Technology

  • December 5, 2019
  • We’ve been watching this for a while. A few years ago, Salesforce embarked on parallel paths; the obvious option was to build tools that enabled users to craft systems of engagement. The second started when the company also began reaching out to various industrial sectors with its technology and those of some partners. The result has been a vibrant vertical industry approach and a plethora of apps that do more than capture and store data, a.k.a. systems of record. Today, Salesforce and partners are deeply involved in delivering systems of engagement in specific industries.

    Many of the industrial apps apply CRM techniques to unique situations and the CRM aspects of marketing ideas and serving customers are easily translatable. But along with that, Salesforce has also touted its platform as a general-purpose development tool capable of supporting systems of engagement in a variety of areas that are sometimes distant from the original CRM mission.

    Health Cloud

    Healthcare is one of those areas. CRM works remarkably well with some aspects of healthcare, for example, using call center tools and techniques to proactively remind patients of a pending appointment or to take their meds. With this we’re witnessing CRM invade one of the most conservative areas of IT. Salesforce is catching healthcare at the moment it appears that people are awakening to the idea that they need to be wise consumers of healthcare just as much as they need to pay attention to the details of buying a car. It’s also a time of transition from a paradigm of “fixing” broken patients to one of keeping them well, and you need systems of engagement for that.

    A recent research report (Connected Healthcare Consumer) from the company says as much. Customers or in this case patients, are demanding the same kinds of access to their healthcare vendors as they’ve demanded elsewhere. For instance, 94 percent want access to walk-in clinics, 76 percent want in-home visits–something doctors used to do routinely. Also, 68 percent want mobile apps for health coaching. That’s all CRM and we’ve seen this kind of thing playout in other industries as they adopted cloud-based CRM and demanded more purchase options and advice online.

    The drivers for all this are also common. There’s a distinct need for the healthcare product or service to come to and fit into the busy lives of customers. We saw a wave of e-commerce and omni-channel service and support evolve while medicine remained static. Medicine needed smarter systems and they had to be cost effective and secure. Today AI is providing the smarts and platform is delivering the tools.

    What do patients want?

    Aside from paying for care, which CRM by itself isn’t in a position to affect though 64 percent rated paying as somewhat or very challenging, challenges reported included taking time off from work which 51 percent found somewhat or very challenging and 44 percent said finding health services nearby was somewhat or very challenging. The current crop of healthcare systems of engagement are designed to help with these and other challenges.

    Today a lot of service or information that patients might need doesn’t need to come directly from their healthcare providers. So in addition to bringing systems of engagement to the bedside, Salesforce just announcedinnovations to bring pharmaceutical and medical device teams closer to their customers. For instance, the Connected Healthcare Consumer report noted above also says that “62% of healthcare consumers say it’s very important for pharmaceutical companies to educate them on how to get the most from their medication.” That’s certainly something that a doctor or nurse could do but over the years we’ve become expert at finding our own answers.

    Sure there are situations where patients could go too far with the information they can access online but that was always a risk. Perhaps a greater risk, though, is for providers to not have information because data is spread out across silos. The Salesforce Health Cloud is designed to help by transforming the patient journey – giving organizations actionable information in one place for improved internal and external collaboration and smarter, data-driven decisions.

    Finally, in the medical device arena, CRM is front and center with tools that help build customer relationships between device makers and their professional consumers. There are new solutions for sales agreements, which can be lengthy and detailed, and account-based forecasting for helping improve the accuracy of sales forecasts which can be long affairs.

    My two bits

    All of this by itself is a drop in the bucket of healthcare IT but it’s amazing how many drops have already reached the bucket and how many good ideas are out there. To be honest it’s also amazing how much low hanging fruit is available for the picking.

    Healthcare is 1/6th of the US economy. One in every six dollars of GDP goes to clinics, doctors, pharmaceutical and device makers, and others. The US also has some of the most expensive healthcare costs among its peer industrialized nations. The US spends upwards of twice as much per capita as its peers. There’s intense interest in lowering costs to make the nation more competitive and believe it or not, IT is an important gatekeeper.

