All posts in “Entrepreneurship”

Accenture, SAP Plot One CX Platform for All

Accenture Interactive and SAP Hybris on Wednesday announced a partnership to create a new platform that will let users build and curate end-to-end contextual, personalized customer experiences — from marketing, e-commerce and offline shopping to customer service and loyalty management.

The joint platform will target B2C and B2B firms in retail, telecommunications and resources.

It will help companies

  • discover aspects of their commerce offering that impact the customer experience;
  • identify the impact of their current technology on the way people experience their brands, offerings and services; and
  • act quickly upon insights using the platform’s capability to create, launch and harmonize experiences across channels that drive tangible business outcomes.

“Personalized experiences for customers across all aspects of their interaction with a company are a big challenge for many companies, particularly those that have disconnected sales, service and marketing arms,” noted Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus Research.

“We’ve found that disconnected data sources and silos are one of the biggest challenges companies face in advancing their customer experience goals,” she told CRM Buyer.

Accenture Interactive has conducted pilot projects with retail clients using an early-stage version of the platform, and initial results indicate sales have increased by up to 30 percent; operational costs have declined by as much as 25 percent; and ROI soared up to 700 percent.

“There are good pilots in place, and the experiences are compelling,” observed Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

However, “the challenge is the work it takes to orchestrate all these touchpoints,” he told CRM Buyer, “and, more importantly, implement digital marketing techniques along key metrics — attribution, conversion rate optimization, lead scoring and SEO, among others.”

Constituents of the New Platform

The joint platform will combine several proven, proprietary B2C and B2B commerce applications: SAP Hybris solutions; solutions built on SAP’s Leonardo technology; and Accenture Interactive’s data-driven personalization solutions.

Its functions will include customer analytics, content management,user experience design, marketing, customer service, omnichannel management and personalization.

“There’s a lot to build out in Leonardo for it to support all the requirements of modern commerce organizations,” Wang said.

The platform will use existing client applications and point solutions, integrating with them as necessary.

The key is “not just how SAP and Accenture can accelerate the delivery of solutions for customers, but how they can deliver solutions that can be flexible enough to adapt as consumer preferences and competitive challenges evolve,” Nucleus’ Wettemann pointed out.

“For customers in a cloud world, expectations are of rapid deployment timelines and a more iterative, rather than big-bang, approach,” she cautioned.

Granular Microservices

The joint platform will give future customers a highly targeted consumer microservices platform called “SAP Hybris as a Service,” aka “YaaS,” observed Holger Mueller, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

YaaS will let users “compose their e-commerce solutions as needed for differentiation in the marketplaces,” he told CRM Buyer.

“Being able to reuse granular microservices in a PaaS environment that are also used in a SaaS platform such as SAP Hybris is valuable for enterprises, as these microservices see more uptake than, for example, a pure platform API,” Mueller pointed out.

Competition Coming

The main competition for the Accenture SAP Hybris offering comes from Salesforce through its Demandware tie-in, and from Oracle through ATG (Oracle’s Web Commerce platform), Wang said.

“Some level of competition comes from IBM Interactive, which does a lot of custom work on both IBM software and other tools,” he added.

Constellation “expects to see more deals like this over the next 12 to 18 months,” Wang predicted. “Organizations like Deloitte, Sapient Razorfish and IBM Interactive are the front end for many of these deals. Software vendors in commerce, marketing and experience are looking to stringent partnerships with design agencies and creative organizations.”


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

New Tools Offer Wholesale Distributors Fast Track to E-Commerce

Epicor this week released Epicor Commerce Connect, a cloud-based application designed to help wholesale distributors quickly deploy e-commerce sites that will automate many of the functions to move product to their customers.

The Commerce Connect software is now available for Epicor Eclipse, a cloud-based platform geared toward helping companies deploy rich B2B and B2C solutions to drive efficiencies along their distribution chain.

