The internet remembers too much…

Excellent talk (transcript) by Maciej Ceglowski. This is just a brief extract:

I’ve come to believe that a lot of what’s wrong with the Internet has to do with memory. The Internet somehow contrives to remember too much and too little at the same time, and it maps poorly on our concepts of how memory should work.

via The Internet With A Human Face – Beyond Tellerrand 2014 Conference Talk.

Read the whole thing.

♦ CRM’s evolution toward customer engagement

Over the last two years, mergers and acquisitions have driven many of the headlines in the CRM world [footnote] Disclosure: I’m back at Oracle via their acquisition of RightNow Technologies, a CRM/CX cloud vendor. [/footnote].  We’ve watched the broadest consolidation that CRM has seen in nearly a decade. At the same time, Gartner predicts the CRM market, on license revenue alone, will cross $23bn this year [footnote] Gartner [/footnote], and pegs it to hit $37bn by 2017 [footnote] Forbes: Gartner predicts CRM will be a $37bn market by 2017 [/footnote].  Generally speaking, consolidating market segments don’t grow that rapidly.  So, what’s going on?  While Gartner’s definition of the CRM market may be evolving, a fundamental change has been underway for some time.  We started to see this change about five years ago as vendors, like RightNow, began to redefine CRM toward Customer Experience (CX).  The movement toward CX largely came about as social technologies were infused into CRM platforms, enabling the last quarter-mile of CRM [footnote] The analogy refers to landline communications. The most expensive part of communications networks tend to be the ‘last quarter-mile’ to a residence.  Without that last quarter mile being in place, the network can’t fully function, but making those connections is extremely costly. [/footnote].  This repositioning of CRM toward CX has now become a full-blown stampede, with nearly every major vendor claiming their technology is designed to put the customer’s experience first [footnote] Few actually deliver true CX applications, but nearly all know how to hype it [/footnote].

A half decade of CX momentum is now moving the market toward technologies that drive beyond ‘experiences’ and begin to focus on ‘engagement’.  Paul Greenberg, the resident Dean of the CRM community, recently posted some random thoughts on this shift:

The customer engagement market is far larger in potential than CRM and in fact is the replacement market for CRM. CRM as a market is going to be a sub-market – the operational requirements for customer engagement and the companies serving that need – will be a substantial chunk of the customer engagement market, but by no means the only segment of it.  Social CRM, which morphed CRM into what it is today, was the forerunner and the signal for this. Social channels are now inclusive in CRM systems and thinking – incorporated with the more traditional operational aspects of CRM systems and thinking. It’s the operational hub with pipes that are driven into the other areas around customer engagement. [footnote] Random thoughts on CRM – Paul Greenberg [/footnote]

 

Paul goes on to list seventeen areas that are either converging to, or sprouting from, traditional CRM markets.  The growth that Gartner predicts, can be seen on this list.  The CRM market is morphing from systems that focused on capturing transactional data, to technologies that drive greater context, decisioning, and involvement of customers.  These new areas are still disconnected, as Paul notes in his post, but I think the shift toward customer engagement [CEM] is going to happen faster than CRM’s move to CX.  This will happen faster, I think, because many of the CEM vendors which enable Paul’s seventeen areas are very small, agile, and don’t carry the legacy ‘baggage’ of traditional CRM.  CX was a ‘build-out’ of CRM, whereas the move to CEM is coming from outside the CRM world, in.  As CEM pulls the industry to closer toward a customer engagement approach, the next eighteen months or so will be an interesting time for the legacy CRM industry.

Target’s massive security breach exposes security process failures

…And although there are companies that blatantly violate the standards, security is a constantly changing condition, not a static one. Every time a company installs new programs, changes servers or alters its architecture, new vulnerabilities can be introduced. A company that is certified compliant one month can quickly become non-compliant the next month if administrators install and configure a new firewall incorrectly or if systems that were once carefully segregated become connected because an employee didn’t adhere to access restrictions. Companies that conduct audits also have to rely on their clients to be honest about disclosing what they have on their network — such as stored data.

To answer the question posed by the title of the Wired.com post – No.  Therein lies the problem. [footnote] The nature of audits, in most professions, is that their usefulness is a function of the competency of those conducting them [/footnote]
Wired link: Will Target’s Lawsuit Finally Expose the Failings of Security Audits?

