Customers are the reason any organization is in business. Without satisfied customers, all businesses will eventually fail – period. However, in the frenzy of trying to build and manage relationships that delight their customers, many organizations have become too narrowly focused on the customer.

The customer is simply the end of a long chain of events that must be efficiently integrated and properly timed to flow in a seamless stream. It's time to move beyond customer relationship management (CRM) and broaden the focus to enterprise relationship management and beyond. It's time to build the extended intelligent enterprise (XIE).1

Moving beyond the customer as the focus of relationship management requires building an extended architecture that incorporates all trading partners – from vendors to customers. This architecture must enable a holistic view of all relationships. It must move beyond the micro-focus of only fulfilling customers' needs to enable participation by all trading partners in the process of fulfilling each trading partner's needs.

Two factors will drive the construction of the XIE: the necessity to reduce the time lapse between receiving and acting on information, and the necessity to analyze information gathered from trading partner interaction to better anticipate future needs and make more accurate business decisions on the information gained.

Reducing the time lapse between receiving and acting on information requires an architecture that enables an organization to extend its intelligence infrastructure to meet each trading partner's needs and integrate customers and trading partners into one seamless intelligence loop. This XIE architecture is composed of tiers that have multiple layers within each tier. A powerful data layer that consists of storage mechanisms such as relational and multidimensional databases underpins the XIE architecture. This data layer feeds a server layer that is made up of Web, applications, database and analytical servers.

These data storage and analytical layers are protected by a network layer that makes necessary portions of the Web and application servers available for use (via the Internet, extranet and intranet as needed). The network layer protects sensitive areas through sophisticated security firewalls. This security makes the data safe for feeding the top tier of the architecture – the tier that is visible to most stakeholders in the organization at one time or another.

This visible tier that sits atop the XIE architecture is powered by top- notch business intelligence (BI) applications that enable businesses to utilize their accurate, current information to rapidly identify new trends, better understand and predict customer behavior and make more accurate, intelligent decisions.

Additionally, this layer contains all the lifeblood applications that are so critical to the day-to-day operations of the organization – CRM, enterprise resource planning (ERP), line-of-business and human resource management system (HRMS) applications. It also contains those applications that manage the tangible and intangible knowledge of the organization – document, content and knowledge management applications, for example.

Stakeholders will access this visible – but sensitive – information through cutting-edge portals and application interface products. These portal products act as the gateway between stakeholders in the organization – its customers, partners, employees and suppliers. Stakeholders have customized access based on their needs and security levels. By utilizing portals as the interface for the XIE architecture, all information needed to complete successful and profitable interactions between all stakeholders is made instantly available to those who need to see it and kept completely secure from those who don't.

I'll discuss the myriad benefits of implementing an XIE in future columns as we go deeper into the discussion of the component tiers of the XIE. However, briefly, the upside of building an XIE includes the ability to:

  • Obtain and increase customer loyalty by performing holistic analysis.
  • Quickly develop buyer behavior patterns and act on them in real time.
  • Increase effectiveness of marketing campaigns.
  • Understand how relationship management can optimize customer and trading partner value.
  • Gain a 360-degree view of the all extended relationships, enabling optimization at all levels.
  • Realize measurable return on investment (ROI) in the form of increased close rates, increased order sizes, decreased sales-cycle times, decreased marketing overhead and increased efficiency of trading partner networks.

The bottom line of building the extended intelligent enterprise is that it allows organizations to use time as an ally rather than an enemy. Time-sensitive customers can be retained, and real-time interaction with trading partners can increase collaborative trading efforts and maximize efficiency. The XIE enables all trading partners to participate in a win/win situation.

1. Doug Laney of the META Group provided the genesis of this phrase in a presentation at an Andersen Global Data Management Center of Excellence meeting.

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