    Inaccessible siloed information often has to be duplicated to provide effective treatment (translation: we’ll re-do that lab work). When the information can be accessed it often has to be transmitted by fax machine. So, yes, IT will be an important part of fixing US healthcare. Converting aging healthcare IT requires approaches that surround old technology with better and newer systems while enabling old systems to continue functioning. Cloud systems of engagement based on powerful and easy to use platform technology will be a big part of the solution.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Published: 2 months ago


    The tools you work with have a lot of impact on what you can accomplish and the more sophisticated the tools the better, especially in software. Beagle Research (my company) just completed a study into using a DevOps strategy with the Salesforce Lightning Platform. The work was sponsored by Copado a DevOps solutions provider. DevOps is a strategy for building, changing and deploying enterprise software that can also be used with a Scrum or Agile methodology as well as others. More than concentrating on code and coding, DevOps is more holistic looking at culture and infrastructure in its broadest manifestation.

    Even if you’ve never built systems you can surmise that planning, developing, assessing, testing and deploying software are all critical milestones and they’re often spread across technical departments of IT like development and operations, hence the name.

    It can be challenging to compare enterprise software strategies. For instance, using an on-premise hardware and software stack has been common for decades but with the development of cloud computing, users find they can eliminate having to care about a good deal of their development environments leaving it all to the cloud vendor. How do you compare overhead and costs between cloud and on-premise? What are the effects on speed to market, reliability, security? To control for some variables and enable us to make an apples-to-apples comparison, we chose to research only companies developing and maintaining systems using Salesforce Lightning and a DevOps strategy.

    Companies ranged in size from fewer than 100 employees to more than 10,000. There were similar measures for number of salesforce users and number of developers as well as the number of production orgs. Two-thirds or 67 percent said they run between 2 and 7 production orgs. Most of the respondents were C-level executives (48 percent) or upper management (40 percent).

    We found that DevOps is delivering value for most of its users though the larger organizations have greater challenges, more on that in a moment; 17 percent claim over $5 million in benefits from using a DevOps strategy. These people have a good understanding that software flexibility drives business agility and impressively, 54 percent say their lead time for making changes to their Salesforce orgs is between one day and one week. Compare that to a more traditional process that takes weeks or months.

    But we also identified an elite group that operates even faster–21 percent say their lead time for making changes is less than a day, and 8 percent say it takes less than an hour. Taken together 83 percent can make changes in a week or less.

    In other recent research I’ve been involved in, delivering running, tested and deployable code was much slower. Clearly, if a business depends on its ability to quickly change to meet changing market demands this is where you want to be.

    On the other hand

    As you might expect though, the benefits of a DevOps strategy were not evenly distributed across all users. Generally, smaller businesses with smaller development groups did better overall at establishing DevOps programs and at excelling within them.

    The most successful businesses using DevOps are those that use a well-integrated set of tools to move through development and deployment. Many organizations, especially smaller ones, use a combination of in-house developed and opensource management tools. At best the great variety of tool choices suggested to me that some best practices are still being worked out.

    Even with Salesforce Lightning and a DevOps approach you can still have issues and almost everyone had the experience of deploying a release to a production org and having a service degradation. A plurality of respondents, 43 percent, said a problem occurred up to 15 percent of the time and the vast majority or 86 percent said service degradations happen less than half of the time. This is an important snapshot of the state of the industry. Speed of delivery slightly exceeds stability of releases indicating a need to bring the two metrics more in alignment.

    Some best practices considerations

    1. A strong majority (60 percent) say each developer in the business has a private development environment.
    2. Also, 77 percent say they use version control to store code and click-based Salesforce customizations.
    3. Most synchronize their development environments with the latest changes from other teams with 41 percent doing this on-demand or at most once per day and 42 percent saying they do this between once per day and once a week.
    4. 75 percent say changes made in version control trigger automation tests.
    5. 87 percent have confidence that when automated tests pass the software is ready for release. However, meta-analysis of the data strongly suggests that the greater a team’s confidence in their tests, the higher their change failure rate. Skeptics who were neutral on this question experienced a 40% lower change fail rate than those who expressed strong confidence in their tests.

