As enterprises demand better tools to exploit mounds of customer data locked away in CRM systems, CRM companies are rushing to add analytical capabilities to their applications.

Boosting access to customer data

As enterprises demand better tools to exploit mounds of customer data locked away in CRM systems, CRM companies are rushing to add analytical capabilities to their applications.

The push for better data is creating a convergence between traditional business intelligence and CRM, as transactional CRM vendors integrate business-intelligence functions through internal product enhancements or via third-party support.

CRM giant Siebel Systems Inc., based in San Mateo, Calif., plans to announce adapters that link its CRM applications to business-intelligence products from companies such as SAS and SPSS to provide predictive analytics. The move follows Siebel’s October announcement to acquire data analysis software vendor nQuire Software Inc., an effort designed to boost its stable of business-intelligence technologies.

For its part, online CRM vendor Salesforce.com Inc. announced in December an agreement with Truis in San Francisco to provide data mining and analysis to Salesforce.com customers.

“What we’re ultimately trying to do is pick up where salesforce.com leaves off,” and fill the gap that exists in capturing qualitative intelligence about customers, said Jerry McLaughlin, CEO of Truis, in San Francisco.

“This intelligence can actually be used within [an] organization for refining and building marketing strategies [and] leveraging for new opportunities with other prospects,” McLaughlin said.

“Through the Truis IQ system, a joint customer [of Salesforce.com and Truis] will be able to take information after a prospect becomes a customer and pull it into the Truis IQ system to basically allow them to analyze and identify cross-sell, up-sell opportunities,” said Peter Steinle, director of market development at Salesforce.com, based in San Francisco, Calif.

Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft Inc. also announced plans to ship its Customer Behavior Modeling product to complement its CRM platform, PeopleSoft 8. The application uses customer data integrated with behavioural metrics and demographics information to define and select populations of customers and apply data mining to build predictive models and score customers based on relevant criteria.

PeopleSoft 8 itself also features data analysis capabilities, which the company says can detect, for example, which customers are likely to switch to a competitor.

Analytics as CRM prerequisite

“We believe that analytics are a prerequisite component of any CRM deployment,” said Robb Eklund, vice-president of CRM product marketing at PeopleSoft.

The benefit of combining the two functions is not lost on IT executives.

Some argue that bolting on analytics to operational CRM may create more work for enterprises. CRM outfit E.piphany Inc. says it has offered business intelligence in its applications from the start.

“The way that the various CRM vendors are attacking the problem of trying to have some degree of analytics is either through partnerships or trying to build their own,” said Paul Rodwick, vice-president of market development strategy at E.piphany, in San Mateo, Calif.

“In the end, that yields an integrated solution that requires many user interfaces and is difficult to adapt over time,” Rodwick said.

In August SAP AG enhanced its CRM product, mySAP CRM 3.0, by adding out-of-the-box analytical capabilities. And in early November, New York-based InStranet Inc. released InStranet 2.0, which allows business users to incorporate data generated in e-business applications with “unstructured business content” contained in the likes of typical office applications.

Where CRM customers are concerned, integration should be the key word driving vendor feature sets.

Deutsche Bank AG, in Frankfurt, Germany, is blending its Siebel CRM applications with an internally developed data warehouse and an analytical server from Alphablox Corp. Inc. The system is designed to enable the bank to isolate related information from the warehouse. “It might be looking at a specific sub-product in a sub-sector,” said Edwin Ball, global MIS coordinator at the bank’s London branch.

Applying business intelligence

At Huntington Bank, the company uses a variety of CRM tools as well as Oracle’s Profit+ system – part of Oracle’s financial applications suite – for business intelligence. The company integrates some 50 applications into its infrastructure, which keeps track of 2,000 cost centres – or points of contact within the organization – and millions of accounts, said Jeff Wagner, senior vice-president of profitability and analysis at the bank, in Columbus, Ohio.

The system allows the bank to determine who are its profitable customers and understand capacity utilization, Wagner said. Building the CRM and business-intelligence infrastructure required “a fair investment in both time and money,” Wagner said.

