March 15, 2022

Is real time customer 360 unattainable?

After attending Dreamforce ’22, I could not but help thinking about one thing:

I have been actively involved in the CRM space for ~25 years. We were talking 360-degree view of the customer then and we are still talking about it now as if it is something unattainable and elusive. Salesforce Genie, an impressive new offering reiterates the relevance of this concept.

Without discrediting enterprises who have achieved a real-time 360-degree view of the customer, and achieved seamless employee and partner enablement systems, I have to say that most/many enterprises today struggle with attaining and maintaining this state of nirvana for their stakeholders.

This situation is surprising, given the advancements over the last 2 decades.

Software vendors have brought a great deal of architectural, functional, and operational innovation to their products.

New players have emerged and are providing easy to adopt solutions for previously horrendously difficult functions. Imagine deploying new functionality into a production environment with zero downtime? While this is happening today, it was a dream 20 years ago. Enterprise App stores have provided a whole new opportunity to creative developers who provide innovative and compelling solutions to problems previously thought to be difficult to solve.

Companies like Salesforce have architected something quite groundbreaking – A data model and associated applications that cater to millions of users across thousands of enterprises globally. The product architecture supports multi-tenancy, data model for various industry verticals, 3 global releases every year, and all in the cloud with a platform which can scale like Lego blocks. Achieving Customer 360 has never been easier for enterprises.

Despite all the advances, there seems to be a significant gap between the functionality available/possible and what or how it is deployed.

I have my views on the reasons for such a significant gap:

  1. Alignment across People, process, and technology is often lacking. Competing priorities, difference of opinion on technical architecture, budgets, and sometimes a ‘let us get it done quick & dirty’ objective end up leaving a sub-optimized set of applications.
  2. The mentality of ‘One and done’ leads to not keeping up with change. It is important to realize that transformation is a journey and not a one-time project
  3. Organizational silos – Not taking an enterprise-wide view and instead taking a siloed approach
  4. Lack of IT leadership – A strong IT organization is required to drive strategic direction, build consensus, and optimize technology stack across the organization.

All this boils down to one major issue – The lack of the 360-degree view of the customer.

Without that:

  1. Enterprises cannot realize the value of understanding everything about their customer, thereby losing the opportunity to increase customer satisfaction.
  2. Employees have more complex and cumbersome processes to deal with leading to loss of productivity
  3. Lack of actionable insights from data siloed across the organization makes the enterprise unable to compete effectively

The reasons are not the software, but the organizational inability to rally the stakeholders for a unified enterprise architecture. Most often, it is the ‘time to market’ considerations that alters the thinking to create silos of information. It’s all about standing up an application on the side to support a business unit or a point-to-point integration to make it to the release date. We see this all the time.

So, what should an enterprise focus on to solve this:

Integration architecture: This is the first principle of digital transformation, and it must be taken on as a strategic priority. It should also be understood that transformation is a journey and not a point-in-time state. It is important to keep up with the changes in user behavior and recognizing that there may changes required to processes and technology – embrace those changes!

Data: from across the channels and organization can be used effectively to make tweaks to positively impact business metrics. It is therefore important to think of data holistically across the enterprise – customer, product, interactions, orders, billing, service tickets, etc. Any new application design, rework, re-architecture should take a ‘data-first’ approach to streamline stewardship, correlation, and real-time availability to applications across the enterprise.

Organization alignment: Stakeholders must be rallied towards a unified enterprise architecture. This requires strong leadership to drive a common goal even though competing priorities, delivery pressures, and business metrics may tend to drive a siloed approach.

Today, enterprises are in a world where various applications own elements of the data. Few organizations have been successful in integrating these disparate data locations and create a well-organized view of master data across the board. Such organizations are successful in defining an integrated ‘single source of truth’ of all data within various systems. More and more organizations, product vendors, and integration tool developers aim to help in achieving this. Things have become a lot easier than a decade ago, but challenges remain. Duplicate data, missing data elements, misused fields, incorrect formats, and partial entries are all simple problems to run into but become nagging and difficult to solve.

A change is coming, and I envision there to be a shift from Application driven Data to a Data driven Application. Data and data intelligence will run organizations of the future and drive behavior of the applications. I cannot predict a timeline for such a change, but it is going to be crucial for enterprises to drive towards having a semantic layer over their data which can provide applications access to key business entities in real time. It is important to think of data holistically across the enterprise – unified and curated to meet various application needs.

The announcement of Salesforce Genie and Slack Canvas at Dreamforce ’22 makes it clear that customer experiences can be more personalized in real time. Enterprises need to have their data and customer 360 in place to take advantage of the innovations happening in this space.

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