Archive for big data

What is CRM and why do you need it?

Posted in Business systems, Mobile, Social Media with tags , , , , on April 24, 2015 by multimediaman
CRM Logos

CRM solutions (clockwise from top left) Salesforce.com, Microsoft Outlook Business Contact Manager, ACT! and SugarCRM.

I have used CRM software tools for more than ten years. Some of these were single user apps, some were client/server-based and included workgroup collaboration. Others were integrated with corporate-wide ERP systems and linked all departments together. Among the well-known solutions I have used are ACT!, Salesforce.com, SugarCRM and Microsoft Outlook Business Contact Manager.

Each of these has its strengths and weaknesses. Many functions and features are common to them all such as contact management, sales pipeline management, sales forecasting, etc. Each also has unique and distinguishing capabilities. Among the most important technical features of a CRM for me have been:

  • browser access
  • mobile app access
  • staff and management user levels
  • customizable dashboards
  • email client/server synchronization
  • APIs for ERP integration
  • automated email and text notifications for both staff and customers
  • custom and automatic report generation

The purpose of this article is to review the evolution and importance of customer relationship management as a business discipline and then explain some key lessons I have learned in my experience with CRM tools over the past decade.

Although it did not always have an acronym or business theory behind it, CRM has been practiced since the dawn of commerce. In short, customer relationship management is the methods that a business uses when interacting with customers. Although CRM is often associated with marketing, new business development and sales functions, it actually encompasses the end-to-end experience that customers have with an organization.

Therefore, customer relationship management is an important part of every business; how you manage your client relationships—from initial contact to account acquisition and development through delivery of products and services … and beyond—is vital to your future. It stands to reason that companies that are very good at customer relationship management are often among the most successful businesses.

Around the time that computers were used in business—especially the PC in the 1980s and the World Wide Web in the 1990s—the phrase customer relationship management and its acronym CRM began to acquire a specific meaning. By the late 1990s, entire schools of business thought were developed around strategies for the collection and handling of information and data about customer relations. CRM-specific technology platforms that place the customer at the center of business activity grew up around these theories.

In the first decade of the new century, the warehousing of customer information as well as the availability of demographic data about the population as a whole made it possible for CRM tools to be used for integrated and targeted marketing campaigns for new customer acquisition. Later, the growth of Big Data and cloud computing services moved CRM data out of the IT closet and made it available with software as a service (SaaS) solutions that are very flexible and can be deployed at any time and anywhere.

Most recently, social media has added another layer of information to CRM whereby companies can monitor or “listen” to dialogue between their organization and customers in real time.

CRM software industry growth

Source: Gartner Research

Business software industry experts are reporting that investment in CRM tools has been exploding and shows little sign of slowdown. According to an enterprise software market forecast by Gartner Research in 2013, total spending on CRM systems would pass that of ERP spending in 2016 and reach a total of $36 billion by 2017.

Cloud adoption by business functions

Source: Really Simple Solutions

The Gartner Research study also showed that by 2014 cloud-based CRM systems would represent 87% of the market, up from 12% in 2008. Meanwhile, in their Cloud Attitudes Survey, Really Simple Systems showed that cloud-based adoption by CRM users is more than double that of all other business functions including accounting, payroll, HR and manufacturing.

Mobile CRM adoption

Source: Gartner Research

Along with the growth of Cloud-based CRM solutions—and also driving it—is mobile technology. According to Gartner Research, mobile CRM adoption experienced the following in 2014:

  • 500% growth rate in the number of apps rising from 200 to 1,200 on mobile app stores
  • 30% increase in the use of tablets by the sales people
  • 35% of businesses have been moving toward mobile CRM apps

While these trends show that expectations are very high that increased CRM resources and investment will produce improved business results, there are countervailing trends that the path forward is far from a straight line. A survey by DiscoverOrg showed that nearly one quarter of all businesses do not have any CRM system. Additionally, one industry study shows that many organizations face setbacks during implementation and some (25-60%) fail to meet ROI targets.

Finally, other research shows that companies that have invested in CRM tools do not take advantage of some 80% of their potential benefits, especially integration and extension throughout the entire organization. All of the above statistics correspond with my own experience. While decision makers and business leaders have expectations that a CRM solution will significantly impact their bottom line, the challenges of implementation can be daunting and bog down the effort quickly.

Therefore, it is critical to have a CRM implementation plan:

  • Develop an integrated CRM strategy that places the customer at the center of all company departments and functions.
  • Map your IT infrastructure and identify all centers of customer data.
  • Evaluate, select and test a technology solution that is appropriate for your organization.
  • Utilize IT resources to build an architecture that will bring all or most of your customer data together within one system.
  • Identify champions in each department and build support and buy-in for the CRM throughout the company.
  • Work on your data quality and make sure that the information that is going into the system at startup does not compromise the project.
  • Provide training and share success stories to encourage everyone to use the system throughout the day.

In our intensely competitive environment, it is clear that CRM tools can enable an organization to effectively respond to multiple, simultaneous and complex customer needs. Every department—marketing, sales, customer service, production, shipping and accounting—has a critical role to play in building the customer database and using the CRM.

