Ventana Research Analyst Perspectives provide unique fact-based insights and education on business, industry and technology vendor trends. Each Analyst Perspective presents the voice of the analyst, typically a practice leader and established subject matter expert,  reporting on new developments, the findings of benchmark research, market shifts and best practice insights. Each Analyst Perspective is prepared in accordance with Ventana Research’s strict standards for accuracy and objectivity and reviewed to ensure it delivers reliable, actionable news and insights.  

IBM Brings Sophistication to Customer Analytics and Prediction

During recent IBM analyst big data event, I learned about a new product, IBM Predictive Customer Intelligence. It extracts and processes customer-related data from multiple sources to analyze customer-related activities and has capabilities to predict customer behavior and actions. Predictive Customer Intelligence is built on IBM’s big data platform and supports extraction and integration of data from multiple sources, internal and external, and from structured and unstructured data. It can process data created by third-party products, such as text-based files of data created by converting speech to text. The product can capture and analyze customer interactions from multiple communication channels such as voice, email, text messages, chat and Web usage scripts and social media posts.

Predictive Customer Intelligence has four primary modules, for predictive modeling, reporting, real-time scoring and a real-time analytics data repository, which are connected by the IBM Integration Bus. These modules support a predefined process in which users build models from customer data stored in analytics real-time customer database and use them or predefined models to run real-time analysis against the customer data and produce scores, recommendations, reports and dashboards related to customer activities. The outputs can be delivered through a variety of channels such as outbound email, direct mail or text message. This can help contact center agents provide personalized and contextualized responses to customers’ questions. Other outputs can be used to produce targeted marketing campaigns or to respond to customer interactions through other communications channels.

vr_NGCE_Research_08_all_channels_for_customer_engagementMy benchmark research into next-generation customer analytics shows a need for such a product because companies have up to 21 potential sources of customer data. These include transactional business applications such as CRM and ERP, customer data warehouses, spreadsheets, call recordings and text-based files containing content from email, forms, letters, text messages, chat scripts, Web scripts and social media posts. All of these not only contain valuable customer information but also interaction data from which companies need to derive insights into customers’ feelings about products and services and other aspects of the business. The research shows companies have difficulty in extracting value from this data, partially because on average they use only six sources of customer data in their customer analytics. Interaction data is especially problematic because most of it is unstructured and requires tools that can automatically access and extract insights from them; few companies have such tools. This situation also is becoming more complex, as my benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows: Companies are supporting more channels of interaction and expect volumes of interactions to grow in every channel as our research shows up to 17 channels in play.

IBM Predictive Customer Intelligence has capabilities that can help companies meet these challenges. However, a close look reveals that it is not one but 10 individual products (not including three connectors) packaged together. Organizations therefore need to understand the cost and operational impact of managing and use these products.

At the big data analytics event, Frank Theisen (IBM VP of front-office transformation for Europe) summed up the information challenges companies face; they need to know:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What can be learned?
  • What action should be taken?
  • What could happen in the future?

Ventana Research believes that big data analytics can answer these questions. vr_Customer_Analytics_03_key_benefits_of_customer_analyticsFor example, my benchmark into next-generation customer analytics shows that one-quarter (26%) of companies have deployed a dedicated customer analytics product and have found it has helped them improve the customer experience and their analysis of business performance. More generally my colleague Tony Cosentino wrote about three Ws that are key: What data you have, what information you want to derive from data, and what action should be taken as a result of insights gained from it. Once you can answer these questions you can decide which analytics product best fits your requirements.

IBM focuses intensively on its technology sometimes to the extent of obscuring the business applications of those systems. One prime example is that more and more IBM big data products are moving to the direction of IBM Watson and methods of cognitive computing. Basically Watson is a platform that can search very large volumes of information to deliver insights from the data by use of natural language, and it is smart in that it learns as it searches, so that future answers are more refined and targeted to the questions asked. Such capabilities are particularly useful for analyzing the very large volumes of customer interaction data companies accumulate; they help identify trends, hot issues and focused information to help personalize responses and put them in the context of an overall customer relationship.

Our next-generation customer analytics benchmark research shows usability is the top priority for selecting analytics software: 64 percent of companies said it is very important. To provide it vendors should support point-and-click access to information on mobile devices and visual ways of showing the results of analytics. One case study IBM used during the day illustrated this; the user collects a vast array of data, integrates it and delivers analysis in visual formats on Apple iPads. This is well-suited for assisting customer-related activities that happen in real time (such as phone calls) where users need instant access to up-to-date information in forms they can understand immediately.

