Plan Now to Avoid Social Networking Data Silos

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In this day of hyperconnectivity, tell-all social network posts, Twitter and a general dismissal of privacy from all parties, you would think it'd be easy to get information on customers.


But, alas, it's not so easy. Oh, sure, you might be able to track down the information, but putting it to use in a meaningful way-say in a CRM (customer relationship management) system? That's a different matter.


CBR took a look at what's wrong with CRM. The questions are: If all this information is available and in CRM systems, why don't organizations have a single view of their customers? Why, for instance, are customers still unable to get an answer to problems without being transferred to different departments? Why do customers have to rehash the same issue, over and over? Why is there still no single view of customers?


The article cites a blog post by Gartner analyst Michael Maoz, who noted that companies spent over $75 billion on CRM-related applications over the past decade. The return on their investment? A minimum improvement in the range of 3-5 percent for most industries. And that's just one data point mentioned in this article.


I think we can all agree that it's a worthy, timely and all-too-often personal topic.


By my count, the article identifies four reasons for CRM's depressing track record, three of which go back to integration issues:

  1. Historically, CRM has focused on making a team more productive, rather than on improving the customer experience.
  2. More mergers and acquisitions over the past few years means there's more data and systems to integrate.
  3. Companies forgot to focus on the quality of data-and this leads to bad data about customers.
  4. While there is more information on customers, often via social networks, it's in a variety of sources, making it hard to integrate, reconcile and mine this information.


Not surprisingly, the article goes on to discuss master data management as a solution to a unified view of customer data.


But I think we need to take a closer look at this issue of integrating social networking information, because I'm starting to suspect that the way it's being approached today will lead to silo problems tomorrow.


IT Business Edge's Ann All wrote how companies are approaching social networking in isolation within the organization and why that's bad. But this silo isn't just a political or cultural problem-companies are capturing this information in technology silos.


eWEEK Lab's Cameron Sturdevant pointed this out when he looked at how organizations are approaching social collaboration with partners:

What's the best way to use social collaboration tools with partners? Is there a better way to integrate social media and back-end systems? The answer today is that a tangle of integration tools and a dearth of standards mean that IT managers must pay careful attention to a wide range of integration tools to curtail client creep.

Now consider how much worse the problem will be with customer information. And there should be no doubt that's the next frontier for social networking information. A recent survey by SugarCRM found that there's definitely interest in adding social networking information to CRM. While only 26 percent said they'd already linked social network data to their CRM software, an impressive 72 percent say they plan to do so this year.


But an Information Week article on the survey added this thought-provoking remark:

The result seems to point toward greater social network data integration with CRM. But to win this business, CRM vendors have to compete with other applications, many controlled by other departments, which are promising to offer social business integration.

And then, Informatica Chief Marketing Officer Chris Boorman, in a positive post about the value of embracing social data in the enterprise, threw in this telling comment:

Social networks are built on a different technology stack and the data you find there is all about these individual interactions, which collectively become influential on brand. It is not transactional, it is not built on the old-fashioned relational database (did I really say that!) and the volume of data is daunting. However, what has become increasingly clear is that organizations are now looking at how to pull this social data into their enterprises in order to understand more about who their customers really are and what they do.

Am I the only one who reads this and thinks we're headed in the wrong direction with integrating this information?


As I've mentioned before, this isn't surprising, given how new this problem is. Vendors are dealing with the integration question on an individual basis, but frankly, it's not their job to avoid silos-it's yours. IT has an opportunity to plan ahead on using social networking information and one key element of that plan should be ensuring you're not building tomorrow's data silo.