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The new faces of customer management

Brad Howarth | July 16, 2013
Integrating the never-ending stream of unstructured data into CRM systems is proving difficult.

Remember when your data warehouse was the answer to a company's customer information needs? That was the 1990s, and by the time the next decade had rolled around it was clear a data warehouse alone could not solve an organisation's sales and marketing needs.

Usher in the era of customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

But in the new world of social media, a fire hose of customer data has been unleashed in the form of Tweets, Facebook updates and myriad other forms of unstructured data. Integrating that torrent into the sales and marketing systems of major corporations has to date proven beyond their capabilities.

According to the sales director at specialist data consultancy Servian, Nigel Peach, one of the issues companies face is a disconnect between many of the software systems they rely on.

CRM systems for instance mostly contain historical data, and while useful for customer retention, may be of little use in customer acquisition. That task has fallen to campaign management systems, but the two rarely talk to each other, and campaign management systems may not easily integrate unstructured data from Twitter and Facebook. Hence many organisations are looking to new advanced analytics tools.

Peach says the goal is to combine all data assets, both structured and unstructured, into a unified insights platform, or customer hub. "That is where the market is trying to get to, which is the whole Big Data paradigm," he says. "Where people are struggling is tying those together."

Exactly who is responsible for bringing all the pieces together remains undecided. Peach likens it to bringing together the "Madmen with the maths men".

"We are trying to turn these marketing people into 'maths men', and make the marketing guys data insights people," Peach says. "Traditionally they haven't come from that. But the companies that will win are the ones that combine the external data assets with the internal data assets."

Marketing momentum
Marketing is playing a much greater role in the direction of IT spending, so much so that research group Gartner claims the chief marketing officer (CMO) will spend more on IT than the CIO by 2017.

Right now most of the experiments with Big Data technology are taking place in the CIO's office, but the business case is coming from marketing and sales, Gartner's principal Business Applications research analyst, Praveen Sengar, claims.

"It will be the CMO driving it, because they will want to do personalisation, proactive engagements and targeted marketing," he says. "The marketing department will be taking a more active lead, and IT will be very closely involved."

Today however most organisations are still working on getting their internal data better aligned to their goal of having a "360 degree" view of customer activity. "This is what most organisations are focused on, and they have taken a considerable amount of time in getting to this," Sengar says.


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