“Today e-commerce is more than adding an online store to a website,” said Sanjay Kumar, vice president of product management at the company. “It has become a powerful functionality that supports key business goals for today’s digital distributor, such as increased productivity, growth and differentiation.”

The Epicor platform provides a complete B2B and B2C solution based on the Magento open source platform, the company noted, which means users can make modifications and add applications over time without being locked into a single vendor ecosystem.

Out of the Box

ECC for Eclipse provides a toolset that includes everything from pricing to customer account management, to bulk order, order and re-order functionality, to marketing. B2C tools include account history, invoices, payments, returns, wish list, order status and other information.

Epicor Eclipse is a leading e-commerce platform for companies in the HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and pipe, valves and fitting (PVF) industries.

Epicor Commerce Connect currently runs on Prophet 21, a cloud or on-premises enterprise resource planning solution that Epicor launched on Eclipse on Monday, said company spokesperson Katie Chubb.

Customers either would have to be on Eclipse or Prophet 21 in order to use Commerce Connect, she told the E-Commerce Times.

Since implementing the Epicor Eclipse product, ABR Wholesalers, one of several companies that beta tested the Eclipse solution, has seen business with online customers double nearly every month, said Rick Black, vice president of e-commerce and product management.

Easy Interactions

“The consumer user experience has driven some traditional industries to incorporate e-commerce as a key part of their digital transformation strategy,” noted Cindy Zhou, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“I’m seeing more B2B2C use cases where manufacturers and wholesalers are using e-commerce platforms to not only sell to their distributors and resellers, but in many cases direct to consumers,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Cloud-based tools like Commerce Connect have become important for business users, observed Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

It’s essential for these software tools to interact easily with each other, he told the E-Commerce Times.

“Often companies end up with a collision of business solutions that are difficult to connect, and once they finally work — however badly that may be — businesses are hesitant to make changes for fear of going through the difficult process again,” McGregor explained.

A key reason why companies look to cloud service providers is to offer a “complete suite of business solutions” that work while offering enough flexibility to grow with a business as it expands.

New CEO

The ECC for Eclipse rollout is one of the first major releases since Epicor named former OpenText President Stephen Murphy as its new CEO. He will succeed Joe Cowan, who is retiring at the end of October.

Landing Murphy will prove to be a significant plus for the company, said R. Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

Commerce is key, as both CRM and CX are dead, Wang told the E-Commerce Times.

Marketing, sales and customer service really don’t matter unless you have conversion rate optimization, he said, adding that “commerce gives you that.”

Murphy will help drive a new sales perspective, Wang said. He’ll put a fresh face on the company and grow market awareness.


David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.

Helpshift VP Tushar Makhija: Not All Customers Will Help You Make Money

Tushar Makhija is vice president of revenue at Helpshift.

In this exclusive interview, Makhija underscores the importance of establishing effective ways to connect with customers.

 Helpshift VP of
Revenue Tushar Makhija

Helpshift VP of
Revenue
Tushar Makhija

CRM Buyer: Why is in-app support an important thing for good customer service and CRM?

Tushar Makhija:

It’s about the experience. As services are getting more and more mobile, service needs to get mobile as well. If you look at customer service over the last 10 to 15 years, first it was all about average handling time. If you grew quickly as a business, you needed to stack up a call center.

The next five to six years were all about self-service, so technology started building up. Today, it is not about time-to-resolution or handling time. It is all about the time-to-cure. That is, how quickly can you identify the problem and stop it from becoming a big problem?

You need a fully integrated system, and you have to make sure that problems do not spread. New systems have to come in that are integrated, predictive and proactive, in order to mitigate the problem before it expands. That’s why in-app support is more important.

CRM Buyer: What makes for effective in-app, mobile support?

Makhija: The technology must have the capability to collect relevant contextual information so businesses can make more informed decisions. If you’re about to make a purchase and the checkout is not working, there should be something that says, ‘here is a help article to see if you can find a remedy.’