Rethinking target markets

Image representing GigaOm as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Mike Speiser, Managing Director at Sutter Hill Ventures, has an interesting post on GigaOm today.  An excerpt:

Self-Service Nation: Why Targeting Small Business Is Good Business

While the 80-20 rule can be very powerful, the reality is that many of the costs associated with building, supporting, distributing and selling technology products have dropped dramatically in the past decade. Yet many enterprise technology executives are operating as though the cost of distribution hasn’t changed since the early 1990s. In the coming years, I expect startups to increasingly target the massively underserved small- and medium-sized business (SMB) segment by taking advantage of the arbitrage between actual and assumed costs of sales. Self-service sales models will be a key element of these startups that will forever change the face of the enterprise technology business.

As he further explains in his post, there is a significant nascent market at the small business level that has, up until now, been left for Microsoft to dominate. Smart SaaS players, as well as others that do not have legacy enterprise software DNA, are best positioned to successfully target this market in coming years. I think companies like 37Signals are already flourishing here, and serve as a great source of ideas and experience for anyone looking to tap into a greatly underserved market.

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Gmail Contacts finally becomes useful

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Image via CrunchBase

If you’re a Gmail user like me, 2008 seemed like a lost year.  Google did give us the Google Labs features, many of which were nice tweaks, but there wasn’t a significant improvement to the core application.  2009, as you know has been quite different.  We’ve seen the addition of many significant features, with offline sync being the most important.  Google added another ‘missing link’ in the communications hub with a task manager, which in its current state is a bit underpowered – but we can always hope for improvements.

One of the most frustrating parts of Gmail’s communications hub has been Contacts.  When first introduced (I believe last year), Contacts seemed to add all sorts of random contacts from inbound emails that I received.  When I dug around to find where they were coming from, many of these new ‘contacts’ were plucked out of emails that had large lists of people attached to them.  Most of these folks weren’t really my contacts, but Google thought they were.  This was just one of many frustrations I had with Google Contacts.  Just as with the core Gmail application, however, Google has begun to remedy shortcomings in Contacts in 2009.  A few days ago, Google announced true Contact (and Calendar) syncing with many smartphones.  Along with that announcement has come a steady set of changes to Google Contacts.  Today, Google has added four more, very significant, improvements to the Contacts function.  Here are two of my favorites:

Official Gmail Blog: Four changes to Gmail contacts

3. Remove people from My Contacts
You can finally move contacts out of the My Contacts group — especially useful if you’re planning to sync your contact list to your phone. Prune the contacts you don’t want synced to your phone from My Contacts (click “Groups” and then “Remove from My Contacts”), and they won’t get synced.

4. Search across all contact fields
We’ve heard you loud and clear, and contact search now works much better: instead of just searching contact names and email addresses, it now includes phone numbers, notes fields, and mailing addresses as well. So, if you’re visiting the Bay Area and looking for friends to catch up with, you could try typing “650” or “415” in the contact manager search box.

Contacts, it seems, are finally becoming useful. Along with the Activesync feature that went live a few days ago, I can finally consolidate my contact information to a single source and not have to maintain a separate list for my iPhone and Gmail. This is great news!

Now, make Google Contacts (and Gmail) an interaction hub
Contacts would become substantially more powerful if I could see my entire relationship with a contact in that view.  Google lets you query recent emails interactions with a selected contact, but we know that entire relationships aren’t captured in emails.  I’d like the ability to add date stamped notes to each contact – so I can record other interactions with people.  I’d also like the ability to connect Google Calendar events to contacts.  And, while you’re at it, connect tasks associated with contacts as well.

So far, 2009 has been a busy year for the Gmail team, and it looks like we’ll see a steady pace of improvements for Gmail.  Hopefully, they see the value of extending Contacts beyond a simple electronic Rolodex and into a powerful contact interaction hub where users can truly capture many aspects of their relationships with their friends and contacts.

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MindMeister updates include Cross-Connections

Sample map created with MindMeister plus interface
Image via Wikipedia

I’m a big fan of mind mapping.  For years I used MindJet’s MindManager application, but I’ve since migrated to the cloud based MindMeisterMindMeister is not as robust as MindManager, but it allows for collaborative brainstorming without client-side software.  Over the last year or so, MindMeister has grown in capabilities, including offline mind mapping (through Google Gears), but lacked one critical element of useful mind mapping, cross connections.  The latest release now incorporates that critical function, in addition to other features:

MindMeister News – Mind Mapping on Steroids

Graphical cross-connections

You can now add graphical cross-connection between your ideas in your mind maps, which will be displayed as green arrows. This feature is still beta, so please be kind. We’ll add more functionality here in future, such as control points and formatting.

MindManager is still more robust than MindMeister, but the later is quickly catching up. Mindjet has also begun to offer an online solution, but I haven’t had the time to review it. Quite frankly, MindMeister does the job for me.

