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July 29, 2013

Salesforce.com and Oracle's strategic partnership: Marriage of Convenience or Choice?

The announcement of the partnership between Salesforce.com and Oracle last month has taken the cloud world into surprise.  Historically, both the organizations have not got along well both in terms of product offerings and leadership personality.  This deal, expected to run for nine years, will enable Salesforce leverage Oracle offerings on all tiers, Applications like Oracle Fusion HCM/financial cloud, Platform like Java middleware, Infrastructure like Exadata.  Oracle in turn will plan on integrating salesforce.com with its Fusion HCM and Financial cloud.

This partnership would provide Salesforce.com an opportunity to expand its reach beyond public cloud and provide its solutions on private cloud, in a more proxy manner, thus enabling direct competition to Microsoft Dynamics.   Further, this move will also help Salesforce.com close its solution gap on financial side.

Some early adapters of Salesforce.com may be disappointed with this new solution offering.   Although they may not be able to leverage the benefit of this new developments, it is a win-win situation for everyone, overall.   For the starters, it is going to expand the Salesforce.com community further, improve talent pool, among other things.  Oracle will see this as a validation of its security concerns with the current Salesforce.com platform offering.   Besides, this will further increase Oracle's revenue stream.

But for the organizations that go critical at each other during their annual conference events, it will be interesting to watch their sentimental shift, in the upcoming annual events.

Infosys, a Gold Partner of Salesforce.com and a Diamond Partner of Oracle is uniquely positioned to leverage this strategic partnership between these companies.   Through its Center of Excellence on both these technologies and vast practitioners across the world, Infosys can in turn collaborate internally and across the industry to provide seamless experience to its customers of cloud computing to maximize the potential of this partnership and realize the benefits quickly.

Cloud computing industry has already been witnessing consolidation & buy-outs in smaller chunks in the last few years.   As this industry is maturing, consolidation activities are likely to intensify and expand in the coming years.

July 12, 2013

Salesforce acquiring ExactTarget: Is it really on Target?

Salesforce recently announced its agreement to acquire ExactTarget for a whopping $2.5 billion, making it, the largest deal ever done by Salesforce. This news came as a surprise to many as the expectation was that Salesforce would go for acquiring Marketo or Neolane (Adobe going to acquire Neolane) (1). There were several obvious reasons behind it: 80% of Marketo users are also Salesforce users (2) , Marketo is categorized as Leader in Gartner's quadrant for CRM Lead management and has better financial performance compared to ExactTarget. When Oracle acquired Eloqua in February, 2013, a leading marketing automation solution company, several companies operating in same area e.g. Marketo, ExactTarget, Neolane had become hot target. In my view, not getting acquired by Salesforce would cause several challenges for Marketo in coming days as Salesforce would try to push its own marketing automation solution to customers now.

This deal would bring cross-channel campaign management capability to Salesforce which it was lacking till now. Its new Marketing cloud offering includes Radian6 and Buddy media which focuses on social listening and engagement. However, there were no strong Lead/campaign management offerings available from Salesforce till now.  With customers getting more access to product information through various channels, marketers are trying to maintain a targeted and consistent message across all channels. Keeping this trend in view, targeted communication to prospects become vital and acquisition of ExactTarget is going to give Salesforce a boost in this space.

Although this deal looks great on paper, I have few points to make about it. Going by financial reports given on ExactTarget website(3), we can see that the company has posted loss of $21 millions for year 2012 with revenue of approx. $292 mn. In year 2011 too, ExactTarget had reported loss of $35 million. This is on account of acquisition of Pardot & heavy investment in R&D by ExactTarget. SFDC has paid more than 7 times of ExactTarget's last year revenue to acquire it. I believe that success of this acquisition would largely depend on getting more innovative product out of this R&D expenditure in coming days and offer customers a better deal compared to Marketo or Neolane.


