Structured social media and CRM – a contradiction in terms?

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I have been meaning to get around to reading an IBM Research report entitled ‘From social media to Social CRM’. In an illustration of social networking this was highlighted by a colleague working on social CRM to those of us who are registered as interested in this topic via our Capgemini internal social network, in […]

I have been meaning to get around to reading an IBM Research report entitled ‘From social media to Social CRM’. In an illustration of social networking this was highlighted by a colleague working on social CRM to those of us who are registered as interested in this topic via our Capgemini internal social network, in itself a useful example of the power of social tools to help people share experiences, knowledge and content without bombarding each other with emails.

The research backed up what many practitioners will feel they have experienced already with facts about how customers are using social networks to learn about product experiences, but this is still pretty well unconnected with the actual marketing of products. The report draws the obvious conclusion about the need for a more structured approach rather than the hit and miss of relationships of customers and enterprises which all too often are centered on the complaints department and make public all the wrong kind of messages!

Well, an enterprise has internal IT so that’s the structured end for sure, but if you reflect on the value proposition of the external use of social technologies and business use of social media then the benefits are all about seizing unstructured opportunities. So the big question is how do you go about doing this, and back to the headline, how do you get the linkage between an enterprise’s structured internal IT and the unstructured but opportunity-rich series of events and people that social media, networks, collaboration, etc supports? At this stage I should warn you that this blog is not focused on CRM but is focused on the challenge of enterprise integration in supporting this issue.

I got the closest answer I have seen yet in terms of an enterprise-level major technology vendor inPraguedirectly after Oracle OpenWorld when I was invited to be the guest speaker at an internal Oracle event training their European staff on the collection of capabilities that make up Oracle WebCenter. This is nominally described as being part of Oracle Fusion Middleware which provides the integration backbone to support and connect both traditional IT and the four major parts of Oracle WebCenter: Web Experience Management, Composite Applications & Mash-Ups, Enterprise Content Management and Social Networking & Collaboration.

I say nominally because the headings don’t really convey how much there is ‘in the red stack’ and most of all exactly what Oracle means by being a full stack vendor in terms of some different and genuine business benefits in this new area. This blog is about what we need and what we gain from this, but it is well worth taking a closer look at some of the Oracle content to gain a real feel for their thinking and capability, so based on the event and talking to their key staff, here’s a recommended paper that is low on sales, and high on insight:

Transforming business processes in Social by Design.

I suspect that many CIOs react to Oracle’s terminology ‘a full stack’ by thinking of this in terms of technologies and products with the implied technology lock-in and are rightly suspicious. This might be true in the core IT back office, but when you get to the new world around the front office the way Oracle uses the term is around process and event integration moving through the stack of capabilities. If you get into the detail it’s pretty interesting, and lays out an approach to the headline challenge that’s worth reflecting on whatever your product and vendor strategy.

Oracle is perhaps able to do this as I think it is alone in having the three core blocks of business functionality as well as the underlying technology to be able to make it function, for everyone else it’s a technology integration task in parallel to the process orchestration and integration. That’s not saying it can’t be done, it can and at Capgemini we are doing this, but it does give Oracle the opportunity to provide a thought-provoking view on what good looks like. So what are the three business blocks?

Clearly, the new ‘go-to-market’ activities around Web-based social models, content and interaction is the first, and the third is the ERP and data engine. The second fits between these two and is often overlooked even though it’s just as important; best of breed vertical sector specialist applications. Oracle has been buying, and integrating specialist vendors in this market for some time, and if you are successful in ‘managing’ your interactions with the market, customers and experienced employees, it’s specialized vertical sector applications you are most likely to need to use to actually capture the opportunities into process, and then on into the transactions of core ERP to produce the structured data.

Interestingly, the big debate with the Oracle folks was about how specialized vertical software crossed with horizontal software through common user interfaces; the user experience had better be good or the capabilities are not going to be usable. So that’s why it’s interesting to take the time to understand the Oracle point of view on ‘the red stack’ even if you are not an Oracle customer, because it’s really about a view of business process integration across the stack from the one player with all three business blocks as well as the enabling technology.

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