    It’s good to be skeptical.

    Some analysis

    Part of the allure of the digital disruption is having the capacity to change a business process to take advantage of changing market conditions and many businesses are already having that experience. Big data and analytics tell us what needs attention but then we still need to change our systems’ behaviors. Flexible software contributes to a business’ agility and that’s good. But that speed and flexibility need to be balanced by security and what I can only call the bulletproof-ness of the new or changed code.

    The businesses most able to reap the rewards of DevOps tend to be smaller though large enterprises have their bragging points. While larger businesses already see benefits from a DevOps strategy, they are the ones with the greatest potential to do more. What’s holding them back?

    In any organization size breeds complexity which causes business friction. We don’t have all the data to say so unequivocally, but it seems that bigger organizations have more walls to break down.

    It looks to me like the development tools are pretty good. Not enough businesses have well integrated management suites to handle the complexity and it also seems like culture forms stovepipes which causes less stellar performance. If that’s so there’s still some cultural work to be done enhancing communications within and between developer groups and the business. DevOps tools can be a big part of that help but as with the psychiatrist trying to change a lightbulb, the bulb still has to want to change.

     

     

    Published: 2 months ago


    The tools you work with have a lot of impact on what you can accomplish and the more sophisticated the tools the better, especially in software. Beagle Research  just completed a study into using a DevOps strategy with the Salesforce Lightning Platform. You can get a copy of it here. The work was sponsored by Copado a DevOps solutions provider. DevOps is a strategy for building, changing and deploying enterprise software that can also be used with a Scrum or Agile methodology as well as others. More than concentrating on code and coding, DevOps is more holistic looking at culture and infrastructure in its broadest manifestation.

    Even if you’ve never built systems you can surmise that planning, developing, assessing, testing and deploying software are all critical milestones and they’re often spread across technical departments of IT like development and operations, hence the name.

    It can be challenging to compare enterprise software strategies. For instance, using an on-premise hardware and software stack has been common for decades but with the development of cloud computing, users find they can eliminate having to care about a good deal of their development environments leaving it all to the cloud vendor. How do you compare overhead and costs between cloud and on-premise? What are the effects on speed to market, reliability, security? To control for some variables and enable us to make an apples-to-apples comparison, we chose to research only companies developing and maintaining systems using Salesforce Lightning and a DevOps strategy.

    Companies ranged in size from fewer than 100 employees to more than 10,000. There were similar measures for number of salesforce users and number of developers as well as the number of production orgs. Two-thirds or 67 percent said they run between 2 and 7 production orgs. Most of the respondents were C-level executives (48 percent) or upper management (40 percent).

    We found that DevOps is delivering value for most of its users though the larger organizations have greater challenges, more on that in a moment; 17 percent claim over $5 million in benefits from using a DevOps strategy. These people have a good understanding that software flexibility drives business agility and impressively, 54 percent say their lead time for making changes to their Salesforce orgs is between one day and one week. Compare that to a more traditional process that takes weeks or months.

    But we also identified an elite group that operates even faster–21 percent say their lead time for making changes is less than a day, and 8 percent say it takes less than an hour. Taken together 83 percent can make changes in a week or less.

    In other recent research I’ve been involved in, delivering running, tested and deployable code was much slower. Clearly, if a business depends on its ability to quickly change to meet changing market demands this is where you want to be.

    On the other hand

    As you might expect though, the benefits of a DevOps strategy were not evenly distributed across all users. Generally, smaller businesses with smaller development groups did better overall at establishing DevOps programs and at excelling within them.

    The most successful businesses using DevOps are those that use a well-integrated set of tools to move through development and deployment. Many organizations, especially smaller ones, use a combination of in-house developed and opensource management tools. At best the great variety of tool choices suggested to me that some best practices are still being worked out.

    Even with Salesforce Lightning and a DevOps approach you can still have issues and almost everyone had the experience of deploying a release to a production org and having a service degradation. A plurality of respondents, 43 percent, said a problem occurred up to 15 percent of the time and the vast majority or 86 percent said service degradations happen less than half of the time. This is an important snapshot of the state of the industry. Speed of delivery slightly exceeds stability of releases indicating a need to bring the two metrics more in alignment.

