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Smart People Look Into the Future

I tweeted a link to this Software Advice article a few days ago because it looked pretty cool, it had a lot of my friends in it, and another friend (Lauren Carlson) wrote it. That’s good enough for most people, and I hope you read it and got something out of the experience. I can’t let it go at that, however, so I’m going to respond briefly (you hope) to some of the ideas the article brought up.

Not so briefly, though, that I could just write, “They’re all totally on target. The end.” Smart they may be, but not so smart that I can’t have a variant opinion or two.

Context services and real-time customer intelligence are the first two topics in Lauren’s article, and that makes some sense; the two can go hand-in-hand in many cases. Think about it: If much of the context info is coming from mobile devices (as Ray Wang posits), and that information is processed immediately (as Esteban Kolsky hopes), it stands to reason that there’s an opportunity to use that intelligence to reach out to the customer at the point of engagement. Granted, a business that could take advantage of this would have a structure that I can’t picture, but it’s possible. What’s more likely is that these two technologies will give businesses a better sense of macro trends in the customer base over shorter stretches of time, and allow them to adjust campaigns on the fly for better immediacy (and better incremental sales).

Television as a customer engagement channel is next, with Brent Leary predicting a convergence of CRM tech and TV tech. I’m going to come down hard here, which shouldn’t be seen as a reflection on Brent’s wisdom; he’s very smart and a good friend, I just think he’s wrong here. I’ve been following HDTV since the late 1990s—before there was content for the expensive-as-a-new-car sets that existed then—and the same hope was expressed then as now. “Digital TV will free bandwidth for added content and two-way interactions,” they said. It has happened, in limited cases with limited success, but the idea has never really blossomed. The idea that TV can be a customer engagement channel is as old as TV itself—where do you think commercials came from? The fact is, nobody wants their TV time interrupted with sales pitches (Super Bowl ads notwithstanding). The “Is this ad relevant to you?” bar at the top of my Hulu window doesn’t seem to have any effect on what I’m shown, either. Now, if the engagement was something where the consumer could quickly and unobtrusively request information from an ad to be sent to a PC or mobile device, I could get behind that. It would answer the advertisers’ need to know if they’re having an effect, and give the consumer something of value without getting in the way of the show. Also, anything coming from a Nielsen report on usage trends is a bit suspect nowadays, if my February edition of Pint of View carries any weight. It should be up on CRM magazine’s site any moment now. EDIT: Here it is.

Virtual meetings, according to Denis Pombriant, will change the way people do business. I say they already have. We travel less, have more teleconferences and Webinars, and have tools that allow us to get more done in virtual meetings than in real ones. The technology will continue to advance—it will have to, especially if we run out of oil before the newer energy sources can take up the slack and nobody can travel—but all in all this is a safe prediction. I’d love to see what we have in five years’ time, but I hope I can still go to work in my PJs and slippers, as is my right as a self-employed kinda dude.

Unified communications (UC) also gets a mention, from Paul Greenberg no less. Like virtual meetings, I feel this is something that has already arrived, and will continue to grow. There is not only a place for it, but a real need—while I say UC has arrived, it isn’t nearly universal enough. If you don’t believe me, see how well an IVR hands you off to to a live agent sometime. A lot has been done here, and I am thankful for things like screen sharing in customer service, and the ability to engage in multiple channels, but more is better. (Paul is also found earlier in Lauren’s article discussing in-memory and distributed processing technologies like SAP-HANA and Hadoop, but I’m not knowledgeable enough about them to weigh in—yet.)

Gamification bats cleanup in the article, and Brian Solis gets the thankless task (except for where Lauren thanks him) of predicting what will happen with something that is still a buzzword fantasy for many people. I think gamification has the potential to fundamentally change the way businesses and customers interact, and can also have serious positive implications for the workplace itself. I have some thoughts on this that should be published soon, so I can’t expound on them here yet, but gamification is big. It’s not for every brand or every person, but it opens up possibilities that are as yet untapped. EDIT: Here’s a link to the article, by Ryan Zuk.

Of course, these are all just my opinions—and you know what they say about opinions. A difference of them makes a horse race. Wait, what did you think I meant?