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Twitter and Values of n come together to make…?

iwantsandy_207x207

Image by Tim in Sydney via Flickr

The founder of a small, but interesting, little company called Values of n recently announced that Twitter had purchased the web productivity company, and that he – Rael Dornfest – would be joining Twitter.  Most people I know haven’t heard of Values of n, but some may know  two of their products, I Want Sandy and Stikkit.  Both products will soon be shut down, with the IP inherited by Twitter.  Both products were pretty interesting, albeit incomplete, productivity offerings.  I used both for a while, but had a hard time integrating them into my workflow.  Under the Twitter umbrella, however, both have the potential to expand and improve, assuming that the acquisition of Values of n wasn’t merely a way to bring a gifted technologist on board.  There is some speculation that Twitter could be putting together a suite of productivity offerings to it’s product set:

Will Twitter Become Your Personal Assistant? – GigaOM

The fit between both of these services and Twitter seems fairly obvious. In the same way that Twitter “bots” can be set up to send specific messages at certain times or when users type certain keywords (try sending a message that contains the word “pony” in order to see the Wheee! Pony bot in action), it’s easy to see how a user might set up something like I Want Sandy and Stikkit combined —

As stated later in that post on GigaOm, with some help, Twitter, Sandy, and Stikkit, could be combined to make a nice personal assistant application that many power users would be eager to pay for. With all the activity in and around Twitter, and no clear revenue path to date, you can add this combination to the speculation of where Twitter will find it’s business model.

Update: Looks like there is a movement on to resurrect Sandy as an open source application.

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Amazon continues its cloud computing build out

Werner Vogels @ eTech 07

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With the release of CloudFront, Amazon continues to build out a full selection of cloud computing offerings.  With CloudFront even small developers can gain the power of a global content distribution network (much like Akamai).  Werner Vogels, Amazon CTO, explains the service in this post:

Expanding the Cloud: Amazon CloudFront – All Things Distributed

Today marks the launch of Amazon CloudFront, the new Amazon Web Service for content delivery. It integrates seamlessly with Amazon S3 to provide low-latency distribution of content with high data transfer speeds through a world-wide network of edge locations. It requires no upfront commitments and is a pay-as-you-go service in the same style as the other Amazon Web Services.

Amazon CloudFront has been designed to be fast; the service will cache copies of the content in edge locations close to the end-user’s location, significantly lowering the access latency to the content. High sustainable data transfer rates can be achieved with the service especially when distributing larger objects.

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Twitter for Business webcast from O’Reilly

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As a regular user of Twitter I often get asked by business people if I see value in using the micro-blogging service for business.  While the nuances of twitter may vary if you are in marketing, customer support, or other parts of an enterprise,  I do think its an important new channel to consider for most business folks.  For marketers it has become increasingly important to watch your organizations brand.  For some customer support organizations, twitter is becoming another channel to watch as customers begin to use twitter as a vehicle to broadcast their frustrations with products.  For others twitter can serve as a really useful tool to communicate with a wide array of people in a quick and efficient manner.  O’Reilly media recently did a webcast with just this focus.  I’ve embedded the Webcast here, followed by a link to the O’Reilly website.

Webcast: Twitter for Business

Twitter–the messaging service that lets you send instant, short updates to people around the world–is fast becoming a mainstream communication tool. Hundreds of brands and thousands of companies use it to connect with customers and co-workers, and new micro-messaging services are springing up every week to meet specific corporate needs.

Credit: Guy Kawasaki

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Thoughts from Dreamforce (Salesforce Developer Conference 2008)

Sunday night Dreamforce reception

Image by Mountjoy via Flickr

Last week I was at the Salesforce developer conference, Dreamforce 2008.  Most of the significant news (linked below) to emerge from the Moscone Center was tied to the theme of ‘Cloud Computing‘.  This included announcements related to the availability of Facebook integration, the ability for customers to host their websites on the Salesforce ‘Cloud’ (a service known as Sites), and the continued expansion of the force.com platform into areas far and wide (verticalization).  Companies usually wait for major conferences to make major announcements, and most of the new news created the appropriate level of buzz in the hall, and on the web.  Clearly Salesforce sees their existing SaaS model extending beyond hosted enterprise software, and deeper into other parts of the infrastructure business as well.  In general, Dreamforce was full of optimism at a time, and in a market, that is in need of such excitement.  Some even ventured to call it the ‘Cloud Computing Woodstock‘, perhaps inspired by the presence of Neil Young.  On a more serious note, beyond the major introductions made, there were other important vibes to groove to.  Here are some thoughts.

