• October 30, 2018

Is Adobe, Microsoft, and SAP’s Open Data Initiative a New Generation of Customer Experience, or a Nice Fantasy?

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Microsoft’s Ignite conference kicked off with the announcement of an alliance between Microsoft, Adobe, and SAP called the Open Data Initiative (ODI). 

The timing of the announcement on September 24th—coincident with the opening day of Salesforce’s DreamForce event in San Francisco—was not accidental. The three vendors hope ODI will give customers and partners the impetus they need to continue to make non-Salesforce CRM decisions, and to extend their use of the vendors’ core technologies. But, will ODI get market traction and customer adoption, and succeed in “empowering a new generation of customer experiences”?

The What and The Why

ODI is a single, shared data model enabling Adobe (Experience Cloud and Experience Platform), Microsoft (Dynamics 365), and SAP (SAP C/4HANA, SAP S/4HANA) to share customer and transaction data between the three environments. The data supported by ODI will be extremely broad: According to Adobe’s press release, ODI will integrate “behavioral and transactional to financial and operational data … with one data model” and “will provide for the use of a common data lake model based on Microsoft Azure.”  Unfortunately, technical details on ODI are relatively scarce.

The announcements included several high-level statements about eliminating silos of customer data and empowering customer experiences. The press release also stated that organizations implementing ODI would be able to support the bidirectional move of transactional, operational, customer, or IoT data from a common data lake (as noted above, Azure); would enable digital feedback loops while also enabling privacy compliance; and would be able to build intelligent applications that leverage services from the three alliance companies and their partners. A tall order.

Several analysts have already commented on the details (or lack of) and implications of the ODI announcement. As one example, Mary Jo Foley of All About Microsoft has done a good job of tying ODI back to Microsoft’s technology stacks and services. The question I want to ask here is not so much “What is ODI? as “Will ODI work?” Technically, of course, it would have to work: three of the biggest vendors in enterprise applications wouldn’t make a pronouncement this big without thinking it through. But will ODI succeed in delivering a standard data model that enables and facilitates a better customer relationship, and most important, will the market embrace and support ODI?

The Problem: Three Things to Think About

The problem, unfortunately, is this thing called “the real world.” Here are three things to think about when evaluating whether ODI could support and enhance an effective digital customer experience strategy for your organization:

  • Customer data is permeable, dynamic, and resides throughout your organization. It would be great if a set of defined application such as Adobe CEP or Microsoft Dynamics 365 held all your customer data—but of course it never does. Over 15 years of covering CRM and through hundreds of client interactions on CRM challenges, I have never (not once) seen all customer data kept in a single application, or even two or three. The reality is that multiple applications—SaaS and on-premises applications from vendors, home-grown solutions, legacy applications, and, of course, gigs of data—reside across every Global 1000 organization, including yours. It’s enough of a challenge to get the people in sales to talk to the people in marketing, or the people in the customer contact center to talk to product management. Getting ALL your customer data in a single data model? Not likely.
  • Different application requirements leverage different types of data. Marketing applications may leverage SEM data, customer profile information volunteered by the customer, and sales transactional data from prior purchases. A B2B sales application may leverage customer contact information, data from a marketing campaign, possibly data from the customer’s installed base of equipment. Developing a single data model that can accommodate the needs of three specific vendors and vendor applications is possible. Developing a single data model that can interoperate with multiple CRM, ERP, digital commerce, order management, warehousing, and supply chain applications, for multiple customer and partner and supplier use cases, serving the needs of multiple internal constituent users? Consider the sheer breadth of ODI’s claims to enable behavioral, transactional, financial, and operational data with one data model; the challenge becomes exponential.
  • Finally, there is history. The El Dorado of a single, 360-view of the customer that spans all data sources and eliminates silos of customer data has been discussed since the Neolithic Age of Siebel and Scopus. Fifteen years later, we are still discussing the same challenge, and vendors are still offering up solutions. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but consider history.

What to Do?

If you currently have technology investments in Adobe, Microsoft, and/or SAP and you think ODI may be able to add value to your organization and your customers, do the following:

  • Watch for new developments from the three vendors. The ODI announcement was relatively light on specifics, and even though a few large customers provided supportive quotes for the release, you’ll need to seek out more details. Look for reference sites and use cases that are parallel to your organization’s needs and in your organization’s industry: What works for a B2B manufacturer with multiple go-to-market channels won’t necessarily work for a B2C digital commerce retailer.
  • Find Tier 1 service providers—systems integrators, consulting partners, and vendor ISV partners—that are supporting ODI and providing value-added services. These partners will serve as an early warning system (in a positive way) that ODI is gaining market traction and will be an important source for ODI resources and expertise that could help to shorten your way to ODI productivity. Also, look for support of the ODI standard from the many vendors that provide customer data platform (CDP) technology: BlueConic, Lytics, and Treasure Data are just three among several vendors in this segment. Ask yourself if ODI is competitive with, or complementary to, CDP.
  • Map the multiple CRM, ERP, commerce, supply chain, and transactional applications and data that underpin your customer experience. Don’t underestimate the complexity of what ODI is trying to take on, and don’t be overly swayed by its lofty goals. Select one or maybe two tightly scoped pilot applications to evaluate what is or isn’t possible with ODI as it is available today, and proceed with caution.

Final Thoughts

Don’t get me wrong: I want ODI to succeed. An alliance that delivers technology collaboration and which enables a new, improved, and relevant customer experience is one that any CRM analyst would get behind – and several have already. But I am, and will remain, a skeptic until ODI gets more traction with user organizations and with new alliance partners that join the fold. 

Chris Fletcher has covered the CRM market for 15-plus years as an analyst with Gartner, AMR Research, and Aberdeen Group. Fletcher invests most of his time advising in tech, higher ed, and, when they will listen, his family. He can be reached at Chris.Fletcher@AegeanGroup.tech.

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