Erin Kinikin, vice-president of CRM at Giga Information Group Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., supports these experiences, commenting that companies with CRM systems and accompanying transaction data are looking to analyse that data.

“Business intelligence is the tools and customer analysis is the results, and this is probably the biggest new growth opportunity for both (CRM and business-intelligence vendors),” Kinikin said.

Some observers believe the integration trend could render business-intelligence vendors redundant as stand-alone offerings, whereas others point to new opportunities for enterprises to finally realize solid ROI from costly CRM implementations.

Whereas Kinikin believes CRM and business intelligence will remain separate markets, one Oracle Corp. executive remains unconvinced, questioning the long-term viability of stand-alone business-intelligence vendors.

“It’s a fading proposition,” said Lisa Arthur, vice-president of CRM marketing at Oracle, in Redwood Shores, Calif.

“(Stand-alone business-intelligence vendors) can’t offer operational intelligence unless they have customer relationship management applications,” Arthur said.

Officials at business-intelligence software companies naturally disagree.

“There’s always going to be a spot for business intelligence because business intelligence looks at more than just CRM data,” said Jennifer Cullen, senior manager of CRM markets and applications at Ottawa-based Cognos Inc. Business intelligence also is useful in examining ERP data, she said.

Cognos partners with a variety of CRM vendors, including Siebel and Onyx Software Corp., Cullen said. Informatica also links with back-end applications and complements operational CRM, said Sanjay Poonen, general manager and vice-president of applications at Informatica Corp., in Redwood City, Calif.

A MicroStrategy official said separating business-intelligence functions from CRM can assist with gathering intelligence from fragmented business divisions and make operational CRM systems stronger.

Despite the trend of CRM vendors to get into the business-intelligence game, separate business-intelligence systems will not go away, said Tom Villani, vice-president of product management at MicroStrategy, in McLean, Va.

Using data to increase profit

By Melissa Solomon

Computerworld (US)

Data warehousing and analytical tools that help companies reduce business expenses and enhance revenue are finding a comfortable niche, says Robert Anderson, a research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

“Now more than ever, enterprises need to leverage the massive stores of operational data found within [enterprise resource planning] systems and begin exploiting it for competitive advantage,” he says. “The pendulum needs to swing from expense control alone to . . . increasing profits.”

Mark Dickelman, vice president of mobile commerce and wireless at Bank of Montreal Group of Cos. in Quebec, was looking for a tool that could analyze delivery costs and help pinpoint inefficiencies so the bank could support additional channels of electronic delivery while lowering costs across the board. He says he was impressed with the time it took to implement 724 Solutions Inc.’s Financial Services Platform.

“Despite the challenges of being first to market with a new technology, we were able to launch in under six months,” Dickelman says. There were any number of possible “showstoppers” along the way, he says, but the project turned out to be a success, and Dickelman says he would recommend the company to his colleagues.

“Hindsight is always 20/20,” he says, “but there are very few things that could or would be changed.”

When Linda Brett, a business intelligence architect at Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto, was looking for a tool to analyze the financial performance of the company’s portfolio of products, she considered both start-ups and established vendors. Mountain View, Calif.-based Alphablox Corp.’s product stood out because it wasn’t traditional, she says.

“It was architected for the Web, as opposed to some other technology that had been rearchitected but wasn’t quite what we were looking for,” says Brett. “Our users had some set ideas as to what they wanted this to look like and be. And a lot of other products weren’t customizable.”

Alphablox 3 offers real-time Web-based data analysis, so data can be analyzed on the fly, with no delay in the time it takes to input and cleanse that data, says Gartner’s Anderson. The product was also relatively quick and easy to implement, adds Brett.

Because Alphablox 3 is intuitive, flexible and inexpensive compared to competing products, Brett says she’d recommend it to others, even in today’s economic climate. “I hope [Alphablox has] what it takes to make it through, because they have a very good product,” she says.

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