    Some best practices considerations

    1. A strong majority (60 percent) say each developer in the business has a private development environment.
    2. Also, 77 percent say they use version control to store code and click-based Salesforce customizations.
    3. Most synchronize their development environments with the latest changes from other teams with 41 percent doing this on-demand or at most once per day and 42 percent saying they do this between once per day and once a week.
    4. 75 percent say changes made in version control trigger automation tests.
    5. 87 percent have confidence that when automated tests pass the software is ready for release. However, meta-analysis of the data strongly suggests that the greater a team’s confidence in their tests, the higher their change failure rate. Skeptics who were neutral on this question experienced a 40% lower change fail rate than those who expressed strong confidence in their tests.

    It’s good to be skeptical.

    Some analysis

    Part of the allure of the digital disruption is having the capacity to change a business process to take advantage of changing market conditions and many businesses are already having that experience. Big data and analytics tell us what needs attention but then we still need to change our systems’ behaviors. Flexible software contributes to a business’ agility and that’s good. But that speed and flexibility need to be balanced by security and what I can only call the bulletproof-ness of the new or changed code.

    The businesses most able to reap the rewards of DevOps tend to be smaller though large enterprises have their bragging points. While larger businesses already see benefits from a DevOps strategy, they are the ones with the greatest potential to do more. What’s holding them back?

    In any organization size breeds complexity which causes business friction. We don’t have all the data to say so unequivocally, but it seems that bigger organizations have more walls to break down.

    It looks to me like the development tools are pretty good. Not enough businesses have well integrated management suites to handle the complexity and it also seems like culture forms stovepipes which causes less stellar performance. If that’s so there’s still some cultural work to be done enhancing communications within and between developer groups and the business. DevOps tools can be a big part of that help but as with the psychiatrist trying to change a lightbulb, the bulb still has to want to change.

     

     

    Published: 3 months ago


    Drop Tank is a small company in footprint–it started with only 22 people–but with an outsized mission to provide loyalty and discount programs to thousands of gasoline retailers. It has been decades since gas stations offered incentives to purchase their products. Last time, in the 1960s, retailers would routinely offer silverware, glassware, and china for fill ups. Alternatively, some would offer Green Stamps–collectable coupons redeemable for merchandise. That was the state of the art for loyalty programs.

    All of these arrangements were relatively easy to administer and there was no back-end data to massage. A customer made a purchase and got a reward on the spot. Those were the days! Today’s loyalty programs often capture metadata from the transaction that credits points to a customer’s account and the customer can determine how best to spend them.

    Drop Tank started out providing single-use, cents per gallon discount cards to customersin 2012. Today it offers the same fuel discounting scheme but also gift cards and combined offers for gasoline plus consumer packaged goods sold in convenience stores that also sell gas.

    Less than five years ago (2016), Drop Tank began designing a back-office system to ride herd on customer gas purchases and the points they accumulated. Any customer could join by adding a phone number which could then be used at the pump to identify the purchaser. The system has been through several iterations in its short life, each time becoming simpler and more efficient and thus better able to support an expanding mission.

    Black box

    When Drop Tank started out, it produced a small black box device that connected to the pumps capturing customer data and purchases for later upload and processing. The device was needed because 65 percent of retailers are independent and have the ability to choose their POS (point of sale) system. This resulted in integration challenges best met by hardware. But less than ten years later, the black box is gone and the latest iteration leverages the Oracle Autonomous Database which enables several important improvements for Drop Tank and its customers.

    Drop Tank’s principal partner is Marathon Oil, a vertically integrated petroleum company that leads in oil refining in the US and runs a large distribution network located primarily in the Eastern half of the US, though recent acquisitions have spread the footprint into the West.

    Although the original black box solution was good for its time, installing those boxes at more than 3,500 retail locations was time consuming and expensive, requiring a visit to each retailer.

