and analysis on a wide range of customer-related data points. Unlike traditional CRM platforms that augment these capabilities with third-party add-ons for customer insight, our priority has been to embed this intelligence within the applications."

 

"I would attribute the trend to many things, among them mobility," Anderson continues. "Mobility and mobile devices in general have changed people's attitudes and perceptions towards how modern applications should behave. Mobile applications and devices promote simplicity in design and are more about information consumption than data entry for the user. Because of this, the design of the system has to be more visually appealing and the information presented in such a way that it promotes simple interaction."

 

Chris Hamoen, CEO at Ardexus/SalesWays, agrees with Anderson, though less directly. "It makes sense to pick the best app that solves the business problem and then connect/integrate. Particularly with cloud apps. If the app can't connect, then it isn't the best app. In the world of CRM, there are many best-of-breed apps that are far ahead in solving business problems over a large, complicated app that no one uses," Hamoen responds. "However, what is the point of business intelligence apps if the data behind it is terrible? This is the real problemmost data in CRM systems is garbage."

 

When asked to what he attributes this trend, Hamoen replied, "The end result is often acquisitions. This recently happened in marketing automation; many of the leading vendors were picked up by the CRM industry heavyweights. In business intelligence, there is a lot of room for new market entrants. . . . The large majority of companies out there are struggling with their high-priced on-premise or cloud CRM app; the reporting doesn't work because the data is bad."

Oh No, They're Not

Henry Nelson, CEO at HarrisData, disagrees with both Anderson and Hamoen.

 

"Converging is a strong word. It's not likely that CRM will take over the business-intelligence applications market, or that business-intelligence applications will supersede CRM applications," Nelson opines. "Business intelligence applications are focused at more than just customer data, and CRM is not just about analysis. Clearly, CRM solutions are integrating more analytical tools into their application suites to deliver more value from the data they collect. In effect, CRM solutions are a major contributor to the Big Data puzzle faced by many organizations. It is the CRM that captures transactional data, ranging from customer incidents and contacts to sales forecasts. It is also the CRM that escalates notifications."

"It's easy to define CRM as one aspect of BI. You can't be smart about your business unless you manage data about your customers! But BI spans a broad category of applications that focus on a lot more than just customer data," Nelson continues. "At the same time, CRM applications are bigger than just BI applications for customer data; they capture a variety of data associated with the relationship the organization has with the customer that other transactional systems don't and can't. CRM are more communication systems, inside and outside the organization. BI are more analysis systems, presenting mostly quantitative data in interactive and visual ways. They derive from early decision-support systems and must provide actionable intelligence to the individual agent, salesperson, or customer to be useful in the CRM context. You can't approach your customer without both. Good CRM systems will offer analytical (BI) views of the data they work with (as will ERP, HRIS, and other applications). Good BI systems will increasingly offer some analysis of text and other media-based information that is typically gathered via a CRM. It's not that the software categories are converging; it's that the same features show up in both kinds of applications. Most cars and boats have engines, but few would see that fact as evidence that cars are becoming boats (or vice versa)."

 

Vishrut Parikh, director of product marketing at NetSuite, agrees with HarrisData's Nelson that CRM and BI aren't converging. "In the broader sense, I do not believe that CRM and business-intelligence apps are converging. BI is an application that spans across the organization and is not only focused on sales, marketing, and customer service, but is also pivotal for departments such as finance and operations. However, as companies become more customer-centric to improve competitiveness, there is definitely a trend in CRM becoming more of an intelligent reporting system, providing instant 360-degree visibility into all customer transactions and interactions to all customer-facing employees and executives across an organization. That includes sales reps, customer service reps, marketing, operations, finance, the web team, and the C-suite."

The Future of CRM from Both Sides

With such a lack of consensus among the vendors sampled, it's not hard to expect some divergence in their opinions about where the future of CRM apps in general might be headed.

 

"CRM applications (like ERP and HRIS applications) are going to become increasingly analytical and predictive," Nelson predicts. "They will start looking at trends and data and anticipating customer behaviors, often taking proactive steps to influence that behavior. The steps that a next-generation CRM may take to influence customer behavior have moved well beyond alerting the sales representative to an issue in real time, and have moved into the realms where the customer spends the most time. If our interaction with the customer is primarily through an online shopping site, we need to use predictive analysis to improve the customer's experience. We already see the use of analysis of customer buying patterns to upsell the customer in an online catalog (not really CRM, but analytical and predictive). Soon we'll see the CRM monitor social media looking for perception trends and thought-leaders, and automatically posting or tweeting informative messages based on its findings."

 

Nelson also cites presence and mobility as important factors in future CRM apps. "When customers always come first, the first thing a CRM must do is to manage the activities that customers want managed. For example, customer warranties will always generate incidents," he notes. "The CRM must allow similar incidents to be grouped and solved as problems, with each customer given the ability to monitor progress toward the solution in real time on their own device."

 

As for mobility, Nelson points to "channels of communication (not just voice/email, but messaging, chat, video, screen-screen, forum, wiki, etc.). The basic objective of any CRM is to provide a full view of customer interaction from a single source. The ability to collect the full range of interaction and present it on devices the service representative and customer have access to, whether in the call center or on site, will become a defining feature for CRM apps for direct customer contact."

 

"Customers consistently tell us that they want solutions that actually 'help' them perform in their roles more effectively than they do today," observes SAP's Anderson. "Many of the CRM replacements that we get involved in today are happening because the customers themselves feel like 'slaves to the system', a system where they are wedded to an input-intensive application that simply does not help them perform in their jobs better. They want systems that help them engage their customers like never before, that deliver rich insight in real-time, and that actually enable them to seamlessly move between insight and customer-focused action."

