Recently, I tried to purchase additional services from a local utility provider - the same company that had recently run a series of TV spots announcing their new initiative to satisfy customers, no matter what. The bizarre experience that followed taught me several lessons about the need to move beyond traditional customer relationship management (CRM) systems to build the extended intelligent enterprise (XIE) with two critical pieces at its core:

  1. A zero-latency operational data store, updated via messaging technology, that virtually eliminates the time lapse between receiving and acting on information and enables organizations to act in real time, thus providing what Gartner terms "business activity monitoring" or real-time decision making.
  2. An enterprise portal to serve as a gateway to an information systems environment that includes the zero-latency operational data store (blanketed in a great customer service system), as well as a closed-loop business intelligence (BI) layer that integrates data across the entire value chain.

Lesson 1: Make it your goal reduce the latency factor of information in your organization to zero. When I called to purchase the additional services, the customer service representative (CSR) wouldn't speak to me because my name wasn't the exact one listed on the account. Even though I provided the requisite information to enable the CSR to resolve the matter, she could not update the company's systems in real time; therefore, she had no ability to act on the new information.

To compound the problem, the service I wanted was not yet available in all areas of my city. However, I had a hunch that my ZIP code was in the service area because there had been a work crew in my neighborhood the past week. (I was nosy and asked what they were doing.) Still, the hapless CSR couldn't tell whether or not I was in an eligible area. "You see," she said, "we contract with an independent installer for those services. My system is telling me that you aren't eligible."

Obviously, the company, its Web site and its service providers don't have an integrated information loop, nor do they have any sort of real-time operational data store that enables them to substantially reduce the latency factor (to zero, if possible) of their information and act on new information in real time. In other words, their information is virtually unusable - which leads me to lesson two.

Lesson 2: Construct an enterprise portal to enable real-time information access for all stakeholders. Meanwhile, I had logged onto the utility provider's Web site for more information. The Web site said my area was indeed eligible for the service. I told the CSR what the Web site said, and mass confusion ensued. I was transferred to no less than three supervisors before I finally got an answer. "Yes," the third supervisor said, "I checked the Web site, and it says your area is eligible. We'll arrange a service date."

This chaos could have been eliminated had my utility provider utilized an enterprise portal to serve as the gateway to its zero- latency operational data store and BI layer. Portals are a critical piece of the XIE infrastructure in that they give employees, trading partners and customers real-time access to critical information. They also enable information sharing throughout the trading partner network via enterprise and extra-prise application integration; the latency factor is significantly reduced and real-time action becomes possible.

Lesson 3: If your organization doesn't have an XIE, you cannot truly provide high-level customer service. Just when I thought I was getting somewhere, the most frustrating part of the ordeal began. I had another routine service date already scheduled for the upcoming Monday. I wanted to piggyback the new service request onto the existing service call. Piece of cake, right? Wrong. "Well," said the CSR, "in order to get the new service, we'll have to cancel the current service order and set a new date - 30 days out."

There was a conflict between the work-order system, the independent contractor's scheduling system and the customer service system. There couldn't be two open service orders for the same address. Regardless of how vociferously I argued, there was nothing to be done. I had wasted almost an hour and had gotten nowhere.

This incident isn't unique. It's merely one example of why implementing CRM solutions alone in a one-company vacuum won't work anymore. It is also perhaps the most glaring illustration of the need to extend intelligence capabilities across the entire trading partner network and eliminate the latency factor of information, thus enabling real-time action on any new information.

In today's fragmented environment where cost structures dictate that a wide network of partners must work together to provide timely, cost-effective and satisfactory customer service, it is critically important to expand the scope of CRM initiatives and infrastructures beyond the corporate walls. All trading partners must be hooked into an extended intelligent network that enables them to achieve zero latency in the process of receiving and acting on information. The partners must become the extended intelligent enterprise.

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