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Omnichannel data at core of new commerce offerings

SAP's Beyond CRM initiative and Salesforce's Commerce Cloud are going after customer data silos and trying to create a truly omnichannel picture.

While most companies know they need to bring data silos together to improve customer experience, they are struggling with how to do so. In response, some of the largest technology vendors are creating technologies that can bring together disparate pockets of customer data and give companies a more holistic view of their customers.

Most of these technologies aggregate data at the point of sale, in the commerce environment, when customers are browsing and buying. But, in fact, these technologies are designed to stitch together data from a variety of environments, including sales, marketing and service data, and combine that with customers' browsing behavior and purchasing histories.

Curiously, all major vendors are attempting to develop some omnichannel data technology as a point of differentiation from their competition. So, too, most of these technologies are quite new. There are several features to be ironed out before they can truly aggregate the data and provide a meaningful picture. Oracle has its Oracle Commerce Platform, SAP has Hybris/Beyond CRM and Salesforce has Commerce Cloud. These various platforms recognize that understanding customer behavior was previously the province of several siloed applications (sales, marketing and service), but they are hardly enough to flesh out a picture of customers that is in real time, up to date and accurate. Commerce apps that link online customer behavior with CRM and other apps are now the future.

For some companies, the backbone of this omnichannel data vision is artificial intelligence (AI). At this year's Dreamforce, Salesforce focused on the power of AI to redefine the way organizations sell and support their customers. Salesforce's new Einstein AI platform was presented as a panacea that can enable organizations to predict their customers' future needs and fulfill their preferences.

Only a year ago, Salesforce introduced the Wave Analytics Cloud, which it promised would have many of the same capabilities of today's Einstein. However, the company decided that analytics was last year's buzzword and decided that artificial intelligence is the term du jour. Now, Wave is being positioned as a tool to provide insights into an organization's past performance, and Einstein is the engine to forecast the future. Although Einstein focuses primarily on sales and marketing requirements, Salesforce also suggested that it will enhance its services, internet of things, healthcare and other cloud offerings in the future.

While Salesforce can paint a coherent picture of the future, its vision is always well ahead of its ability to fulfill its promises. Every Salesforce executive I spoke with at Dreamforce admitted that it will be some time before Einstein becomes available. And every partner admitted that it didn't expect to build technologies on Einstein anytime soon. But this didn't upset or offend the customers I spoke with, because they also conceded that they aren't ready to adopt Einstein until they have developed the skills and business processes to capitalize on its capabilities. They also recognize that it will take significant data integration to make it work effectively. So, Salesforce's systems integration partners are the most likely to benefit from Einstein when it becomes a reality.

SAP Hybris customers, partners and executives readily admitted that migrating to the company's latest cloud technologies isn't easy.

Meanwhile, for about a year, SAP Hybris has promoted its commerce technology, Beyond CRM technology, and SAP Hybris offerings, including Marketing and Commerce. Beyond CRM has a counterpart in Salesforce's Commerce Cloud, combined with other Salesforce clouds and Oracle Commerce Platform. The company believes today's omnichannel data world requires a more integrated approach to customer engagement that extends throughout the five disciplines of commerce, billing, marketing, service and sales.

SAP Hybris boasts that it now has a unified cloud-based platform to break down traditional front-office silos. It has rolled out a Hybris-as-a-service (YaaS) development environment that enables customers and partners to create interchangeable microservices, which permits faster and more economical application development and deployment via the cloud. I spoke with several partners who believe SAP Hybris' YaaS microservices capabilities are unique and will benefit them and their customers.

Although SAP Hybris' Customer Summit drew only some 1,000 attendees, it was approximately twice as many as a year earlier. The company also announced that it had won its 1,000th customer prior to the event and experienced 73% year-over-year growth in its most recent fiscal quarter. The energy associated with this momentum was clear among the customers, partners and SAP Hybris executives attending the Summit.

In various candid presentations, SAP Hybris customers, partners and executives readily admitted that migrating to the company's latest cloud technologies isn't easy. They openly discussed the organizational and technical challenges that emerge when a company moves to a new platform and changes business processes. But the customers and partners didn't blame  SAP Hybris for these problems. Instead, they praised the SAP Hybris team for helping them achieve business objectives.

Nearly every industry survey indicates that migrating to the cloud can produce measurable business benefits. Salesforce has promoted the business value of these benefits, and equally valuable, SAP Hybris is identifying the real-world challenges associated with attaining the business benefits.

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