Also, currently there is plethora of offerings from salesforce and coherency is missing among them. For example, Marketing cloud would be now offered as combination of Radian6, Buddymedia & ExactTraget, all   of these are different acquisitions made by Salesforce. These look like discreet products tied around social & cloud thread. In a time, when customers expects maximum value out of every penny they spend, Salesforce would need to streamline & integrate their offerings more tightly.



July 8, 2013

The Siebel Roadmap

By Praveen Kadayinti

Senior Associate Consultant, Oracle Practice, Infosys

I was looking forward to the Oracle conducted session on "Siebel Spring Release and Roadmap" that was planned for July 1 2013. With Oracle's focus on Fusion, and the growing influence of cloud based CRM solutions, it would be interesting to see what the future held for Siebel CRM - which is a relatively costlier, on premise solution. The session surely did not disappoint Siebel enthusiasts, as at least from the owner Oracle side, it promised to continue support for Siebel CRM.

Currently the latest versions of Siebel are on versions / Oracle presented a roadmap till the end of this decade, with Siebel 8.3 scheduled for the fall of 2014 and Siebel 8.4 planned in 2017. Through continued innovations, it promises two patch releases every year, and has shown a schedule till 2019.

The session indicated that future innovations would be around social media, mobile and tablet applications. Innovations are planned in industries like Communications, Public Sector and Utilities. 

Some of the other improvements, which I can recollect are -

1. A tiled view of the data, in addition to the existing list and form views. This has been asked by customers, and can be customized from Siebel tools. The tile would provide key information, and give a "mobile-like" experience on the desktop. 

2. Integration of social media. For example, a customer complaint on a social media network is auto-converted to a Siebel SR. On resolution, a response is sent as an updated post to the social media.

3. Providing key service information and products information to field technicians and sales reps in offline mode. Thus, the field-staff can work productively even in remote areas where often there is no connectivity.
The focus will be on improved customer experience (through better usability, mobility and social interactions) business agility and industry innovations (through better analytics, self service capabilities etc).

As per the presentation, Siebel has over 5000 customers and millions of users worldwide. 87% of its customers are on the latest releases 8.1 and 8.2. Siebel counts RICOH, Toshiba, Fidelity, Walt Disney, Dalmer Chrysler, Citibank among its customers.

I have summarized what I currently remember from the session. It has been indicated that the support for Siebel will continue at least till 2020. And Oracle will continuously collaborate with customers to provide enhancements to the solution as desired. Thus, while the parent promises full support to the child, one will have to see how Siebel can hold on to its own in the face of increasing competition from cheaper cloud based solutions. Oracle itself has a range of CRM solutions lined up that include  Oracle eBusiness Suite CRM, Oracle Rightnow CX Service Cloud, Oracle CRM on Demand, Oracle Fusion CRM and PeopleSoft Enterprise CRM, in addition to Siebel CRM. So there is enough competition within the house also.

One advantage with Siebel is the large customer base. Listening to these customers and then incremental innovations based on the inputs will help retain these customers, but may not really help to get new customers. Due to the large number of CRM players in the market today, there would be someone offering a similar solution offering. Sometimes even a better solution at lower prices. One way to go forward for Siebel, may be focusing on part cloud - part on premise solution, and provide the benefits from each of them. A major benefit of Siebel CRM is the amount of customization it allows. A solution approach where part of the application that needs more security, customization and control is deployed on Q premise and the rest is put onto the cloud?

Finally as the CRM mantra says, only the customer will decide who will rule! Personally hoping that Siebel comes up on top!


Oracle Web Session on Siebel 2013 Spring Release and Roadmap

July 2, 2013

OTT Service providers - To compete or to collaborate?

As a proud owner of a new Samsung smartphone with a 3G connection, I recently downloaded WhatsApp and was thrilled with the ease of use and connectivity. I am hooked and now I would rather send a message via WhatsApp than send an SMS. Similarly, I would rather use Skype to make an international call than use the ISD. Way cheaper and more convenient.