 

"As customers demand a truly seamless real-time experience across any geography, device, and sales channel, we see many more companies building their IT architecture around the customer experience," notes NetSuite's Parikh. "Other customer-facing systems such as ecommerce, web site management, customer self-service, and point-of-sale must converge with CRM with one universal database underlying all of these touchpoints to enable this vision," he predicts.

 

"I personally think CRM right now is facing the innovator's dilemma; the incumbents hold the market by the throat, but customers every day are realizing that they aren't actually getting much out of the software beyond basic account and contact management. The large tools today should really be viewed as platforms for CRM," declares Ardexus' Hamoen.

 

"There is a new wave of CRM vendors who all focused on either UI/UX, or 'Social CRM,' " he continues. "I see these as important concepts, but they aren't the end game of what customers want. Whether it's small business, mid-market, or enterprise, companies are looking for smarter software that solves actual business problems. CRM is about engagement, not just being a database. The data is the heart of the CRM app, but it's how the customer-facing organization interacts with the data that matters. It's about the combination of effectiveness and efficiency. CRM apps that get this are the future."

CRM Apps in the IBM i Market

Below is an overview of CRM applications, including a sampling of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud offerings that work with the IBM i. Please note that there are additional cloud offerings, too numerous to mention, that work with Windows or other operating systems commonly found in enterprises using IBM i machines. However, this sampling can get you started if you're researching CRM options for situations in which i servers play a major role.

 

The descriptions merely touch on a few major features of each solution. Please be sure to consult the product links to vendor Web sites for more complete information about each product.

Customer Relationship Management Apps for IBM i

Clear C2, Inc.

C2CRM

C2CRM is available as either a server-based product or a hosted service for System i and runs under Linux as well as i5/OS. It offers applications for managing business intelligence, customer relationships, marketing, and sales. Specific product capabilities include dashboard views, sales forecasting, security protections, and workflow features.

 

Harris Business Group, Inc. (HarrisData)

CustomerFirst

CustomerFirst puts an emphasis on service and warranty management. It provides tools for marketing and sales-force automation, customer support and management, and hardware and equipment management.

 

SalesFirst

SalesFirst is a CRM application that focuses on automation of marketing-campaigns management and execution, management of help-desk and support operations, and management of serialized and unserialized products.

 

Lawson/Infor

Lawson Customer Sales and Service Suite

Lawson's CRM suite is aimed at medium-sized enterprises, particularly in hospitality, retail, telecom, manufacturing, and high-tech markets. The suite offers applications for managing e-sales, direct sales, marketing, rentals, maintenance orders, services, and general projects.

 

SAP

Cloud for Customer Engagement

SAP offers numerous cloud-based applications in areas such as CRM, HR, finance, and procurement.

 

SAP Customer Relationship Management

SAP CRM provides a range of CRM functions for marketing, sales, service, partner-channel management, and business communications activities. Features include in-memory analytics, mobile-device support, and predictive capabilities.

 

Touchtone Corporation

Wintouch eCRM

Wintouch eCRM is written in RPG, uses a Java applet for Web access, and runs under i5/OS, AIX, and Linux. It supports client/server operations, tracks all customer communications, provides user-defined reports, and integrates with Lotus Notes/Domino and Microsoft Outlook/Office.

CRM Solutions Based on Lotus Notes/Domino

Ardexus, Inc.

Ardexus MODE

Ardexus MODE provides modules for marketing, sales, service, and reporting, as well as the ability to interface with mobile devices. In addition to integration with Notes/Domino, MODE integrates with MS Outlook and most ERP application systems.

 

Automation Centre

Tracker Suite for Sales

Although primarily focused on project management, the Tracker Suite for Sales product provides basic CRM features that include modules for working with prospects, expenses, personnel, and CRM-related workflow.

 

Basic Business Systems, Ltd.

CRM Contact Manager for IBM Lotus Notes Domino

Contact Manager is a CRM app for Notes that includes modules for contact management, sales management, document creation management, marketing campaign management, and task management.

 

GBS Enterprises

GBS CRM

GBS CRM is integrated with Notes and provides modules for sales, marketing, and customer service, as well as support for mobile devices.

Major CRM Solutions Offered on a SaaS Basis

NetSuite, Inc.

NetSuite CRM+

NetSuite CRM+ is a cloud solution that provides sales-force automation, marketing automation, customer support and service, and customization services. Designed to automate the complete customer lifecycle, NetSuite CRM+ includes Web-site hosting, site traffic analytics, order management, commissions, and a customer portal.

 

Oracle Corporation

Oracle CRM on Demand

Oracle CRM on Demand includes integrated modules for sales, service, marketing, call centers, analytics, mobile devices, and Web services support. The product line also includes applications tailored for enterprises specializing in medical, pharmaceutical, insurance, automotive, and financial services.

 

Salesforce.com

Salesforce CRM

Salesforce CRM offers Web-based apps focused on sales-force automation and CRM, customer service and help desk, social-media monitoring and marketing, and enterprise social-network management.

 

John Ghrist

John Ghrist has been a journalist, programmer, and systems manager in the computer industry since 1982. He has covered the market for IBM i servers and their predecessor platforms for more than a quarter century and has attended more than 25 COMMON conferences. A former editor-in-chief with Defense Computing and a senior editor with SystemiNEWS, John has written and edited hundreds of articles and blogs for more than a dozen print and electronic publications. He is currently CEO of John Ghrist Agency, a marketing communications firm for technology companies. You can reach him at ghrist@comcast.net.

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