The following conclusions are derived from my experience:

  1. Few companies have implemented CRM technologies and even when CRM tools are available, few people embrace and use them.
  2. Those with effective CRM implementations are significantly outperforming the competition on the service and communication side of their business.
  3. The best and most successful companies connect their CRM infrastructure with business strategy and make its use part of their corporate culture.

2013: A big year for Big Data

Posted in Digital Media, Mobile, Social Media with tags , , , , , , on December 7, 2012 by multimediaman

The year 2013 will be important for a couple of reasons. Believe it or not, 2013 marks the twentieth anniversary of the World Wide Web. It is true that Tim Berners-Lee developed the essential technologies of the web at CERN laboratory in Switzerland in 1989-90. However, it was the first graphical browser called Mosaic—developed by a team at the National Center for Computer Applications at the University of Illinois-Urbana—in April 1993 that made the web enormously popular.

ncsa-mosaic

Marc Andreessen, developer of the first graphical web browser Mosaic in 1993.

Marc Andreessen, developer of Mosaic the first graphical web browser in 1993.

Without Mosaic, brainchild of UI-U NCSA team member Marc Andreessen, the explosive growth of the web in the 1990s could not have happened. Mosaic brought the web outside the walls of academia and transformed it into something that anyone could use. In June 1993 there were only 130 web sites; two years later there were 230,000 sites. In 2007 there were 121 million web sites; it is estimated that there are now 620 million web sites. Now that qualifies as exponential growth.

This brings me to the second reason why this year is important: worldwide digital information will likely surpass 4 zettabytes of data in 2013. This is up from 1.2 zettabytes in 2010. Most of us are familiar with terabytes; a zettabyte is 1 billion terabytes. In between these two are petabytes (1 thousand terabytes) and exabytes (1 million terabytes). 2013 is going to be a big year for Big Data.

Companies that grew up in the age of the World Wide Web are experts at Big Data. As of 2009, Google was processing 24 petabytes of data each day to provide contextual responses to web search requests. Wal-Mart records one million consumer transactions per hour and imports them into a database that contains 2.5 petabytes. Facebook stores, accesses and analyzes 30+ petabytes of user-generated data.

DataTerms

The expansion of worldwide Big Data and the metric terms to describe it (yottabytes or 1,000 zettabytes are coming next—beyond that is TBD) has become the subject of much discussion and debate. Big Data is most often discussed in terms of the four V’s: volume, velocity, variety and value.

Volume

The accumulation of Big Data volume is being driven by a number of important technologies. Smartphones and tablets and social media networks Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are important Big Data sources. There is another less visible, but nonetheless important, source of Big Data: it is called the “Internet of Things.” This is the collection of sensors, digital cameras and other data gathering systems (such as RFID tags) attached to a multitude of objects and devices all over the world. These systems are generating enormous amounts of data 24/7/365.

Velocity

The speed of Big Data generation is related to the expansion and increased performance of data networks both wired and wireless. It is also the result of improved capturing technologies. For example, one minute of high definition video generates between 100 and 200 MB of data. This is something that anyone with a smartphone can do and is doing all the time.

Variety

The Big Data conversation is more about the quality of the information than it is about the size and speed. Our world is full of information that lies outside structured datasets. Much of it cannot be captured, stored, managed or analyzed with traditional software tools. This poses many problems for IT professionals and business decision makers; what is the value of the information that is largely “exhaust data”?

Value

There are good internal as well as external business reasons for sharing Big Data. Internally, if exhaust data is missed in the analytical process, executives are making decisions based upon intuition rather than evidence. Big Data can also be used externally as a resource for customers that otherwise would be unable to gain real-time access to detailed information about the products and services they are buying. It is the richness and complexity of Big Data that makes it so valuable and useful for both the executive process and customer relationships.

Every organization today is gathering Big Data in the course of its daily activities. In most cases, the bulk of the information is collected in a central EMS or ERP system that connects the different units and functional departments of the organization. But more likely than not, these systems are insufficient and cannot support all data gathering activities within the organization. There are probably systems that have been created ad-hoc to serve various specialized needs and solve problems that the centralized system cannot address. The challenge of Big Data is to capture all ancillary data that is getting “dropped to the floor” and make it useful by integrating it with the primary sources.

Making Big Data available offers organizations the ability to establish a degree of transparency internally and externally that was previously impossible. Sharing enables organization members and customers to respond quickly to rapidly changing conditions and circumstances. Some might argue that sharing Big Data is bad policy because it allows too much of a view “behind the curtain.” But the challenge for managers is to securely collect, store, organize, analyze and share Big Data in a manner that makes it valuable to those who have access and can make use of it.

I remember—upon downloading the Mosaic browser in 1993 with my dial up connection on my desktop computer—how thrilling it was to browse the web freely for the first time. It seemed like Mosaic was the ultimate information-gathering tool. I also remember how excited I was to get my first 80 MB hard disk drive for data storage. The capacity seemed nearly limitless. As we look back and appreciate the achievements of twenty years ago, we now know that those were really the beginnings of something enormous that we could not have fully predicted at the time.