On reading a bit, I came across the term 'Over-the-top (OTT) ' which is used to refer to services like WhatsApp or Skype that are available over the network services provided by the Telecom Service Operator. The Telco has no control over the content or distribution of these OTT services. Now, for an end consumer like me, these services are a great advantage. But the same certainly cannot be said of my Telco service provider whose direct revenue is being reduced because I am using the OTT services rather than my SMS plan or voice minutes. OTT services are very popular, so Telcos cannot bar or restrict these for the fear of facing a severe backlash from their end consumers.

The win-win situation is for the CSP to partner with the OTT providers. Both parties have certain strengths. The CSP's strengths are their brand equity, network quality and rich customer data. The OTT providers are the innovators that can help deliver a rich customer experience. By enabling the OTT providers to deliver high quality services, the Telco's can expect to get a share of the OTT revenues as well as achieve better customer retention and loyalty.

This is already happening in various geographies. Reliance Communications in India has launched a WhatsApp and Facebook plan for just Rs.16 a month. Similarly, 3 Hong Kong has launched a subscription based WhatsApp data pack and roaming pack with no impact to customer's data usage charges.

CSP's can also expose some of their key capabilities such as billing, charging, payments, customer preferences to partners via api's that can be used by the partners to develop services mutually beneficial services. Eg: Telefonica SA has partnered with Boku, the mobile payments specialist to provide "direct-to-bill" capabilities that enable consumers to buy from mobile app stores and charge to their mobile bills. The CSP gets a slice of this revenue and also strengthens the bond with its customers by offering convenient services.

That being said, the CSP needs to continue improving its core competency in terms of delivering high-quality communications and connectivity that forms the basis for a good customer experience through OTT or partner provided service.

Can Big Data help predict/prevent natural calamities?

On 18th June, tragedy struck Uttarakhand. Were we caught unaware by nature's fury or was something more sinister at play?

I believe that nature has its own checks and balances and gives enough indications that something is wrong to whosoever might care to listen. In this case, we couldn't make sense of signals that nature sent us.

According to experts, major devastation was caused by the crumbling of the 'Kedar-Dome', a glacier like body of ice and rock. Even a novice will agree that such a phenomenon cannot take place overnight. Something sinister would surely be at work for many years if not for decades and centuries. Did we ignore the warning signs or did we not have a mechanism to collect and analyze these signs? Both these questions demand an entirely different solution approach.
This blog post discusses the second question which can be unraveled by the technology available to us today.

Today we have elaborate seismic devices to measure even the minutest of disturbances, instruments to measure glacial movements and river courses.
Yet the events of Uttarakhand question our ability to make sense of our numerous signals that are available to us.

What if we started a serious initiative to make sense of all the inputs? Would we succeed in sending warning signals well before disaster strikes?
As a country, we are routinely ravaged by floods, earthquakes, storms and other natural calamities. I trust we have excellent documentation about all of these incidents. Can we not mine this data to reveal tell-tale signs of disaster? This historical data along with the observations and signals from our everyday life help prevent the next Uttarakhand disaster?

Can Big Data then not be the answer to preventing natural disasters?

Lot of pilgrims who visited the Ganges at Haridwar few days before the tragedy remarked that the river seemed not muddy but rather blackish indicating that it contained the silt and rock from the Kedar Dome itself. Surely this input alone could have averted this tragedy?

Even simple measurements like direction of the wind, pressure of water in flowing rivers and dams, the silt quotient in water, temperature and humidity measurements can prove to be very important. Even photographs shared randomly on the internet can reveal tell-tale signs.

In the past, we have been restricted by the amount of information available and our ability to hold and analyze the same. However these factors no longer pose any restrictions on us.

