Service Oriented Architectures Get Sell-Side Religion

More and more of the companies that are either piloting or actively pursuing Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) frameworks to support their business strategies are aiming to accentuate, strengthen and streamline selling and service strategies. Cutting the costs surroundingdatabase and data warehouse consolidations, reducing integration costs by getting out of hand-built adapter hell, and getting pricing, configuration, quoting and service data to sales reps when they need it are also key goals of their strategies.

Yet the vision of CIOs I’ve spoken with is this: They want all relevant data for a customer on the screens of sales and service reps so intelligent decisions can be made quickly on margins, pricing, cross-selling and up-selling. They want their information to become aggressive in its own right; they want a transformation of strategies based on making an SOA framework that can synchronize market signals back to sales, production, fulfillment and service.

The Era of Aggressive Intelligence

These early adopter companies who are focused on using SOA frameworks to kick-start their customer-facing strategies are experiencing an epiphany. It’s the fact that once databases, data warehouses, data marts and even product configuration data is unleashed to support applications that make more focused customer strategies possible, an entirely new dynamic emerges around the intelligence itself. It becomes more aggressive, more focused on goals, and ultimately a larger contributor to the company’s success.

SOA early adopters are finding a maturity model emerging around the competitive value of information based on its applicability to customer-facing strategies — and, again, it’s not about the software, it’s about fueling business strategies with more accurate, precise data.

Pricing and compliance are the areas where CIOs really want to have their data deliver aggressive intelligence. To counter a competitor through the use of agent-based technology routed through Business Process Execution Language (BPEL)-based workflows — all transparent to the agent or sales rep that captures a new account or keeps an existing one from defecting — is what one mortgage company today is betting on to drive up customer lifetime value. Reducing churn through the use of this new form of aggressive intelligence delivered through intelligent agents is where one cable company wants to be as well.

Pricing exceptions, also called special pricing requests, have long been a gold mine of untapped business for companies that choose to automate this process. One CIO of a financial services firm told me that it is piloting a Web service to handle all pricing exceptions to allow for sales reps, sales managers and directors to spend more time where it matters most — which is in front of the largest customers. Intelligent agents and Web services are just two of the ways CIOs are looking to capitalize on their SOA framework pilots to create intelligence that isn’t just historical or analytical, but aggressive in winning new business and retain existing customers.

From Processes to Strategies

So many of the SOA vendors are really going after the process workflows — some even going so far as to create swim-lane graphics that show how their Web Services architectures can traverse many areas and create a cohesive and complete process. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s time to start thinking a little bigger than that. Isn’t it all about strategies for being more demand-driven? About how to be a stronger competitor, a stronger servant to your customers and win more business over the long term?

Being demand-driven is what makes companies profitable and worthy of investment — and ultimately ensures them against being acquired. One could even say that the extent to which a company is truly demand-driven determines how well they control their own freedom. Without being able to sense demand and aggressively use intelligence to capitalize on it, any company is at the mercy of its competitors and market dynamics — two forces that ultimately destroy complacency and apathy. It’s one thing for companies to have an off quarter and the headquarters staff still get slight raises or a token bonus. However, it’s quite another to see acquisition on the horizon and realize that one’s entire way of life is about to change.

The failure to be demand-driven is very personal in this regard; hence another reason why headquarters’ staffs — CIOs included — are looking to SOA frameworks to create not just illustrative or analytical intelligence, but aggressive intelligence that wins business.

Can an SOA Framework Make You More Demand-Driven?

This is like asking if a new treadmill sitting in your garage or bedroom will peel off those stubborn pounds before the 4th of July, and it all comes down to a question of commitment to change. SOA frameworks are starting to show sell-side religion, complete with the pilots testing intelligent agents to streamline pricing, configuration and services.

As a result of these agents and the availability of better information, aggressive intelligence is becoming a goal for CIOs, especially those in the financial services arena. The bottom line of all this is that SOA frameworks are showing the potential not only to reduce costs, but also to drive strategies for customer retention and growth.

Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a member of the Cincom Manufacturing Business Solutions Team and a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He has worked with enterprise clients on defining solutions to their channel management, order management and service lifecycle management strategies. Mr. Columbus also teaches graduate-level international business and marketing courses at Webster-Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Irvine. He is the author of fifteen books on technology and two books on analyst relations. His book, Getting Results from your Analyst Relations Strategies, can be downloaded for free.

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