Salesforce Adds Robust Knowledge Management to Customer Service and Support

This was also, I believe, the first major event for Salesforce after their acquisition of Instranet, the European based knowledge management application company.  Throughout the three day conference, Salesforce Knowledge Management (SKM) – as Instranet has now been relabeled – played an important role in many of the presentations that I attended, and reflects the growing importance of the customer service and support (CS&S) space for Salesforce.  In the last year or so, I’ve noticed an increased presence of Salesforce in the CS&S space.  With SKM Salesforce closes a major hole in their CS&S product offering.  Based on the the demonstrations that I saw of the SKM product, they are now poised to make a major play for CS&S mindshare in the U.S.  Instranet has been a big player on the European scene, with a significant share of the incumbent Telcos and other high volume, low complexity call centers in the Old World.

SKM approaches CS&S knowledge management differently than the traditional KM vendors in CS&S.  It is a much lighter application to deploy than the established players in CS&S knowledge management.  By light, I mean that SKM does not need a lot of administrative tweeking or constant management of ontological or taxonomic layers.  The added flexibility allows for customers to ‘hard code’ processes around SKM, which is critical in many high volume call centers.  By baking in processes, these large call centers effectively reduce training time.  For Salesforce, adding a ‘light’ application to their solution stack makes a whole lot of sense as it plays to the core sales proposition of their entire suite of applications, which is to provide rapid deployment that, in return, begins to pay benefits (ROI) immediately.  Light doesn’t necessarily mean lightweight, as I have heard that SKM is working its way through the Consortium for Service Innovation’s Knowledge Centered Support (KCS) verification process.  When verified, Salesforce will be one of the few KCS verified companies that will have an integrated incident management, knowledge management solution.

Multi-Tenant Integration may lead to  real rewards for Customer Service and Support (and product management)

Recently, Salesforce has enabled seamless Salesforce to Salesforce (StoS) integration which allows two Salesforce hosted instances to be integrated by application administrators, and doesn’t require complex coding.  This multi-tenant integration was demonstrated on the second day in the lead-up to Michael Dell‘s Keynote.  The demo focused on how, through multi-tenant integration, Dell was effectively building an opportunity supply chain through which downstream distributors, and Dell, could coordinate sales activities.  In this instance, the integration allowed for a tighter relationship than traditional partner management systems did.  The demo got me thinking about how this type of integration could be used to enhance customer service and support.

A major challenge that I’ve seen many call centers, and help desks, deal with is managing customer exceptions on products developed by other companies (think wireless telcos reselling handsets, for example).  Many manufacturers today incorporate OEM solutions into their final product.  When these products encounter exceptions, the manufacturer often has to deal with both their own product issues and those of the OEM embedded product.  I’ve visit some call centers where that OEM exception rate can be upwards of 80%!  Basically this means that those call centers are spending more time handling someone eleses exceptions than their own.  This has two major implications.  First, the overhead of dealing with downstream exceptions skews the cost of running the call center.  Second, the downstream OEM manufacturer, usually, never receives a detailed understanding of how – and how many – exceptions are caused by their product.  In one instance that I observed several years ago, the OEM product was not only causing a high level of exceptions, but the final product manufacturer was overlooking a performance guarantee from the OEM because the exception handling wasn’t fully understood.  In an integrated CS&S ‘supply chain’, two critical elements could be easily addressed.

Some of this is totally speculation on my part, but I’m assuming that Salesforce will eventually expose CS&S to CS&S integration.  If so, two way CS&S relationships could be enabled to enhance both the support agent experience and the overall product experience.  First, integrated analytics could be exposed to OEM support agents which would allow them to be more proactive in dealing with upstream support issues.  Second, OEM product management would have a greater insight into product exceptions, and this insight would be faster delivered than traditional modes.  Third, knowledge sharing relationships could be created whereby the combined knowledge-base, through the SKM product, would reflect a broader understanding of both the final product and the OEM product.

Of course, this is all predicated on all the companies involved using Salesforce as their CS&S solution.  For Dell, their sheer size must play a key role in their ability to influence their partners’ choice of SFA applications.

Final Thoughts

I attended Dreamforce on behalf of a non-profit, Silk Screen, that I’m actively involved with.  At Silk Screen we have been very grateful for Salesforce’s Foundation donation of seat licenses.  It makes our management of resources more efficient, and most importantly, lets us apply our funding to the central cause of the organization.  What pleasantly surprised me at Dreamforce was how central the Foundation’s activities are in the corporate culture.  I learned quite a lot from the sessions I attended on the non-profit front as well.

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