Companies already have huge amounts of customer-related data, and if you factor in the increasing volume of electronic communications, social media and the coming Internet of Things, this need will grow more acute. IBM has a variety of analytic products and is developing more. The challenge is to figure out which IBM products can best process what data and produce the required information and insights to drive decisions and action. Predictive Customer Intelligence and IBM’s other big data analytics are worth considering in organizations’ efforts to improve understanding of customers and their experiences.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director


NetSuite Rides Wave of Cloud ERP Adoption

Like other vendors of cloud-based ERP software, NetSuite offers the key benefits of software as a service (SaaS): a smaller upfront investment, faster time to value and potentially lower operating costs. Beyond that NetSuite’s essential point of competitive differentiation from is broad functionality beyond financial management, including capabilities for customer relationship management (CRM), professional services automation (PSA) and human capital management (HCM). These components make it easier for businesses to manage processes from end to end (such as quote- or order-to-cash) as well as to have transactions and business data available in a single system in consistent forms and synchronized. This in turn facilitates real-time reporting, dashboards and the use of analytics that integrate a wider set of functional data. Midsize companies are most likely to benefit from this integration because typically they have smaller, less sophisticated IT staffs than larger ones. A side benefit of having a single, integrated data source is improvement of situational awareness and visibility for executives and managers. It also enables organizations to reduce their use of spreadsheets for stitching together processes, doing routine analyses and reporting. These sorts of activities waste valuable time and reduce an organization’s agility.

vr_Office_of_Finance_01_ERP_replacementThis year SuiteWorld (NetSuite’s fourth annual user conference) was attended by some 6,500 people. This number as well as the company’s $500 million in projected revenues are evidence that cloud-based ERP has become mainstream. Yet cloud deployments still have a limited share of the total ERP market and an even smaller share of the installed base. One reason is the ongoing (albeit diminishing) reluctance of finance organizations to use the cloud for mission-critical and data-sensitive tasks. The other is the slow replacement cycle for these major systems. Deploying any ERP system is time-consuming and expensive, so corporations prefer to change them only when the situation is urgent. Our forthcoming benchmark research on the Office of Finance shows that companies of all sizes are replacing their systems at a slower pace than before: The average age of an ERP system today is 6.4 years compared to 5.1 years a decade ago.

Companies that deploy their ERP system using a SaaS vendor can achieve faster time to value in part because they do not have to deal with hardware and software integration issues. Those that opt for a multitenant cloud approach can support their business needs without having to customize their ERP system, which is frequently the cause of very long deployment times. The challenge facing NetSuite and other ERP vendors with SaaS offerings is enabling more businesses to configure a range of elements so that the system meets the specific needs of their company and industry. Moreover, the next generation of ERP – the core financials, manufacturing, operations and distribution – must enable line-of-business people to modify the system to adapt to changing business environments and adjust business processes to reflect evolving internal requirements and adoption of new management methods.

vr_ERPI_01_implementing_new_capabilities_in_erpNetSuite’s new SuiteGL moves in this direction. In our research on ERP innovation only 21 percent of large companies said it is easy or very easy to implement new capabilities in ERP systems, and one-third characterized it as difficult. Because of this, the current generation of ERP software is a barrier to innovation and improvement. To be sure, the initial configuration of and major modifications to a new ERP system almost always require a mix of external consulting, internal IT and business people to achieve the best outcome. But even here software vendors must radically reduce the system’s setup cost. Today, the cost of implementation can be up to five times the cost of the software license. In the future, companies must be able to do this at a fraction of that. Cloud-based systems can enable these kinds of savings if managed properly and using the right set of applications.

At SuiteWorld, company executives pointed to a growing list of large customers. Partly for bombast but also to inspire buyer confidence, software vendors that sell to midsize businesses tout their larger customers even though these corporations almost always are buying the product for midsize business units. Since the 1990s, many larger entities have used a two-tier ERP strategy. That is, they buy a system designed for midsize companies because it would be too difficult or costly to implement and maintain their core ERP software at these locations. Cloud ERP is suited to tier-two use. Often, it is an attractive option because it requires no on-site servers or software that requiring maintenance and upgrades. Cloud-based systems make it easier to maintain financial and IT controls such as separation of duties and IT security but require integration at process and data levels to operate efficiently.