With the benefit of those experiences—and many more over the past two decades of the transition from analog to online and electronic media—it is important to comprehend as best one can the meaning of Big Data in 2013 and where it is going. Those organizations that recognize the implications and respond decisively to the challenges of the explosive growth of structured and unstructured data will be the ones to establish a competitive advantage in their markets.

Graph Expo & DMA2012: A tale of two shows

Posted in Digital Media, Digital Printing, Print Media with tags , , , , on October 30, 2012 by multimediaman

Both the premiere print trade show and the top direct marketing conference were held in October this year. I had the fortunate opportunity to attend these two shows back to back: Graph Expo in Chicago on October 7-10 and DMA2012 in Las Vegas on October 13-18. As I walked the exhibit spaces and attended meetings, presentations and other gatherings, I saw important similarities and differences between these two events. Each in their own way illustrated how the graphic arts and direct marketing industries are being impacted by digital, social and mobile media technologies. They also revealed the complexities and difficulties facing every organization in our era of data-driven marketing and communications.

The mood among presenters, exhibitors and attendees at both shows was one of cautious optimism. The ongoing perfect storm of economic downturn combined with rapid technological change was on everyone’s mind. Both shows were devoted to providing answers and solutions to the pressing problem of the day; how can business owners and decision makers achieve success by more effectively serving client needs.

One way to compare these events is to look at the numbers. Since the figures for the 2012 shows have not yet been published, I will use the numbers from last year:

Event              Attendees      Exhibitors    Conf. Sessions
Graph Expo      20,000+          490+            50+
DMA2011         8,500+           350+            200+

With an emphasis on technology demonstration, Graph Expo is primarily about the equipment needed to accomplish marketing and communications objectives. And with an emphasis on conference sessions, DMA2012 (Direct Marketing Association) is focused on programs that educate and inform its audience about the processes needed to prepare and analyze initiatives. GraphExpo is for service companies that buy systems for the execution of programs. DMA2012 is for marketing companies that buy tools and solutions for the conceptualization of programs. Taken together, the two represent a continuum of the entire marketing and communications loop; where the one ends the other picks up.

These characteristics can also be seen by the way the event organizers describe themselves to their audience:

Graph Expo: “Graph Expo is the year’s largest and most exciting display of ‘live’ running equipment in the Americas. Watching a machine run and participating in a demonstration teaches you things you just can’t learn by sitting in a conference room or looking at a brochure. This show is a problem-solving adventure designed to help you make informed purchasing decisions.”

DMA20212: “The content at DMA2012 will deliver real-world solutions you can use immediately, as well as strategic guidance to help you plan for 2013. You’ll find an inspiring line-up of key thought leaders and innovators from the world’s leading companies. These gurus will educate and inform you on the latest trends:

  • optimizing content across channels
  • monetizing social media
  • integrating media according to customer preference
  • leveraging real-time analytics for daily decision making”

I arrived at Graph Expo on Sunday, October 7 and entered the expo floor when it opened at noon. Along with everyone else, I noticed immediately the prominence of the manufacturers of digital printing technologies, as was the case in last year’s show. Canon, Xerox, HP, Fuji, Kodak and others have taken over the largest booths in the show. In previous years, these booths were occupied by Heidelberg, KBA, Komori and Mitsubishi. Although Heidelberg stood out by having a large space with many machines on display, gone are the days of GraphExpo as a showcase of large and loud offset printing machinery.

Benny Landa speaking at the InfoTrends breakfast at GraphExpo

On Monday morning October 8, I attended an InfoTrends breakfast meeting that featured a talk by Benny Landa, the inventor of digital printing (he launched the Indigo press in 1993). Landa spoke about what he called the “economic depression of the printing industry.” As he reviewed the new printing technique his company has developed (nanography), he explained that the “98% of the printing being done today” is static, non-variable data printing. Since much of this printing is not profitable, it means that printing companies are unable to invest in new technologies.

Chris Anderson delivering the opening keynote at DMA2012

My visit to the DMA2012 Conference began by attending the opening keynote on Monday, October 15. The featured speaker was Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine and author of the business book “The Long Tail.” Anderson spoke about the implications of “big data” for marketing organizations. Big data is the ever-growing mountain of information about our lives; companies like Google and Facebook are accumulating big data about our online and offline activities, preferences and habits. The challenge facing marketers is how best to use this information since it is not structured and does lend itself to traditional analytical tools and methods. Anderson said that big data is a challenge to traditional marketing models.

From this brief report, it is evident that we are passing through an exciting time in our industry; we are well into the transition from the traditional, analog world of yesterday to the data-driven, digital world of tomorrow. However, the path forward is not obvious; marketing organizations and their service providers are facing a multiplicity of challenges. Among the keys to success in this rapidly shifting environment is taking advantage of events like Graph Expo and DMA2012. In this way, we can grasp the fundamental trends of development, learn from our peers and prepare our own organizations to meet the new demands of our clients.