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October 31, 2018

Picking Sides in the Customer 360 War


Don’t look now but a war is shaping up among software giants to win the hearts and minds of consumers with big data and next-generation customer 360 analytics. Three separate groups, including Oracle CX Unity, the Open Data Initiative, and Salesforce’s Customer 360, have been created in the past month to build data-sharing ecosystems that streamline the gathering and analysis of customer data for sales and marketing purposes.

Customer 360 is not a new concept. Large corporations have been chasing – and finding some degrees of success with – the notion of centralizing all data about their customers as a way to drive greater understanding of their wants, needs, and concerns. These companies typically built customer 360 systems atop large MPP data warehouses that housed data originating from various applications, including ERP, CRM, and POS systems.

But times have changed, and those older approaches to customer 360 are giving way to newer systems that incorporate additional sources of data, including mobile devices, social media, and data from SaaS applications running on the cloud. New technologies have also emerged for storing and analyzing the data, including Hadoop and object-storage systems, as well as machine learning and cloud-based advanced analytic systems, like Amazon Redshift and Google BigQuery.

(L-R) Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and SAP CEO Bill McDermott unveil the ODI last month at the Microsoft Ignite conference

On September 24, Microsoft, SAP, and Adobe banded together to create the Open Data Initiative, which seeks to create a next-generation, cross-channel customer 360 initiative.

The ODI specifies a common data model (comprised of about 50 database schemas) that should help unite the vendor’s various products, including Adobe’s Experience Cloud and Experience Platform, Microsoft’s Dynamics 365, and SAP’s C/4HANA and S/4 HANA offerings. Microsoft is hoping customers will store their ODI data in its Azure data lake, and use AI and machine learning to

“CEOs are breaking down the silos of the status quo so they can get all people inside their companies focused on serving people outside their companies,” stated SAP CEO Bill McDermott in a press release. “With the Open Data Initiative, we will help businesses run with a true single view of the customer.”

ODI has the backing of Coca-Cola Company CIO Barry Simpson, who says an open data standard among these products will help to drive Coke’s digital growth plans in a GDPR-compliant manner. “The industry needs to follow these leaders,” Simpson stated in a press release.

Salesforce envisions using a single identifier across different clouds to enable customers to track individuals

A day later, Salesforce launched its own next-generation initiative, dubbed Salesforce Customer 360. Ron Pereira, the company’s senior director of product marketing, laid out the challenge and the opportunity in a blog post September 25, when he stated:

“In the world of B2C, Amazon defined connected, cross-channel experiences. You get product recommendations on the website and mobile app. After you order something, you get emails and SMS messages, confirming your order, giving you shipping updates and cross selling related products. If you have a support issue, you can create a case and an agent will have all of the context they need to quickly solve your issue…Amazon created these experiences with an army of engineers. But traditional retail, CPG, banking, government agency or pharma companies struggle to deliver this type of experience.”

Salesforce is hoping to give B2B companies that sort of Amazon-style experience with its new Customer 360 offering, which is currently in beta and will become generally available next year. In short, Salesforce’s Customer 360 will provide a centralized data pool for various Salesforce products across its marketing, commerce, and service clouds, as well as Pardot, CPQ, its health and financial services clouds, and the Lightning Platform.

What’s more, these applications and cloud services will share a common data model, called Standard and Custom Objects. Salesforce says that will give companies that use its product a single method for tracking customers across its various clouds and products, as well as to analyze the data using its Einstein Analytics offering.

Oracle’s CX Unity will unite various data and run in the cloud

Not to be outdone, Oracle unveiled its own next-gen customer 360 initiative, dubbed Oracle CX Unity offering at Oracle World last week. Like the others, Oracle CX Unity is designed to unite data from disparate applications and third-party sources into a single location and then bring the power of cloud-based AI and machine to deliver insights to sales, marketing, and support personnel.

Oracle is calling its Oracle CX Unity offering, which is slated to become available in the summer of 2019, a “data fabric” that’s adaptable to the changing whims of customers. By connecting data from across the organization, Oracle says the new offering will help increase sales, improve customer satisfaction, and grow customer lifetime value.

“Today’s consumers are fickle and nomadic, and as a result, data and insights are constantly in motion,” stated Oracle executive Rob Tarkoff in a press release. “That’s why we are taking a unique, data-first approach that can help brands eliminate their blind spots and make every customer interaction matter.”

The fact that three competing customer 360 initatives were launched in the space of one month is no coincidence, says Ramon Chen, the chief marketing officer of Reltio, which develops its own customer 360 software.

“It’s a bit of a land grab for mindshare that’s happening on the marketing side,” Chen tells Datanami. “These announcements are being made because market demand is there.”

However, Chen warns that, while the some of the offerings purport to be “open,” there is also the potential for vendors to develop some lock-in as well. The question is whether executives are willing to give up some future flexibility for the opportunity to make better sense of their data now.

“The weight of the world has spoken in terms of the demands on CIOs and CDOs who basically now see data as a strategic asset and want that to be governed,” Chen says. “So I think all of this is driving the players to take sides, marry a partner, form alliances. But it is adding to the confusion.”

Reltio is open to playing in any customer 360 initiative, including the ones sponsored by Salesforce, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, and Adobe. Chen maintains that Reltio provides a level of insulation from lock-in by providing its own data schemas and definitions, which customers can easily export in a JSON file format. While the Reltio product utilizes open source components like Hadoop and Cassandra, it is not open source itself, and it is not free.

Chen says there’s nothing stopping customers from bulling their own next-gen customer 360 system. “You can go buy whatever it is you want to put this stuff together,” Chen says. “You can go buy Hadoop or Cassandra, or license Elasticsearch, that Reltio has pre-integrated in order to deliver in a more efficient way. You can do this yourself, but it would be hard.”

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Inside JetBlue’s Silo-Busting Customer 360 Initiative