While Web content management (WCM) systems are fast evolving as a focal point for managing and nourishing customer experience initiatives, integration challenges -- both technical and organizational -- are hampering companies’ ability to achieve that ever-elusive multichannel view of their customers.
Historically, different groups within organizations have used different systems to handle customer touch points and have done so in a mostly isolated manner, be it through website interaction, in-store retail systems or mobile devices. There often is little in the way of automated information exchanges between these siloed platforms, analysts say, and a minimal amount of collaboration and data sharing among the different functional groups, such as marketing or customer service, to help enable enterprisewide customer experience management.
With customers increasingly interacting with companies in multiple ways, this siloed setup is showing signs of strain.
“What’s precipitating the change is the realization that customers don’t see companies in channel silos,” said Stephen Powers, a principal analyst and research director at Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. “Rather, customers see a company as a single organization that they may interact with via the traditional Web one day or email the next. Unfortunately, the way we are set up today does not promote cross-channel context.”
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Recognizing the shift, some organizations are beginning to integrate technology platforms and reorganize to promote multichannel consistency and a 360-degree customer view. At the core of this strategy is integrating WCM tools with a range of complementary systems, including customer relationship management (CRM), analytics and marketing campaign management applications, and using WCM to support new online capabilities, such as website personalization and content targeting, user-generated content, social media apps and responsive website design for mobile devices.
Oracle is one of the vendors developing what it now calls a Web experience management platform, integrating its existing CRM and enterprise content management (ECM) technologies with others collected through partnerships and acquisitions. It took the Web experience management focus from FatWire Software, a WCM vendor it purchased last July.
“The need in the market has clearly evolved from Web content management to leveraging the Web to manage customer experience,” said Loren Weinberg, a former FatWire executive who now is vice president of product management and strategy for Oracle’s WebCenter product line. “There needs to be one set of content for management and deployment across channels.”
Integration challenges lie ahead
While the vision for this new Web-driven customer experience platform is clear, the integration challenges for supporting the concept are still a bit murky. Vendors have made some progress integrating their own technologies, but there is still a lot of work to do to create connections among the broader pool of WCM and CRM systems, as well as other applications with roles to play. Ready access to application programming interfaces (APIs), more robust development tool kits and additional packaged point-to-point integrations are necessary to enable companies to create comprehensive customer experience management capabilities, according to Powers and other analysts.
With so much in flux, companies should evaluate potential WCM systems and related applications with a focus on how vendors plan to achieve the required integration, said Kathleen Reidy, a senior analyst at The 451 Group in New York.
“You need to fully understand what the bigger set of capabilities will be for when you get to phase two,” Reidy said. That includes getting a grasp of a vendor’s long-term integration strategy and whether those plans specify building its own integrated suite or pursuing partnerships with other vendors, she added.
Alongside the technical integration challenges are organizational hurdles associated with getting different groups to collaborate. Because they each often use different systems that offer potentially different views of customers, there needs to be a higher-level executive driving the initiative to ensure that all of the groups get on the same page, analysts said. Some companies have created a new executive position -- director of customer experience, for example -- to elevate ownership of such initiatives, while others have shifted responsibility for the Web experience from individual business units or functions to a single group with responsibility for the soup-to-nuts online presence.
“You can always figure out the technicalities of this stuff, but success is usually predicated on organizational readiness,” said Scott Liewehr, a partner at consultancy Digital Clarity Group in New York. “There is no right or wrong way and there are no trails blazed yet.”
Beth Stackpole is a freelance writer who has been covering the intersection of technology and business for 25-plus years for a variety of trade and business publications and websites.