NetSuite also has incorporated the professional services automation (PSA) capabilities that it acquired in 2008 with OpenAir. Its Services Resource Planning is geared to professional services organizations such as consultants, engineers or architects as well as the professional services arms of larger organizations that can benefit from automating project management, resources management or time and cost accounting. In the past, relatively few professional services firms embraced a high level of automation in managing their business, partly because of the difficulty of implementing and managing on-premises software. Because they eliminate this aspect of software ownership, cloud-based systems work well for these types of organizations. Also, cloud systems are a more natural fit for the mobile nature of professional services business since the revenue-generating assets are professionals who are rarely in the office.

Since ERP systems require deep functional and technical expertise to configure and implement, good channel partners are essential to the success of any software vendor. NetSuite’s channel efforts are gathering momentum, including accounting and audit firms with technology practices, specialized ERP resellers and business process outsourcing consultants. The ecosystem is growing, too, with application partners such as Kyriba for treasury management (which was awarded our Technology Innovation Award and received NetSuite’s Partner of the Year award in 2014), and Coupa for spend management and electronic procurement. It also expanded its HRMS and talent management offering with the acquisition of TribeHR that helps human resources professionals. Gaining integration with NetSuite cuts the cost of implementation and ongoing maintenance in these and other areas as well as speeding time to value.

There are a couple of areas, though, where NetSuite needs to enhance its capabilities. Social media has quickly evolved from the one-to-many broadcast style of Facebook and Twitter to include options that enable specific, permissioned groups to easily communicate while retaining a record of these communications. NetSuite has some capabilities in this area but in particular it needs to concentrate on meeting the needs of people working in finance and accounting. As I’ve noted, finance organizations are social, but broadcast-style communications often is not appropriate. Groups may be broadly defined (say, everyone in accounting) or more narrowly focused (just those working on the close) or established for a specific project. These systems work best when functionality automatically adjusts to the context of the work the individual is performing. It should “know” when the individual is engaged in the accounting close, budgeting, billing and so on.

From the start NetSuite provided users with basic dashboard functionality to monitor the status of their part of the business. These capabilities have been updated in the current release of the NetSuite platform. While the improvements are necessary, greater investment must be made in enhancing its analytics and reporting. Facilitating the use of more effective analytics would also be useful, especially since its system captures a broad range of financial and operational data in real time in a single store or might need to be shared with other systems. NetSuite has a strategic relationship with Birst, a cloud-based vendor of analytics and business intelligence software, which offers Birst Express for NetSuite. Our most recent Mobile BI Value Index rated Birst as a Warm vendor – that is, it meets basic requirements well but does not offer the full range of available capabilities across smartphones and tablets and range of mobile technology platform providers.

Many companies are finding that cloud-based ERP has advantages. Not only can it have initial and ongoing cost savings and faster time to value, it eliminates the need to devote IT resources to what is a commodity-like operation and is better suited to many businesses with remote and multisite operations. Many will require integration to other business applications that could be on-premises or cloud-based ones that might require data or notification of completion. NetSuite also has functionality that supports the needs of businesses that make or distribute physical goods, which is more difficult to create than services. And cloud-based ERP is an option that any rapidly growing small business or a smaller midsize company (that is, one with 100 to 200 employees) should evaluate if its entry-level accounting software is not able to provide capabilities to manage the business effectively.

Regards,

Robert Kugel – SVP Research


Roambi Goes Android and Box for Mobile BI

VRMobileBIVI_HotVendorMobility continues to be a hot adoption area in business intelligence, according to our research across analytics and line of business departments. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of organizations said their mobile workforce would be able to access BI capabilities in the next 12 months according to our next generation mobile business intelligence research. Roambi, a provider of mobile business intelligence applications, has made important strides this year after moving to deploying its products in the cloud, an event that I covered previously. Roambi is rated as one of the top providers of mobile business intelligence or what we refer to as a ‘Hot Vendor’ according to our Value Index.

Earlier this year, Roambi announced a partnership with Box, which offers cloud-based data storage and file sharing. More recently it began to catch up with the market by announcing support for the Android mobile operating system. Roambi has focused on the mobile BI market from its inception, first by building on the Apple iPhone’s small screen and then progressing to support the majority of mobile devices in corporations today.

