Yesterday at the Oracle CX Summit, the company launched its communications industry-specific suite, dubbed Oracle Digital Experience for Communications. This is an important development, not just for the comms industry but for the wider services business community. Here's why.
I've lost count of the number of years we have been asking the enterprise applications mega-vendor community to step up and deliver industry-specific templates and functionality. Of those in that group, only Infor has made substantive progress. Now, Oracle signals it's in the game, and that matters because if Oracle delivers (and we have yet to see many proof points), then it is offering a single vendor set of integrated end-to-end processes that can fast track time to value.
This was always the promise of ERP from the very early days but has not materialized in any meaningful way. Why? Several reasons but perhaps the most important is that the emergence of cloud technologies and the proliferation of apps from different vendors makes for a spaghetti soup IT landscape that's difficult to understand, let alone straddle.
In his opening discussion, Larry Ellison, CTO Oracle, made the case succinctly when he said that while it appears to make sense buying best in class applications, those same applications end up serving to maintain operational siloes. Why? On the one hand, best in class gets you the best functionality, but if, as is often the case, individual application upgrade cycles run 3-4 times a year, then how do you coordinate any meaningful integration between those apps without expending significant amounts of money? The answer is that you don't. It's hardly surprising then that Ellison promotes the idea that a single provider of end to end processes where all the applications within the suite are integrated makes sense.
On its face, the Oracle argument is powerful, and it's one we've heard many times over the years from different providers. But execution of that vision has not been significantly impactful. There have been exceptions and, apart from Infor, we can point to SAP's past efforts. But even those have stopped short of what's needed in a 21st-century business where cloud architectures avoid the numerous practical problems of working in a constrained on-premises world. Is it that different this time around? Yes and no.
In a conversation with Nate Skinner, SVP marketing for Oracle CX, I asked for specifics on the new offering, focusing on the way \oracle differentiates:
I think, for the first time we are really talking about customer experience as a broad category that is not only the domain of a marketing leader. In my 11 years in marketing, 21 years in technology, the experience of the customer was always something that kind of landed on the CMOs desk. But their ability to influence or affect that was limited. The reason is because the customers experience can be started or ended, at any point across the lifecycle that the customer has. They could start a relationship with you in the customer support queue. By sending an email, through a marketing campaign or they click on something they see in an ad campaign, they can start the relationship talking to a seller. In short, they can start the relationship anywhere there is a digital connection.
Thinking about the customer experience that just starts by a visit to the website or through an ad campaign is short sighted at best and a disservice to a customer at worse. Our vision and our approach to customer experience is really about the way you manifest an extraordinary customer experience as a company by empowering any employee who can touch the customer to make that experience extraordinary.
If that sounds like a grand plan, it is, but it opens up an important question - who owns what processes? In the current world, process owners sit in different parts of the business but typically, they only own the process to which they are assigned. In Oracle's vision, that doesn't go away, but the data that might be needed between and among those process owners is shared at the right time and in the right context.
In turn wherever a customer is in a buying situation, the person attending to their needs has a complete picture of what is happening. Oracle envisions that in this way, the CX experience will encourage the buyer to complete a purchase in the full knowledge that what they're getting is what they need.
That's not as fuzzy as it sounds. Take the example of my wanting to buy a widget from X. Am I new customer or one that has a relationship stretching back 20 years? Do I pay on time? What's my service history like? Each of those questions, taken in combination will lead to a different conclusion. Where Oracle claims its differentiation is in synthesizing the data points that come out of those answers to arrive at a personalized offering that closest matches my need for a widget. Oracle makes the AI play by referencing its digital voice assistant as a way of making the notion of having to work through myriad screens a thing of the past. It also references its ability to predict the right offer, based on past direct customer interactions and the interactions with millions of other customers in similar situations. Perhaps most importantly, it serves the seller with the right information and process steps at the point of sale.
Turning to communications industry-specific, Oracle took a development approach that brought together different parts of the Oracle R&D group with Swisscom, Oracle's go to market partner. Skinner put it this way:
We're not trying to take a core product and put a veneer on it. We have deep, broad vertical experience in industries like telco. And so instead of some CX team building, something that we think might be interesting to telcos, we work directly with our telco vertical business unit, to build in and bake in the solution, the way that they understand what customers need. So it looks and acts and feels like a native telecommunications solution. And that team that sells only telco solutions to telco providers with whom they work to ensure that the industry needs are well understood.
I asked whether Swisscom is going with this solution for B2B or B2C since those markets have different characteristics. Both - and here Skinner references the importance of data to ensuring that while each market works in different ways that customers only have to manage a single data model. That makes sense as I know of situations where different teams built B2B and B2C SFA solutions with the same software but different database schemas and then wondered why the solutions couldn't make sense of each other.
So what's new functionally in the CX communications industry release? From the blurbs:
- Launch: gives service providers a 360-degree customer dashboard and simple business user tools to quickly create and launch more relevant products and promotions without IT assistance. As a result, service providers can speed offer uptake and derive revenue from new market opportunities, such as 5G, while reducing management costs through one-click automated publishing of offers to catalogs such as sales, commerce, billing, and provisioning.
- Care: offers natural language processing and digital engagement tools, as a smart agent desktop and guided workflows. With these features, customers can find answers faster on their own and service agents have the intelligence and context needed to resolve issues faster.
- Buying: delivers data-driven recommendations so service providers can provide more personalized omnichannel commerce experiences. For example, if a customer does not take advantage of their land (home) line but continually go over their mobile minute limits, the module can suggest that sales agents offer the option of dropping the home line, increasing mobile minutes, and trying a new entertainment package free for three months. This kind of contextual insight helps service providers increase cross-sell/upsell opportunities, improve conversion rates, and reduce shopping cart abandonment.
The Launch and Care modules are available today, with the Buying application available within the next 12 months.
Taken individually, Launch and Care look like evolutions of service offerings already in the market. Oracle says otherwise, arguing that the end to end process elements, combined with heavy use of NLP coupled with digital voice assistants and a 'mobile-first' design ethos take the best of what we've seen in service offerings of the past but recast them for the modern day. I pressed Skinner on the Care module release for 12 months can seem an eternity in 21st-century development terms. Skinner said that as new products, Oracle wants to ensure that they've got the baseline functionality right for customers wanting to start the digital journey and that while 12 months is the stated timeframe, he hopes that can be accelerated.
Oracle's end-to-end process story, when understood on the context of the technology underpinning it, coupled with the fact that it melds front and back-office functions offers the opportunity to view how business is conducted in a fresh way. The C-word (collaboration) springs to mind. Here, I sense the pandemic's impact works in Oracle's favor as organizations discover the negative effect of disconnected processes in a distributed work environment. Joe's ability to walk up to Betty and get an answer to a gnarly problem is gone - perhaps forever - and it is here that smart digital solutions make the difference between a good CX and 'meh.'
As always, execution is key. So far, Oracle is making all the right noises, evidenced by an approach that is both coherent and persuasive. For me the key will come in Oracle's ability to not only execute well in the sales cycle but quickly surface customers who talk meaningfully about the difference it is making to both their business and the experience their customers remember. the one problem they face is that 'best of suite' rarely translates into 'best of class' across all categories. For its part, Oracle points us in the directio of adsvanced technologies, outweighing any deficiencies in core products. I'll take that with a pinch of salt until customers tell me otherwise.
In choosing communications with a focus on large telcos, Oracle is addressing a tough market. After all, who among us can honestly say they love their telco provider?
Let's revisit this in say 6-9 months time.