by Mark Coggins

RIAs: The Missing Link in Your BI/CRM Strategy

Dec 19, 20087 mins
Business IntelligenceCRM SystemsDeveloper

Rich Internet Applications aren't just useful development design tools for enterprise software developers. RIAs can improve relations between IT departments and end users and, therefore, customer relationship management, argues Actuate's Mark Coggins.

It’s no secret that customer relationship management (CRM) is a key business strategy to determine enterprise success. Aggressively managing customer relationships and working to ensure retention have become imperative to building business, especially through lean times. However, savvy businesses need to conduct the proper due diligence to ensure their CRM strategy succeeds.

Successful CRM involves making sure the customer receives the best possible perception of your company from the best possible interaction with your people, products and services—across all channels. For a customer-facing web presence in particular, a Rich Internet Application (RIA) strategy can provide the customer engagement and the knowledge needed to implement an integrated business intelligence (BI) / CRM solution to enable a holistic customer-centric organization, coupled with relevant insights into the customer base.

People, process and technology. Those three elements are the driving force for any successful business intelligence or CRM strategy. But how does one achieve all three with their customer-facing web presence?

First, organizations must put all content provided into context. A company’s selected platform must deliver the best possible user experience through intuitive, brochure-quality documents, working spreadsheets and interactive Web reports in context for every user’s preference. Visual appeal combined with readily available, useful information ensures that data becomes engaging, personal and interactive while still providing value.

Second, an adaptable platform is necessary to keep up with the pace of change. Both for business and personal productivity solutions, Web 2.0 capabilities are becoming commonplace and are changing at an ever-faster pace. Find a vendor that can provide applications that are interactive and dynamic enough to support code reuse, programming flexibility, scalability, security and handle needs as they change to meet evolving expectations.

Third, the wisdom of crowds or crowd sourcing can benefit any business strategy. A do-it-yourself application has limits, but if one can harness a vast user community and keep up with demand for innovation and the latest standards, the likelihood of developing a best-of-breed solution that is primed for the future grows exponentially.

Why Rich Internet Applications and Interactivity?

Recognizing your customer’s priorities is key. One common theme is that organizations’ IT departments and customers are often at cross purposes. The conflict usually sounds something like this:

IT: “I can’t give you the content until you tell me what you want. Your constant, often ambiguous, requests and last minute requirement changes are preventing us from making progress.”

Customer: “I can’t tell you what I want until I see the content and the context it is presented in. Your often arbitrary rules and long turnaround cycles are preventing us from making progress.”

In addition, IT has several security, compliance and authorization concerns whenever delivering content while customers struggle with content that lacks the flexibility to support new ideas, business opportunities and initiatives.

As IT and end users struggle with the problem of approaching common goals from differing perspectives, the solution lies in delivering context to reports in order to provide clarity and understanding to the metrics delivered. Easier said than done, right?

If it were up to IT, analytic information would be privileged, require a relationship with the end user, be security enabled and have a controlled frequency of use and deployment.

In contrast, the preference of the end-user is to utilize preferred applications in a way that delivers information in an expected format that is also interactive and flexible.

This disconnection of achieving common goals creates tension between IT and end-users. To alleviate if not eliminate the communication problem and to create a seamless environment for your customers’ IT and end users, you must eliminate the misinterpretation of requirements. That said: As with any such initiative, baby steps are necessary to eventually create an appropriate speed time-to-value proposition for information delivered.

To begin the initiative of getting your customer’s IT and end users to get on the same page of common goals, you must start small to grow interactively. Iteratively scale the project requirements to become clearer and to ensure any changes in an environment are reacted to effectively. This is a smart approach to BI and in particular the delivery of rich highly interactive information which leads to improved efficiency and, in the end, fewer but richer reports that will have greater and longer-lasting contextual relevance.

In addition, good BI-related CRM strategy entails knowing that organizations are always looking to reduce their BI development costs while increasing their resource pool. It sounds like a natural Catch 22, but large Java communities are an ideal source of development and technology resources, and an open-source interface can eliminate any developer learning curve.

Lastly, if individual initiatives and insight are rewarded with immediate results the harnessing of the power of community begins and interactivity then encourages the community to create different perspectives from common data.

The RIA BI Results for Your CRM Strategy

With the proposed initiative IT is able to transform flat, static applications into interactive web reports, dashboard portals and template-driven ad hoc reports. The interactivity with end users in near-real-time allows visibility into their requests and the progress of both IT and end users by each other.

Establishing an appropriate BI initiative that allows you to deliver your customers value to the information the information they receive from their BI/CRM solution by eliminating their internal IT vs. end user struggles allows your customers to:

  • Increase interactivity and effectiveness of the content delivered, enabling customers, partners and employees to get data views fast
  • Deliver richer, more relevant online information anywhere and to anyone-both inside and outside the firewall
  • Make building, deploying and managing RIAs straightforward and risk-free
  • Enable every user in the enterprise and beyond to access and experience increased flexibility and power

To take steps towards generating the rich information people want and have support the way end-users are currently working an organization has only three needs:

  • A full suite of BI reporting tools accessible within a single interface
  • On-demand enterprise information delivered via Web 2.0 technology in an intuitive, standards-based portal interface
  • Limitless data presentation formats and integration possibilities, including options for enterprise, SMBs and embedded deployments

The aforementioned “nuts and bolts” of a BI/CRM strategy for the Web 2.0 world is the foundation for enterprises to achieve the higher and what often seem simpler goals of leveraging vast amounts of customer information into data that they can apply simply into decision making.

Additionally, RIAs within the solution help ensure that the data generated is easy examine and relevant which of course will lead to an appropriate ROI.

The ability to transform flat, static applications into interactive web reports, dashboard portals and template-driven ad hoc reports enables any enterprise using CRM to go further than just an analysis of data. It can develop a plan for organizing, managing and using customer data.

Hence, customers receive the best possible perception of your company from the best possible interaction with your people, products and services.

Mark Coggins is Actuate Senior Vice President of Engineering and the company’s representative on the Eclipse Foundation board. He brings over 20 years of software development and product management experience to Actuate. Most recently, he was a vice president of engineering at VeriSign, where he was responsible for VeriSign’s core Public Key Infrastructure platform and associated applications. Prior to that, he was founding vice president of engineering of a start-up in the customer relationship marketing (CRM) space, later assuming responsibility for all product management and marketing activities as vice president of products.