Business Intelligence: Customer Relationship Portals

Imagine building a new accounting system, only to marvel at how well it works and to gain new insight into the operations of the manual process that still uses bound ledgers. In order for an accounting system to add value to the business in the form of increased operational efficiency, the enterprise must take action based on the system by issuing purchase orders and printing checks. In the same way, business expects to take action based on business intelligence (BI) systems.

Business takes advantage of BI in several ways, some more directly than others. Some early BI systems have no direct feedback into operational systems. In these systems, the business gains new insight that influences decisions, but does not directly feed business decisions. For example, noting the characteristics that correlate to higher retail sales influences future decisions and business strategy. A more direct feedback loop results when lists of specific customers are fed back into operational systems and processes, driving marketing campaigns or sales automation systems.

A third way to take action on BI findings is entering the mainstream in the form of enterprise portals. Through enterprise portals, knowledge workers interact with BI functions in an environment that directly integrates strategic decision-making processes, operational systems, and business processes into a process-oriented desktop or workbench. For example, a business analyst can observe how three different approaches to a marketing campaign are performing and dynamically alter Web site behavior and contact center scripts in realtime to shift interaction toward the most successful approach.

This capability can be called a customer relationship portal and provides an ideal case to learn more about enterprise portals and the value these capabilities can bring to your enterprise.

Some capabilities are inherent to any robust enterprise portal implementation. In order to integrate the various capabilities found in the portal into the business process, some form of workflow management function is needed. A rules-based engine is ideal, allowing business analysts to manipulate the behavior of business processes by altering the business rules shaping the systems, without the intervention of information technologists.

It’s What You Know

Relevant enterprise knowledge requires significant depth of information in a number of categories. Consider a few possibilities within a customer relationship portal used to support direct interaction with customers. In a business-to-business (B2B) interaction, press releases and news articles related to the customer’s industry and company should be on the desktop. This may require integration of Web farming capabilities.

In addition, any internal news about the relationship should be available and highlighted based on relevance to the type of interaction. In a business-to-customer (B2C) interaction, perhaps, the weather at the customer’s location is relevant as well as the interaction history showing the last interaction and the last purchase. In either event, the value of the relationship to the enterprise should be emphasized to ensure that the customer is given appropriate treatment. This information should be available for reference, as well as influencing the interaction in the form of branches in the interactions with the customer. Both structured and unstructured data is used.

Knowledge about the business process and the portal components should be readily available, including online help and computer-based instruction. Information on the business process should also include the state of the business process and the underlying technical infrastructure. In the customer relationship portal scenario, if each customer is part of a distinct customer segment, the definition of the customer segment should be available.

In addition, the differentiating factors that contribute to the definition of each customer segment should be available, as well as the origin of each of these pieces of data. This requires a strong supporting metadata infrastructure, feeding the customer relationship portal.

As with the customer relationship portal, each portal desktop has capabilities that are particularly important for the application at hand. For instance, the customer relationship portals need workload management and balancing capabilities to match available resources to customer needs. In order to maximize the value of the customer relationship management strategies, the scope of the process must be enterprisewide and cross all channels of customer interaction, such as call centers, direct sales forces and the Web. The needs of various business processes leave lots of room for innovation.

About the Author: Jeff Gentry is President of Technology to Value LLC and Chief Strategy Officer of eScribendi LLC. He can be reached at