If that’s not helpful, there should be other options. The first step is listening to the signals. The next part is, if you do connect with an agent, that agent has a 360-degree view of the customer so they resolve the problem immediately. Speed-to-resolution is going to be the No. 1 metric.

CRM Buyer: What does it mean for customer support to be proactive, and why is proactivity important?

Makhija: To begin with, many of the barriers of entry for creating a successful business have been removed. Now, it’s not about having the biggest store, but about having the most beautiful app — and it’s about how you deliver the mobile, in-app experience.

Proactive customer service will result in happier customers and retention. From a top-line perspective, the cost of acquisition of a mobile customer is very high, and if you do acquire that customer, you have to keep that customer.

Then, there has to be a good experience in the mobile app and in the customer service department. When there is a breach of experience in the app, the support team is ready to help. That’s why being proactive is important. You embed help in that experience. You say, ‘it seems like there is a problem. How can we help?’ That will mitigate the problem before it becomes a big issue.

CRM Buyer: How can this kind of support be especially effective in the gaming industry?

Makhija: Mobile gaming has been the early adopter on mobile. It also created a new economy where you could take a creative product to market and suddenly acquire millions of users. With those millions of users came this unique problem that not all of those players are going to help you make money.

I can play a game for an entire lifetime and not spend a dollar in the game. A small percentage of the players are actually paying for in-app purchases, and you want to make sure that you give the best service to those customers, your VIPs — but there is a good possibility that given the right environment, you can push other players into the VIP level.

There are always going to be players who are free, and there is always the top 1 percent. What about the people in the middle? This is a level of people who might graduate from free to pay. That will happen if they continue playing the game and get good service.

CRM Buyer: What’s in the future for the field of in-app customer service? How is it evolving and changing?

Makhija: It is heating up now. I was at a conference recently, and mobile messaging and mobile self-service are No. 1 on the radar.
Awareness has increased, and enterprises are taking a look at it. Everybody is opening up to use this technology in various ways.

AI is going to play a big role in making self-service and problem-solving more human. It’s going to become more and more efficient and humanized. I don’t see AI making the customer service agent obsolete, but I do think it will make the agent more efficient and happier.

The customer service agent will be able to see the entire workflow, and they won’t be trying to solve small problems, but actually making a connection.


Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety
of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists.
Email Vivian.

Evolution of the 4th Utility: Fixed Broadband

In-home broadband has become “the fourth utility” in United States households, many of which have multiple connected devices and viewing screens. More than 85 percent of U.S. homes have broadband service, according to Parks Associates, 93 percent of those have DSL, fiber or cable high-speed, fixed-line Internet services.

The demand for high-speed fixed broadband is a key contributor to ongoing revenue and profitability for operators, particularly due to declines in pay-TV and landline voice subscribers.

The competitive market has changed vastly over the past two years, as have the services available. AT&T acquired DirecTV and launched an online pay-TV service (DirecTV Now) that it bundles with broadband, satellite TV and mobile.

Charter acquired TWC and Bright House to become Spectrum, which serves roughly 30 percent of the U.S. residential fixed broadband market — about 23 million consumers, similar to the size of Comcast’s customer base. Google halted expansion of its fiber service late last year after disrupting and accelerating broadband competition across the U.S. landscape.

Streaming Services

The way people use broadband also has changed. Over-the-top streaming services are a key part of home entertainment. Music streaming is seen as a source of new hope for the struggling music industry, and subscriptions to OTT video services have become the norm. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and CBS All Access offer high-quality original content exclusively for distribution online through their services.

Operators and device makers have partnered with OTT video services, seeking to leverage their brands and popularity to drive uptake of higher broadband speeds and connected consumer electronics.


chart of most commonly used connected in-home entertainment device

For example, Consolidated Communications recently announced a partnership to offer HBO Now along with its broadband services, providing an alternative to the traditional double-play bundle. These types of partnerships will become increasingly common as operators and OTT services both adapt to the new consumer entertainment marketplace.