    Tim Miller vice president of technology for Drop Tank, was a co-founder of the company and he has run IT since founding so each iteration of the system was his responsibility to develop, deploy, and maintain–all the incentive he’d need to support continuous improvement.

    Over time, Miller has been able to replace the black boxes with server-side software for all of the POS systems popular with his customers, the retailers. Importantly, the evolution of technology in the dealer network mimicked and supported the evolution of increasingly sophisticated services provided by Drop Tank to the retailer and, recently to CPG companies. Consider these milestones,

    Stage 1, 2012

    Initially, Drop Tank functioned as a promotional products company with cards and codes that dropped the price at the pump. Customers didn’t need to enroll in a program to enjoy savings, but Drop Tank had limited ability to leverage data to engage with them.

    Stage 2, 2016

    The original cents off system was built on Rackspace and was adequate for the need. But by 2016 Miller and a small team designed an improvement that would take the black boxes out of the equation letting the retailer simply connect a POS system to Drop Tank’s headquarters using Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. It made sense because it reduced the time and expense associated with deploying hardware from four hours per site to 30 minutes. Now all of the integration and conversion could be handled by software. It also appealed to retailers who wanted fewer devices behind the counter connecting to other systems and printers. So, simplification was good for all parties.

    The dealer network reacted, and Drop Tank’s new retailer signups doubled..

    Stage 3, 2018

    With its system built and in place and connected directly to the POS systems Miller and his team discovered they could gather additional point of sales data that other systems either were not capturing or, because there were so many disparate systems in use, no one could easily aggregate. This was in stark contrast to the way other retailers could capture data and provide it to CPG companies. For example, supermarkets can routinely report to CPG vendors not only what sold but what other items made up the transaction.

    Enabling business analysis with Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse

    Drop Tank discovered that it could collect data that CPG vendors needed and also provide more information to a growing set of CPG vendors. But the company needed a data warehouse that could handle the load while enabling the company to retain its small size, now a 22 people business. So, finding the right amount of automation was critical. That’s when they turned to Oracle.

    While Drop Tank captures a great deal of data in its data warehouse, there are always times when CPG companies might want specialized information that’s not easily available as the system was set up.

    It’s a common problem. For years data warehouse users have tried to build a perfect warehouse containing every kind of data and every possible analysis, but that’s not real. So, Miller took the company in a different direction. Today he says, “Don’t try to build a data warehouse that’s perfect, instead, leverage the power of the Autonomous Database,” which he does.

    When a CPG customer makes a special request, Miller says that, thanks to the Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse, Drop Tank can simply spin up a new database automatically in about an hour without the traditional overhead of building, tuning, and maintaining it. “Spinning up a traditional database and tuning it can take days or weeks. Within an hour I can have the database running, within 4 hours we can load data and then within another hour we can have answers. That’s as difference-maker.”

    Topping off

    Oracle technology has enabled Drop Tank to grow in several ways. Oracle PaaS and IaaS have enabled the company to run its IT in the cloud using a service-oriented architecture (SOA) that helps the company reduce overhead and save headcount. Oracle Autonomous Database enabled the company to branch into providing information services to CPG companies from its starting point as a loyalty program provider. And, Oracle automation has enabled this small company to remain small in headcount but to continue to grow its services while significantly increasing productivity.

    Published: 9 months ago


    Disruptive innovations are only disruptive for as long as it takes competition to develop and thus create a market. Worse, for the disruptor, the niche it created can also spawn other niches. Social networking provides a vivid example.

    First, there were networking sites that could help you find a job or a sales lead, then there were social sites whose purpose was simply, well, networking. Sites like Facebook and Twitter had no trouble achieving explosive growth, in large part because they were free. But lately the user/consumer has come to realize that free ain’t exactly free. The strings attached cause users to give up privacy and submit to psychological manipulation most often without their consent—a high price to pay for somewhat glorified email.

    Social media’s problems have been well documented so there’s no reason to review them here. But hidden in the headlines are some nervous technology companies that jumped on the bandwagon early to make their wares all social, all the time. Exhibit A in all this is CRM. There’s no CRM company that doesn’t leverage social media to support customer centric business processes. From sales to service and marketing, CRM’s benefits include a lot of value from providing significantly lower cost business processes.