There are possibly three main reasons why Big Data has not been thought of a solution for predicting natural calamities -

Firstly, Big Data has largely been successful in fields where the ROI is easy to measure and there is a ready business case available. Thus areas like Capital Markets, Healthcare and Retail have readily embraced big data analytics. Big Data for predicting natural calamities has more of a humanitarian angle to it and is likely to be funded by governments. Justification of a Big Data driven Disaster Prevention mechanism is likely to be a hard-sell vis-Ă -vis the tried and tested disaster management mechanisms. 

Secondly predicting the next natural calamity is more complex than predicting the right time to buy the cheapest airline tickets. But this is more due to" unknown unknowns" --i.e. our inability to ask the right questions rather than any technological limitation.

Thirdly as described elaborately described by Viktor Mayer and Kenneth Cukier in their compelling read 'Big Data', the world needs to move from being concerned with 'Causality' (i.e. the question of how) to being concerned with 'Correlation' (i.e. the question of what). This paradigm shift is unlikely to be a smooth transition especially when dealing with societal concerns.

However the truth remains that if adequate infrastructure is put in place to capture the vital signs of naturally sensitive zones and then make sense of all these various inputs, we will finally be able understand the signals that nature sends us and prevent or mitigate a tragedy before it strikes.

Delivering a Customer Centric Experience

Given the stiff competition in the Telecom space, telecom service providers have been feeling the need to move beyond the product-price offering and enhance their customer experience to attract and retain customers. I recently attended some workshops that got me thinking further around the importance of customer centricity for our Telco clients. In this blog, I will list out the key issues and how IT plays an important role in addressing the same.

Listed below are some of the issues hampering a customer-centric approach that we identified during our workshops-

 a) Lack of complete customer understanding - Siloed IT systems, disjoint business units, disconnected customer information that cannot be seamlessly linked together are some of the reasons for missing this crucial 360 degree visibility. The Telco misses out on opportunities for Cross/Up-Sell and pro-active customer service in the absence of a 360 view. Eg: Cross-Selling a family plan that provides shared services to family members OR proactively informing customers in case of service downtime and providing alternate service options

b) Poor customer experience - Presence over limited channels, differing information at various customer touch points and difficultly faced by customers in accessing this information lead to poor customer experience. A customer who is forced to call the call center and wait in queue to get heard is not likely to be as satisfied as a customer who can browse products, place orders, raise/track issues and get troubleshooting information at the tip of their fingers using a mobile app.

c) Lack of personalization- A commoditized Product/service offering that is not tuned to the customer segment leads to a lack of perceived differentiation in the mind of the customer. Eg: Recommending a personalized data plan based on the customer's usage pattern would be far more effective than bombarding the customers with offers of every new plan launched by the company.

One of the key dimensions to achieve customer centricity is to enable IT systems that support the customer related processes. The aspects that need to be addressed are -

a) The IT applications need to be integrated and should be able to link together all dimensions of the customer information. The front-line sales and service agents need to get a consolidated view of the Customer details and their transaction information to achieve the 360 degree visibility. The transfer of customer transactions between departments needs to be seamless and automated. Eg: Customer cases that need inputs from multiple departments for resolution.

b) Customer experience has to be convenient (customer's preferred channel), consistent (across channels) and comprehensive (complete information). New channels like social media, instant chat can also be leveraged to provide customer service at a lower cost than traditional channels such as call center and retail store. The IT systems supporting the numerous channels, including the new channels need to be fully integrated in order to achieve this.

c) Timely targeting of customers with personalized offers needs can be achieved via real-time decisioning. Parameters like customer value can further be incorporated to provide additional differentiation in the treatment of the customers.

d) The systems need to be enabled to support cross-channel processes as customers use multiple channels to communicate with their service provider. Eg: An order placed online may be fulfilled in the store of customer's choice. Status of trouble tickets raised by the customer via the self-service portal or call center can be tracked via the mobile service application.

Having the right IT systems is a key factor, but not the only factor to help achieve Customer Centricity. The organization culture and business processes also have to be tuned to support this objective. But those are topics for another day. What do you think?