Remember a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I'm giving a webinar that will be sponsored by Above All Software and broadcast on CRMGuru? But I didn't have a topic? Well, okay, I did...mention it, I mean. Really. Yes.....really.....I swear. In any case, the webinar's subject is going to be on the technology of the 21st century value chain - and I'm going to focus on the platform side with a discussion on composite applications and customer data integration. Let me run some of my thinking by you on composite applications because in the course of preparing the webinar I began to realize the significance and value of this approach and technology for the new CRM and for the way that you design and utilize systems for your interactions with your customers.
The Whole PictureWhat has become apparent in this Age of the Customer Denizen is that the customer is as Jim Blasingame called (the generic) him on XM Radio's Small Business Minute "rude." In a nice way of course. Meaning that the customer wants what the customer wants - a personal experience and what you are doing for the other (generic) customers "don't matter to me." That means that it is incumbent on you to provide that experience and do it in the fashion that this new generation tough as nails customer requires. It also means the enterprise and extended enterprise value chain has to work really well.
The extended value chain. Wazzat?The so-called (by me) extended value chain includes the customer facing activities like sales, marketing, and support; it includes the supply chain functions like delivery, logistics, inventory management, etc.; it includes the back office functions like finance and human resources - formerly relegated to operations; it includes what I call (thanks to the now departed PRM company ChannelWave) the support chain - those demand and supply chains and back offices of your partners, vendors, suppliers and the like. That is one big value chain now isn't it? Yes it is, and, thing is, that we know that we have to look at what what kinds of technological support have to be engaged to make a seamlessly working value chain successful in its service to the customer.
Why, you ask, with a creased brow, puzzled, confused look and that cute little crinkle of your nose. Is Paul known to be of the "Its Cultural and Emotional. So There!" school of CRM thought, going off the deep end with this techocrap?
Well, no I'm not, sorry to disappoint. Simply put, if you've got millions or even hundreds of customers, unless you're really pretty astounding and worthy of the Guiness Book of World Records, I can't remember the last time you volunteered to analyze the individual Excel spreadsheet for each of your customers so that you could figure out what each of them might need or be thinking. That particularly goes if you have a million customers or two.
I'll tell you what. You can go ahead and analyze your high value vs. low value customer butts off, and it isn't going to change the fact, that every high value and every low value and every in-between value customer wants a personal experience. That, ladies and gents, is a non-negotiable position, too. They don't care or know what value they are to you. They only intuit the fact that they hold the value that you need in their hands and can go elsewhere to get a similar value proposition if they want to. The keys to the kingdom. The personal experience they have on order has to be seamless. too or they simply will say "see ya" - a phrase you can't afford to hear too often.
Think about it. Who do you think gets blamed if someone who ordered a package from you that you send via Fedex, if it doesn't arrive on time? Guess.
It ain't Fedex.
No matter how many processes you use, no matter how much technology, the customer simply wants the value chain to work so that something they purchase is delivered in a timely way and undamaged.
Actually, its not really the end, because this is where composite applications aactually come in, especially as we now move to service oriented architectures (SOAs) to handle applications, services and integration.
Hay-soos. That was a mouthful of geekspeak which I don't do so a brief definition of SOA is in order. Then let's take a look (briefly) at how it all hangs together so we can all be on the same page when the new classes of technology begin to surface more and more as we continue the morphing of CRM to the support of the new consumer generations and the new leaders of business. Amen.
What Definition My Definition Was In
Okay, first things first.
Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)Know what I find weird about the acronym SOA? Everytime I see it, I think, DOA - probably from watching too much CSI: Miami (David Caruso, what a comeback!). One thing I can say for sure, SOA is definitely NOT DOA.An SOA is a technology architecture for the enterprise that ties together the web services and business rules and workflows needed to recognize information in real time. That means for example, if a set of business rules and associated processes call for the pulling of sales data to populate anything from a sales VP's dashboard for pipeline information or the state of a group of deals for a salesperson, or a complete customer record formatted in a particular way extracted from multiple sources across a series of data marts or geographies, it can without straining other resources to do it. That means it it is effective, efficient and real time.
There is truly a lot more to that but that's not what I want to discuss in this blog entry. Just keep in your heads that the SOA is the underpinning for the composite applications platform, among many,many other things. If you want to take a deeper look at it, take a look at what Rearden Commerce offers - I think it is the most fully realized SOA in existence - at least as of the end of 2005 (2005 is really almost over, isn't it?). More germane to this entry is composite applications that optimally, have an SOA to sit on.
So what then are composite applications and why are they meaningful?
Composite Applications, S'il Vous Plait - Make That Tu Instead of Vous
The key to composite applications is that they can be based on used goods - in a manner of speaking of course. Meaning, a platform takes existing applications and is able to reuse the existing business logic and data that the applications provide to compose (hey, there, that's SO clever - compose, composite) a new application or a new way of consolidating and using existing applications and data without discarding the old apps to begin with. So, for example, you could use Siebel Sales, Oracle Order Management, SAP Financials and PeopleSoft's Inventory Management to handle a complex sale and order and identify to the customer when the order will be delivered - all without spending a gazillion dollars or euros or yuan on a new set of applications or integrating the old set with complex middleware tools. AND to compound the benefits even further - you can use the SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle or Siebel interfaces or any other one that you may be comfortable with to see the data and the combined information you need.
