By Allen Bonde
In my last column on the state of customer relationship management (Is CRM Dead?), I proposed a new model for CRM v.2 that offers to drive process improvement to the edge of the enterprise, bring the notion of customer interaction management into the mainstream and—if deployed smartly—actually serve the dual purpose of improving customer satisfaction and lowering operational costs. At one level, the goal of CRM v.2 is to create content and applications that are customer-centric rather than process-centric, and also provide a means for users to not only help themselves, but also help each other.
While self-service models, new-age knowledge management and more flexible on-demand deployment models are driving this next wave of CRM, an increasingly important foundation is collaboration. From blogs and wikis to IM and user forums, collaboration applications are undergoing a bit of a renaissance, especially as a business tool. At the same time, there still are a sizable number of “old-school” collaboration tools like Lotus Notes in many large organizations.
With more than 1,000 vendors, according to industry watcher Collaborative Strategies, and accounting for software sales of between $1 billion and $4 billion depending on whom you ask, the collaboration sector is both an emerging and an established market. It’s also incredibly diverse, with tools supporting online communication, like Web conferencing and IM; publishing and sharing via forums, whiteboards and blogs; and coordination of resources or knowledge, like knowledge base tools and groupware applications. The roster of vendors is equally diverse, from IBM and its Lotus offerings and Microsoft with Live Meeting, Groove Networks and SharePoint, to CRM and self-service platform providers like Knova and Sento, which bundle collaboration capabilities as part of an overall solution, as well as emerging “pure-play” vendors like GroveSite, Jive Software and Socialtext.
Help Each Other, Help Yourself
As a customer service and marketing tool, the growth of collaboration applications mirrors the rise of intranets and Web applications in the mid-1990s. On one hand, consumer adoption of tools like IM, SMS, blogs and social networks has generated market demand, and even brought these technologies into corporate environments as home and work roles become increasingly blurry. This is especially the case for consumer goods and services companies targeting teen and young adult buyers. For these markets, it’s not a choice to offer online communities or to publish a blog or to support the latest mobile devices; it’s a competitive necessity.
On the other hand, as IDC has noted, as e-mail comes under scrutiny because of security risks, IM has become a serious collaboration tool within many businesses. When you couple the growth of corporate IM with the mainstream adoption of Web conferencing, and the growing role of user forums in customer service and e-commerce environments as an alternative to both assisted, agent-delivered support and self-service, there is clear demand emerging from the business side as well—not only for CRM v.2, but also for other “inter-enterprise” solutions like partner management or purchasing networks.