Adding Intelligence to E-commerce

Todd Nash is vice president of Faber Consulting, LLC, a professional services company that focuses exclusively on integrating business intelligence and e-business solutions. Nash's responsibilities including managing, developing and implementing Web-enabled business intelligence and data warehousing solutions for a variety of industries including telecommunications, manufacturing, insurance, banking and healthcare.

Q. What is Faber's approach to business intelligence (BI) and e-business?

A. The convergence of BI and the Internet--or e-solutions- -is the critical next step to supplying company infrastructures with the decision-making capabilities and Web enablement they need to move forward in e-business. From a BI standpoint we help clients leverage their ERP investment by pulling information from that system into a separate, organized intelligent structure from which educated decisions can be made. We help them leverage their new Internet site with their existing data warehouse to create the overall infrastructure needed to support and supply BI information for CRM initiatives.

Q: How has the relationship between BI and CRM evolved?

A: The industry has evolved. We were doing CRM long before it was called CRM, before it was a hot topic. BI has long been supplying the analytics for businesses to understand their customers, to do P&L, segmentation, buying patterns, and so on. When do they buy? Why do they buy? That's where BI came from. The applications behind those front-end CRM systems are really BI systems. That's what Faber has been doing for over five years now.

Q: Let's talk specifically about the revenue-generating side of marketing, the ability to create transactions, or increase sales and exposure to customers.

A: BI is not new from the marketing perspective, but now the tools, techniques and technologies have reached a state of maturity in which BI can be leveraged in new and powerful ways. There are many different campaign management packages out there, and now with BI marketing managers can really begin to understand the ROI from their different campaigns. They can drill into the analysis and do better target marketing by segmenting their customers into who responds to which types of marketing initiatives.

New campaign management software can leverage distribution methods such as e-mail, banners ads and wireless while combining traditional mediums to define where the customer wants to interact and transact. A BI backbone will enable all of that analysis.

Q: What specific technical advancements are moving BI forward?

A: "BI in a box." Vendors are becoming tightly integrated as well as acquiring each other to provide a fully analytic, one-stop-shop solution. These solutions focus on the ERP market of SAP and PeopleSoft, as well as marketing, finance and click stream analytics. These packages help facilitate and rapidly implement BI applications.

Q: We're seeing an evolution from static relational database into more fluid systems. Is this the break-through technology for online real-time marketing?

A: Absolutely. Companies want to run marketing campaigns online in real time. There is a huge push right now in the Web space to optimize the campaign as it's happening. Not just banners, but specific campaigns to look at where people have clicked and what's happening on the site at this moment. It's using click stream analysis to generate automatic real-time campaigns.

Q: How are the e-marketing software analytics advancing?

A: Vendors are integrating three powerful analytic capabilities. They are combining OLAP (the ability to ask questions of the data), data mining, (the ability to search through the data and find trends), with traditional campaign management over many new mediums. This integrated tool set should prove to be a significant enhancement to create, manage and track marketing campaigns in the future.

While all of the functionality can bring significant value, the largest effort remains bringing all customer touch-point data together, including sales, marketing, service and transaction to provide the entire customer experience. That database is where the gold and the gems lie.

Q: What marketing solutions are using BI in this manner?

A: The marketplace is changing on a daily basis. Who has the latest press release and whose stock is over-inflated the most changes on a daily bases. There are literally hundreds of new technologies that market themselves in this space. At Faber we facilitate the due diligence of identifying, evaluating and selecting a best-of-breed tool kit for our clients. So I can't mention a specific name today because by the time this article is printed, it may be changed, it may be bought, it may go under.

You can tell the maturity of the marketplace based on shows like eCRM World in Los Angeles. You didn't see any service providers there, you saw vendors with powerful solutions but very few customer success stories. As the marketplace evolves and we see which technologies actually work, there will be a shake-out as to who is really a player as opposed to who is just a good marketer. I hate to dodge the question but that is truly the answer.

Q: So, is real-time marketing a reality at this time?

A: While there are several real-time, online campaigns that are a little more than just banner ads, I haven't seen many customers who have run a campaign successfully over a period of months so they can see the return on investment. We're still implementing and experimenting.

Q. What about the Siebels and the Oracles?

A. They are absolutely marketing the fact that they have that functionality and they could probably get a couple of customers to testify that they do campaign management on the Web in real time. But remember when everyone was still obsessed with Amazon? After you created your transaction online you received an e-mail saying your order has been processed. But they were actually faxing that order back to a person who was manually grabbing all the individual books they needed to ship. It took them about a year and a half before they could catch up the background technology to supply a fully automated purchasing process. We're going through something similar today. The technology is there but its not fully automated from end to end. Maybe someone is truly running campaign management from the Web site and tracking it in real time online, but they're still making guesstimates based on fundamental features and constraints.

It will be some time before we'll see customers say, "This has changed my business. Our marketing department has completely revamped to support this effort." I would guess that within eight months we'll begin to see testimonials, and in a year several more.

Q: And will BI similarly change every area of CRM and e-commerce?

A: Yes. BI issues go into every area of e-commerce, including building communities, B2B and B2C functionality, and trying to portalize and individualize the Web site for people to interact with each other. It's a very broad perspective. I think BI will halp every area of CRM and e-commerce. The marketplace is focusing on transacting and interacting with their customers. To transact and interact effectively you need to know who they are and what they are doing. That is the value of BI.

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