SAN MATEO (04/10/2000) - AS THE DIGITAL economy forces corporations to adapt business models and react to customers at breakneck speed, top-tier hardware and software players are looking to build systems that integrate users' business-to-business operations and customer service.
An integrated, adaptive architecture that broadcasts business data in real time, or "zero latency," will make a business more competitive, analysts and vendors said. Over the next four months Compaq Computer Corp. will build on its Tandem line of servers to launch its Zero Latency Enterprise (ZLE) initiative, targeting the telecommunications industry and the banking and retail industries later this year.
Doing analysis of online customer behavior or checking an ordered product's availability in real time rather than in a batch process will have a significant businesses impact, analysts said.
"The business impact is the whole point of achieving zero latency. The effect is, you have close-to-immediate information dissemination across different departments, application systems, and often across different companies. It means that companies and even departments can react more quickly, and that ends up saving them money and doing better customer service," said Roy Shulte, vice president at the Gartner Group, in Stamford Conn.
The Houston-based giant is piloting a project with Sprint Telecommunications that tracks 1.2 billion calls per day and creates call-detail records for each call. The data is propagated in real time to all business applications that need to know about it.
Sprint's ZLE system pushes out data to the billing department, performs updates, and recommends services based on each individual's calling profile to its 40,000 customer-service representatives. Each call updates all records.
Compaq is also set to launch its retail system with one of the largest retailers in the country. The system integrates four customer touch points: orders by phone, and in-store, Web, or catalog sales to create personalized offers even as the customer's credit card is swiped.
A partner in the ZLE is data-warehousing vendor Microstrategies, which is revamping its ROLAP (relational online analytical processing) into the CRM (customer relationship management) realm with MicroStrategy eCRM 6, a series of analytical modules for personalizing CRM. Underlying this new effort will be users' needs for large data warehouses to support their CRM analytics in real-time, Microstrategy officials said.
Although CRM on the Web offers an immediate opportunity, the zero-latency architecture helps corporations overall. With fast-moving business conditions threatening to change the shape of entire industries, putting a system in place that rapidly realigns IT investments is one of the major challenges facing corporate users in the new millennium, analysts said.
"The problem in the 21st century is not aligning IT investments with business strategies--that's old-world. The problem is in rapidly realigning IT investments when businesses change unexpectedly. Achieving the [low] latency level to keep those investments and strategies aligned is what the new game is all about," said Richard Buchanan, senior analyst at the Meta Group's architecture and planning group, located in Stamford, Conn.
The business benefits of a single repository integrated into the business operations is fairly straight forward, said a senior executive at Consumer Direct, a marketing database company in Chicago.
"Zero latency allows a company to direct its [marketing] money more efficiently to get better results," said Bob Laughlin, president. For example, with a tightly linked online sales system and inventory application, a company could offer a repeat customer a discount on a discontinued product.
Some of the top-tier players, including IBM, Compaq, Oracle, Sun, and the Big Five consulting firms, have been crafting key technology pieces during the last few years, Buchanan said, but most users are still trying to incorporate real-time information availability internally.
"I believe that 10 percent of the Global 2000 already has in place planning mechanisms and architectural processes which allow them to really re-engineer far faster than competitors. There is another 35 percent that understands the need to do it and is actively trying to rethink their processes and business and IT planning mechanisms," Buchanan said.
Eugene Grygo contributed to this article.
Big boxes for big jobs
Compaq's hardware and software upgrades include the following.
* AlphaServer ES40 and AlphaStation DS20E, both now shipping with EV67 Alpha Processor* AlphaServer ES40, available in preconfigured cluster base system* AlphaServer DS10L, reduced to 1 rack unit in size (1.75 inches)* Tru64 Unix 5.0A, enhanced for simplifying custom clustersZero latency for e-CRMCompaq's initiative targets customer service and online marketing.
* Call-utilization data management
* Single customer view across products
* Campaign management
* Bar-code-level customer management
Customer software proliferates
Compaq, Sprint, and MicroStrategy are not the only ones pushing the CRM frontier; Oracle and SAP did their bit last week as well. Oracle will be adding three CRM (customer relationship management) service modules to the nine CRM modules that constitute the Service 11i component of the Oracle e-business suite, Oracle Applications 11i.
The Customer Intelligence, iSupport, and eMail Center modules bring together information from other systems such as ERP (enterprise resource planning) platforms.
ISupport is an online information portal for self-service support; EMail Center is for inbound and outbound e-mail for Net-based customer service and direct marketing; and Customer Intelligence provides views and analysis of customer data.
To be released this quarter, the modules have the same schema and will run only on Oracle's relational database Oracle8i. Oracle is in the rare position of being able to offer its own analytic capabilities, analysts said.
SAP is intent on marrying CRM to wireless technology via its mySAP.com Mobile Workplace for mySAP.com business applications such as SAP Mobile Sales and SAP Mobile Service as well as the SAP Supply Chain, all available next month. The new support for handheld and wireless Internet devices is aimed at CRM and supply-chain management.
"I think it was a necessary move for SAP," said Sharon Chan, an analyst at the Hurwitz Group, in Framingham, Mass. SAP already has "the first leg of CRM," and it was wise to reach out to the front end via wireless, Chan said.
SAP America, in Philadelphia, is at www.sap.com. Oracle Corp., in Redwood Shores, Calif., is at www.oracle.com.