Despite the demand for data, some fixed-line operators fear the possibility of consumers turning to their smartphones and cellular plans for home Internet connectivity. One-half of U.S. consumers with fixed home broadband also use their smartphones or tablets to connect to 3G or 4G at home, according to Parks Associates.

Fixed Advantages

However, fixed broadband has several key advantages over wireless data services that keep consumers from completely cutting the broadband cord:

  • Cost — Compared to fixed home broadband’s average cost, mobile data is much more expensive on a price-per-bit basis. In fact, costs can be as much as 70 times more expensive, depending on the plans and monthly data allowances selected.

    In some cases, fixed home broadband providers do not have a data limit, leading to fixed broadband’s “all-you-can-eat” pricing model that further increases the service’s effective usage value. Fixed home broadband also minimizes mobile data costs, providing consumers with low cost connectivity for in-home mobile traffic.

  • Speed and latency — Mobile data services provide consumers with the convenience of having data on-the-go but often lack the high speeds and low latency available via fixed networks. Many consumers are aware of this gap, particularly in the use of applications that require high bandwidth or low latency, including file downloads (or uploads), online video games, and video streaming.

    chart of average latency by network type

    Mobile Internet network quality has improved, but mobile Internet averages latency that is 50 percent more laggy than DSL, the slowest fixed broadband connection technology. This performance difference often is the deciding factor in determining which data network, and devices, consumers opt to use.

    Meanwhile, use cases for mobile often require lower levels of data network performance than use cases for devices that typically use a fixed broadband connection. For example, only 20 percent of broadband households stream TV and movie content on a smartphone from OTT services like Netflix or Hulu, according to Parks Associates consumer research, while 51 percent stream this long form content to their TVs and 38 percent stream to their PCs.

  • Connected devices — Home broadband allows a large number of consumer entertainment devices to be connected to the Internet simultaneously, while performing high-bandwidth activities.

    As of early 2017, U.S. broadband households owned an average of eight connected devices, including computing, entertainment and mobile devices. Penetration of computers among U.S. households stands at 87 percent, including both laptops and desktops, Parks Associates reported.

    Beyond general data use (email and browsing), computers are a leading platform for video streaming and for downloading large files, two use cases that demand high-bandwidth connections. Adoption of other home entertainment devices, including smart TVs and streaming media players, has increased, and they have become the devices used most often for connected in-home entertainment.

    Fixed home broadband is essential to smart home devices and the Internet of Things.

    “You can’t have a smart home without seamless connectivity,” said Miles Kingston, general manager of the smart home group at Intel, during Connections 2017.

    Most smart home devices are built to connect with smartphones and other devices. To fully integrate these devices, there is a requirement for a capable network that can connect multiple devices simultaneously. For this reason, broadband is the first functional foundation for connected home devices, due to its cost effectiveness and reliability.

  • Data limits — More than half of mobile or wireless Internet traffic in 2016 came from video streaming (Ericsson Mobility Report June 2017), and consumers increasingly depend on fixed-line home broadband for this use case. High bandwidth use, particularly for 4K video via services like Netflix or Hulu, can burn through significant amounts of data quickly, which is a problem for services that impose relatively low data limits.

    Though unlimited mobile data plans are becoming more common, many carriers implement mechanisms to throttle down throughput over a specified threshold of speed or data capacity.

    While mobile data may not be an adequate substitute for all consumers, fixed broadband is not without its disadvantages. Cost is a leading reason for consumers to go without fixed broadband and rely exclusively on mobile data. As consumers start to look more deeply at their household expenses, cost considerations will go beyond subscription fees.

    Fixed home broadband requires customer premises equipment, or CPE, for in-home access. Unlike a mobile device, which is multifunctional and owned by the consumer, most fixed-broadband CPE in the U.S. market is owned by the operator, rented to the user, and serves only one purpose, which would make it a prime target for households looking to cut expenses.