The Box partnership, announced in March, enables joint Box and Roambi customers to visualize and interact with data stored on the Box file sharing system. Specifically, users are able to sync Roambi Analytics, the company’s visualization engine, and Roambi Flow, its storyboarding capability, with Box. The integration allows fast importation of Box source files and the ability to create and share interactive reports through Roambi Analytics and to create digital magazines and content through Roambi Flow. Data can be automatically refreshed in real time via Box Sync.

This partnership serves both companies since the coupled service provide users with expanded capabilities and little overlap. Box’s rapid growth is being driven by its ease of use, open platform and cloud approach to file sharing. Thisis a natural platform for Roambi to build on and expand its customer base. For Box, Roambi’s dynamic visualization and a collaboration capabilities address its business customers’ needs and increase its market opportunities. In our benchmark research on information optimization 83 percent of organizations said it is important to have components that provide interactive capabilities to support presentation of information.

Roambi also works with other application vendors in the CRM and ERP market to integrate their applications. The same research shows that CRM (for 45%) and ERP (38%) are important types to integrate with others especially in areas such as sales and customer service. Apple’s recent announcement of a new SDK, should facilitate process integration between software systems so that, for example, users can access and navigate applications such as those from Box and Roambi and transactional applications such as CRM and ERP in a single workflow. This capability can provide further usability advantages for Roambi, which scored the highest rating in this area in our Mobile Business Intelligence Value Index.

Roambi announced its mobile BI support for the Google Android mobile operating system that operates across a wide range of those smartphone and tablet technologies. It had delayed its development of its software on the Android platform, which required significant development resources and investment but was part of its strategy to maximize its business potential and relationship with Apple. The release are available at the Google Play store . The initial version will include four of Roambi’s most popular views: Card, Catalist, Layers and Superlist. Similar to its application for the Apple platform, security features for Android include Device Lockout, Remote Wipe and Application Passcode. Integration with Roambi’s partner Okta provides identity management services and gives access to any applications supported by Okta. Integration includes Active Directory (AD) and lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP). While Roambi Flow will not be available on Android out of the gate, the company says it will be becoming available by the end of 2014.

Current approaches to mobile business intelligence applications on the market include native, Web-based and hybrid (a combination of both). We compare these approaches in detail in the executive summary of our Mobile Business Intelligence Value Index report.With the new Android support, Roambi has a unique approach to the hybrid architecture that bypasses the browser completely. There is no data cached in a browser and in fact the data is loaded directly to the device and rendered through Roambi natively on the device.  From the user’s perspective, the benefit of this approach is performance since interactivity does not rely on data traveling over a network. A second benefit is offline access to data, which is not available via non-native approaches. From the developer’s or information assembler perspective, testing across browsers is not needed since there is no data caching and the experience is the same regardless of browser in use.

vr_Info_Optimization_16_information_software_evaluation_criteriaOur next-generation business intelligence research shows that executives strongly support mobile BI: Nearly half of them said that mobility is very important to their BI processes. Executives also favor Apple over Android devices which is likely one of the key reasons for Apple’s dominance in the current business intelligence landscape. However our research shows latent demand for Android devices in the business intelligence market and given the dominance of Android in the consumer market as well as dominance in places like Asia and other emerging markets, any company that seeks to take significant global market share will need support for both platforms. Our information optimization research fond Google Android as second in smartphone platform (24%) behind Apple iPhone (59%) as first ranked position. Therefore, Android support is an important evolution for Roambi in order to address an increasing demand in the market for Android devices.

Usability has become the most important evaluation criteria and in the information optimization benchmark research was selected as most important to over half (58%) of organizations. Roambi ranked as the highest in usability in the Ventana Research Mobile Business Intelligence Value Index, though its overall score was hampered somewhat by the lack of support for Android. With Android support, the company now addresses the need for multiple and the so called bring your own device (BYOD) to work methods now becoming more prevalent and allowed by organizations. By addressing this as well as taking advantages of broader market developments such as the new Apple SDKs, Roambi continues to address what organizations find important today. Usability of business intelligence systems is a top priority for 63% of companies. Even our big data analytics research finds a growing level of overall importance for mobile access in almost half of organizations (46%).  Any company that wants to get a user friendly business intelligence into the hands of its mobile workers quickly and effectively should have Roambi in the consideration set.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director


 

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