Keep in mind, this scenario is not that unusual when you have a world that demands an integrated value chain. For example, take a look at order to cash - one of the most common of business processes - and of course, most important. From the time the order is entered to the time that its paid for and fulfilled, all parts of the value chain are involved. Here. Look:
- Marketing campaign gets interest of potential customers (CRM)
- Sale is made (CRM)
- Order is entered (CRM, ERP)
- Order is created, packaged (Supply Chain)
- Order is invoiced, paid for (ERP)
- Order is fulfilled (Supply Chain, CRM, Support Chain)
- After sale service (CRM, Supply Chain)
- After sale up-sell or cross-sell (CRM)
- Channel sale (Support Chain, CRM)
- Vendor, supplier engaged in process (e.g.distribution)(Support Chain, Supply Chain)
Possible additional complexity:
This complicated chain doesn't make it easy to coordinate activities, standardize and execute processes or even gather the appropriate data - given the disparate systems that we're talking about here. Composite apps make it easier to do so. Here's a screen that Above All Software, one of the most intriguing companies specializing in composite apps and a client of mine, uses on their website to show how their platform actually works.
The thing that those of you not into the technical part of this should peek at is the part of the diagram that says "Business Users.:" Note that it points down to four items:
- Web Client Server
- Rich Client
- Mobile Client Server
- Portlet Server
What those four functionally do is allow you as a business user to:
- Gather customized data from multiple sources and in multiple formats
- Get data associated with the execution of business processes that can be cross-enterprise - and get it in real time
- Access that data in a view that you control with an interface of your choosing
- Access that data from any communications medium you care to - on the desktop, remotely or whatever
- Do it all securely with the knowledge that the data you see is the data YOU see, not someone else
I wish I had a screenshot to show you what it looks like but I don't so I can't help you there. Suffice to say that what I said above about the interfaces is true. Trust me.
This All Means...?
Simply put, the beauty of composite applications is that they are able to standardize the execution of business processes whether inter- or intra- enterprise across any medium you care to use in real time and provide a single view of data gathered from multiple storage areas. They extract logic from two or more existing systems or applications using an SOA to form a new application without having to start from scratch. Way cool and way easier than it used to be - though never too easy. Life is grand, just not grandiose, when it comes to these new technologies.
The Players Who Play Witchoo (All Due Respect, Pussycat Dolls)
Anyone get the reference in the header?
There are a few companies out there who are making headway as the leaders in the relatively new composite apps space. Some you'll know. Some you won't. I haven't done my due diligence on the quality of the products and services provided here so I'm not going to endorse any of them at this point. Only tell you a little about what I've found about them. Here goes, brothas and sistahs:
SAP- The SAP version of a Packaged Composite Application (PCA) is called xApps. Its based on their now well established NetWeaver architecture which is an eminently flexible platform. The xApps are the resulting process automation applications. SAP claims to have 150 or more of them. I can't vouch for that but I don't doubt it either. SAP has a vigorous
Siebel - For three years, a good friend of mine, Kevin Nix, who recently left Siebel diligently led what Siebel called the Nexus initiative. The result? Siebel, in November, 2005, announced the release of their composite applications platform called the Component Assembly and their PCA equivalent called Component Application Sets (CAS). The packages include a Foundation Workbench that includes a repository and editor tool that lets users create and modify meta data-driven components, into composite applications. It is all .NET and J2EE compliant. The CAS provide services that let users build customer centric composite applications, in sales, service, business-to-business and business-to-consumer. So they are both a platform and an applications set - its a breath mint and a candy mint. Not unlike SAP.
AboveAll Software - They have yet another approach. They are a platform, pure and simple and don't try to be anything else really. Good for them. They have the Studio - which is the tool for the configuration of services for assembling the composite apps; they have the Repository which is where the SOA assets are stored; they have the Knowledge Packs that handle the mining of information assets so that the applcations that have been developed can use them. These are application specific so they have them for salesforce.com; Siebel, Remedy (why them, I'll never know); SAP and several others; and they have their Multi-channel Deployment capability which enables the composite apps to be delivered to the environment of your choosing. They also can configure and customize your specific environment pretty damned quickly, if I do say so myself.
Sterling Commerce - Sterling is much more focused on vertically specific composite application sets that automate single processes or sets of process. So for exmaple, they have recently (August 2005) announced the release of a customer order management PCA and a network-Warehouse Management PCA - all aimed at the retail industry. A lot of this initial focus is from their purchase of Yantra in December 2004, which had a retail bent. Their two claims are first, that their distinction is their PCAs arrive preconfigured with 60% to 70% of the needed functionality rather than requiring a great deal of custom programming work, as a non-packaged composite app theoretically would. It might be true. Second, that they are the first to market with a PCA. Yeah right.
So Long for Now
Okey dokey. That's it for now. I'm learning this area a little painfully but I thought I would impart what I have learned. Even though much of this is new to me, I'm probably making less mistakes on the material than either Wikipedia or Encyclopaedia Britannica so Nick Carr, please don't hit me. Bye.