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CRM’s BI Soft-Underbelly; and will Web 2 change the corporate culture of KM collaboration? October 9, 2006

Posted by Cyril Brookes in General, Tacit (soft) information for BI.

I’ve always believed success with CRM and its companion application, Competitive Intelligence, is best measured by the extent that they enable us to manage the future of our relationships with customers and competitors.   AWOL customers or precocious competitors are past tense crises.  Sophisticated analysis as to why we lost a major customer is not much value to us after the event; the horse has bolted.  But a list of our current vulnerable clients or evolving competitors is immensely useful.  We can do something about them, if we have early warning capability.

Something about “known knowns” and “unk unks” could be inserted here, but I’ll stick to the knowledge management script.

Historical accuracy is vital for our accounting and other performance management tools, we can’t keep score without them.  On the other hand, CRM and CI need future oriented and problem alerting reports to show us where the issues potentially exist. 

Wither our prospective CRM and CI BI insight? 

As sure as god made little apples, it doesn’t come from the history.  It comes from an ideal blend of hard and soft information; where key customer and industry contact people are encouraged, empowered and enabled to feed raw intelligence to the right people, and subject experts comment on, and escalate importance of, news, rumors, assessments, etc.

Next post I’ll expand on my views on how to incorporate soft information into CRM and CI business intelligence applications. 

Before that, however, I will present my assessment of the barriers to effective collaboration that exist today.  Unless we know the enemy, we can’t engage and control it – definitely a case of unknown unknowns.

Soft information in CRM and CI can originate, or be inferred, from an infinite variety of news sources, reports, meeting minutes and, especially, from interactions between internal and external people (often the unscheduled ones are the most valuable).

This is, of course, the nub of the problem.  There is no metadata repository of CRM or CI business intelligence; no schema, no directory.   An equivalent is needed.

One could say: 

Soft information creation – thy name is Serendipity

Collaboration and knowledge sharing are endorsed by every corporate Great Kahuna, but this has little impact on those in the front line who are “in the know”. 

Without any prompting from management the network of information gatherers is in operation – in every business enterprise.  It is part of human nature to gossip.

What differentiates the effective organization is obviously the efficiency with which the intelligence that becomes accessible is made explicit; and then is collated, disseminated, assessed and matched with the available hard data by subject experts, in time for action to be taken.

This marshalling of intelligence is not a trivial task.  In my work with the “grapeVINE” system I came to recognize several reasons why people were reluctant to participate in what appears to be a most worthwhile and rewarding exercise.

Here are a “Top Ten” set of reasons why you (actually not you, Dear Reader, but those others who are self-centered and not team players!) don’t play the corporate collaboration game:

  1. You don’t want to start a debate you cannot control as it evolves
  2. Tall poppies lose their heads, so keep your head down and keep quiet
  3. Messengers, especially whistle blowing ones, get shot – or have short careers
  4. There’s no important witness around to hear what you have to say, so keep this intelligence to yourself until there is the right audience – the more valuable it is, the better and the longer you’ll wait to expound
  5. You don’t want to embarrass your boss, or peer group, so keep it quiet
  6. You’re not sure that the intelligence is correct, so just in case, keep it to yourself so you don’t lose “face”
  7. You’re reluctant to communicate gossip with people you do not know
  8. You don’t know who to tell, and it’s a lot of effort to find out
  9. There’s no reward mechanism for contributing intelligence; it’s a lot of work and others get the benefits, not you (it’s all downside, no upside)
  10. Your boss will only steal the idea, so don’t even think of telling

One new culture phenomenon may change all this.  The upcoming generation, raised on MySpace and other Web 2 diets, could exhibit different cultures when it comes to sharing corporate information.  They seem happy to expose every little item of personal information item to peer and public scrutiny.  It will be interesting to see if this carefree attitude extends to their professional lives in the next 5 years.  Of course, they may never become professional; no one will hire them with all that stuff out there!

For the present, valuable BI from CRM and CI applications depends on early warning components; and they are soft-centered.

The solution clearly is to find ways of ameliorating these culture barriers.  It’s tough, but there are ways.  If this is an important issue for you, watch this space.



1. Soft (Tacit) Information Metadata for CRM and Competitive Intelligence BI « Cyril on Business Intelligence - October 18, 2006

[…] We’ve explored why CRM and Competitive Intelligence isn’t shared in the previous blog post of October 9.   A major contribution factor is that few people understand that soft information has metadata, just like the hard stuff.  If you come here often you’ll know I’m a fan of BI oriented metadata repositories (to the extent of creating a new one!).  Business analysts need a metadata repository for the soft stuff too, or at least they need to understand what they’re working with. Without this understanding you can’t distinguish between, and treat appropriately, one rumor on customer disaffection, a second opinion on the impact of new patent, or a third comment on what’s wrong with the new marketing campaign. As with most abortive knowledge collaboration initiatives, enterprises usually do not address the underlying cultural factors inhibiting sharing.  They simply rely on altruistic motivation:  “It’s good for the company, so the teams will embrace it”.   Well, of course they won’t, or not often.  “Altruism is a disease”, someone perspicacious once said (actually it was my PA when I was a Professor).  Whatever the truth of this, good faith certainly is not a big motivator in a context where the staff members face potential downside when they open their mouths and blow the whistle on their boss, product, peers or whomever.  […]

2. BI System Design incorporating Wiki and other Web 2.0 Components « Cyril on Business Intelligence - January 10, 2007

[…] Corporate collaboration raises infinitely more cultural and behavioral red-flags than Web 2.0 practitioners could dream of; see earlier post. […]

3. John Gunning » Is there willingness to Collaborate on Enterprise Data? - January 23, 2007

[…] CRM’s BI Soft-Underbelly; and will Web 2 change the corporate culture of KM collaboration? […]

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