    Parks Associates does not foresee consumers abandoning fixed broadband for mobile data services en masse, but in this environment of extreme competition, operators cannot afford to overlook these threats.

Working in Tandem

Mobile service providers will push their advantages, which includes a direct connection to consumers through their smartphones. Mobile services have begun positioning fifth-generation (“5G”) wireless technologies to compete against wireline technologies, which will give more options to consumers and put more pressure on fixed-broadband operators to innovate in order to retain their customers.

Fixed-line operators will protect their fixed-line revenues by increasing throughput, innovating in their CPE, reducing costs, and expanding coverage of their fiber deployments. There already is some evidence of this, with both fixed broadband providers and mobile data providers seeking new ways to add value to their services, such as free WiFi hotspots and zero-rating for online video streaming from associated OTT services.

They also will explore new areas, notably rural and underserved areas in the U.S. where fixed wireless technologies could be the best solutions for last-mile connectivity.

Though some substitution may occur, fixed-line and mobile data will continue to work in tandem to address consumers’ insatiable data needs. Fixed-line operators will benefit from wireless technologies in several ways over the next few years to drive improved satisfaction and greater revenues, further solidifying their position as valued providers of reliable data connections.


Brett Sappington is senior research director at
Parks Associates.

Salesforce’s IoT Strategy

Salesforce is a large and well-disciplined development company. It’s pretty good at marketing too. It continues to innovate in all product areas, from core platform to applications, and the one criticism I’d make is that it’s information overload at times. Reminds me of Oracle.

Lately Salesforce has made a big deal of adding its AI product, Einstein, to every application area to provide insights and stack rank options. Given that this is Einstein’s first year, it’s not surprising that the foundational layer looks similar across all of Salesforce’s disciplines.

In cloud after cloud, we see some version of next best… . I expect that we might see examples of this at Dreamforce.

Fast App Development

Back to discipline. Salesforce has been paying a good deal of attention to the applications level these days, in addition to spiffing up its platform. It’s noticeable in banking and finance, as well as in the Internet of Things, but the differences in approach are what’s most interesting.

The company’s IoT approach is very different from what it has been doing in finance. Salesforce recently announced IoT Explorer and the ability to develop IoT applications quickly. App-building tools are a part of the platform. It’s not much of a surprise that more agile development is coming to IoT, but it reveals an interesting take on company strategy.

IoT has a lot of moving parts right now, and the natural inclination for some might be to try to dominate the end-to-end process — from intelligent devices to connectivity to IoT platforms and finally on to business applications. However, three of these four areas might not bring in a nickel for a company like Salesforce.

Specialized vendors that Salesforce would have trouble competing with dominate devices and connectivity. IoT platforms is a similar area, with companies like Amazon Web Services dominating. So Salesforce wisely didn’t try to compete and is dedicated to supporting the leading platforms, leaving the business application area as its chosen place to compete.

Critical Processes

By focusing on the apps, Salesforce appears to be positioning itself as the key to capturing value from investments further upstream in devices and platforms. Typically a business might make independent decisions about those areas, and the business app company better be able to work with whatever is in place, and that’s the strategy.

Given the state of the early IoT market, it makes good sense to go with an app development strategy. It’s too early to have standardized apps that vendors might want to buy off the shelf, so having a quick and efficient development toolset makes all the sense in the world.

On the other side of the industry, there’s financial services and banking — two mature marketplaces with specific application demands. Here the strategy is less about new development than it is about using the platform to make clean and effective changes to process-oriented operational systems.

In banking and finance, Salesforce can deploy its many platform-based tools, along with partners like nCino and Vlocity, to produce systems that cover an institution’s critical processes — like loan origination and customer service.

Again, Dreamforce might have more to reveal here.


Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at
denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.