    Social CRM

    But now the vehicle for all that goodness is in trouble and while no vendors that I’ve spoken to think they’ll be abandoning their links to social media, some are getting nervous. A recent story in the New York Times documents how consumers in Illinois filed a suit against Facebook for violating a state privacy law. The suit alleges that Facebook used facial recognition software on users’ photographs without permission. In response, the social media giant is trying to invalidate the action saying that no harm was done and harm beyond simple law breaking is needed to enable a consumer to sue. Seriously.

    Meanwhile, Facebook is in freefall. Grassroots movements encouraging people to quit Facebook, and other social networks, are gaining traction—enough that the company has doubled the waiting period for people to actually leave and have their accounts expunged from 2 to 4 weeks.

    A new niche

    Leaving the law suits aside, this ongoing drama is opening a new social media niche and there are vendors queuing up to enter. The new niche attempts to provide the goodness of social media including—the immediacy, bi-directional communication, low cost and broad distribution—without the vendor shenanigans. Actually, there may be two potential niches, call them Facebook lite or Facebook nice, and notifications.

    The first option would strip away Facebook’s propensity to mine other people’s data but from a commercial standpoint omitting data gathering and analysis would leave Facebook looking bloated and silly. The second option might be a Goldilocks solution because it admits users fairly easily and offers a communications regimen that’s not too much, not too little, but just right. That’s notifications but they aren’t for everyone.

    People using notifications dispense with the small talk—no baby pictures, cats or dogs or birthday reminders. With notifications people are always in the middle of a conversation not trying to hit the reset button because thousands of followers need reminding.

    Social scientists tell us that typical people can maintain between 150 and 200 or so relationships; it’s called the Dunbar number and more than that leads to confusion. Common social networking makes it possible to go way beyond Dunbar though the relationships maintained often look not much different than what you get with broadcast advertising.

    I think there’s a future for notifications and it’s possible that notification technologies will disrupt social networking. As with most disruptions the older technologies won’t necessarily go away but their market reach and importance would decline. Notifications in CRM would give you a just the facts ma’am vendor customer communications stream.

    Testing the idea

    Right now, I’m part of a beta test of a notification product in stealth mode. Compared to Facebook, you might say it’s bare-bones. There are no apps, no profile database for the unscrupulous to mine, just a list of my peeps, what I’ve called their attention to and what they’ve sent me (along with our comments). Sometimes I ignore the incoming flow for lack of time and it’s a good indication that I’ve reached my personal Dunbar number.

    If there were ads and offers in the stream, I’d ignore them too because I’m good at understanding my needs. With so little data emanating from the user you might logically ask how a vendor is supposed to train an algorithm. The simple answer is that you hire people, perhaps subscribers for a time to share their data. That would be more than enough to ethically capture use data and train algorithms.

    Not long ago, Esteban Kolsky and I ran a survey. As with most market research studies the hard part is getting people to take the survey. Ten years ago, it was relatively easy, you just bought a list and invited people and there were usually enough responses for statistical reliability. But lately no one wants to be bothered and market research has taken a hit.

    The good news, though, is that the situation has opened a niche. Database vendors compile lists of people with specific attributes and pay them to take surveys. We researchers pay a fee to the consolidators and we get our answers. Most importantly, the responses come from people with the exact attributes we specify.

    My two bits

    There will be people who say that social media can’t or won’t be effective with a payment model to which I say that’s not my experience. Social media has tapped into a rich vein of information and access shouldn’t rely on subterfuge. It generates huge profits and there’s no longer a reason (if there ever was one) for sneaking around the user database for insights.

    So those are some of the niches opening up in the shadow of social media. Notifications and a pay as you go model for research that’s above board and gives consumers what they need. I think CRM vendors are paying close attention and the current war room mentality companies like Facebook are exhibiting is not helpful and could lead to an unnecessary crisis in social and maybe CRM. We don’t need this.

     

     

    Published: 11 months ago