For decades a database application was what we called an app that collected data and regurgitated it in preset formats on paper reports and screens. That’s becoming passé but at the time it was a major advance because it gave a worker the necessary information to make decisions and take action. Today that’s rarely enough because downward cost pressures are replacing some of the rote human effort with algorithms that can often satisfy the need. But that leaves more challenging and engaging work for people.
We see this most concretely in customer service apps in which algorithms are taking over some of the work once done by customer service reps. For example, Steve Fioretti vice president of product management at Oracle recently told me that one Oracle customer using a government system focused on tax questions, answers upwards of 70 percent of customer inquiries through automation. What’s impressive about this isn’t the big percentage but the rapid uptake.
But Fioretti also cautions, “The contact center isn’t going away.” The reason is simple. Oracle commissioned research says 60 percent of customers expect that if the wheels fall off, they can still talk to a real person.
In places where agents are still needed, the systems handle the relatively easy stuff freeing up the agents to dig into more basic customer needs and improve the customer engagement. For instance, another Oracle customer, a home goods retailer hires more people with interior design credentials to help customers nail their layouts and color schemes.
The reasons that businesses can do so much more with their CRM systems come back to the platform that the systems are built on. Even hand coding these days is sequestered within a part of the apps and never overwritten by an upgrade, patch or fix. But more importantly, there’s a great deal of coding going on by machines that weave together important ancillary apps like AI and machine learning, social media and a lot more that you already know. The resulting systems of engagement would not, I believe, be possible except with the use of platforms.
In all of this you can see the commoditization of IT and the rising importance of customer engagement and experience. The often-cited concern over lost jobs might be overblown at least in some ways because technology is opening new doors as fast they’re being closed.
I saw the transition reflected in the advances Salesforce is making with its Philanthropy Cloud. If you don’t know, Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud is an interesting app that brings together donors, resources like funding agencies and traditional charities, and people. It works by helping them to find each other, coordinate a donation of time or money, and it captures the needed statistics to make it a useful accounting tool for corporations that wish to engage in programs like Pledge1Percent in which businesses can donate any combination of their assets like revenues or even employee time.
I also saw it in Salesforce’s just announced acquisition of ClickSoftware, a field service and manpower management suite. There are plenty of algorithms in all of these places but there are also plenty of places where humans still need to apply their skills. Everywhere in field service we’re witnessing how algorithmically driven systems can diagnose themselves and summon help before a fatal error. What’s most exciting is that we’re beginning to see these systems operating far outside of the tech bubble where they were born. Healthcare systems use analytics and algorithms to drive care and the IoT is full of examples of machines talking to machines.
What makes all of this work well is the presence of platform technology that weaves together data from what were once systems of record with workflows, GPS, and plenty of AI and machine learning that can do some of the unglamorous grunt work that people once spent too much time on. Most of the apps we see and like today would simply not be possible without platform driven code generation.
I don’t think there are a lot of app designers trying to figure out the right balance of people and algorithms in any of these situations yet. That’s in part due to the reality that a lot of technology is just being built and released and the vendors are expecting their early adopter customers to figure out things like balance. This seems to be always the way it works.
That’s the point. We complain when we see jobs evaporate but new jobs come about from all of the disruption and they rarely make headlines because they come in dribs and drabs and no one is counting. But cool things are happening and they’re sometimes outside of the purview of CRM and that only accentuates CRM’s impact on the later stages of the tech revolution.