It's a classic problem. Jane is an account manager at ABC, Inc., a hypothetical consumer packaged goods (CPG) company. Her job is to keep her customers (retailers and distributors) happy so they'll keep reselling ABC products. When Jane's customers call with a problem, it's difficult for her to collect all the information she needs to assess and resolve the problem. Bob, who manages the help desk at ABC, Inc., has pretty much the same problem. Jane and Bob's problem is that ABC's customer information is strewn across information systems for sales-force management, help desk, order entry, shipping, billing and so forth.

But it's not just Jane and Bob who are suffering. Ted is one of Jane's accounts. He's an inventory manager for a retail chain, and he maintains appropriate stock levels of several types of CPGs. Ted wishes that ABC had a Web site where he could audit his outstanding balance, check the status of orders and occasionally change the quantity or shipping address of an order. The problem, however, is that Jane's company cannot pull together this information on a real- or near-time basis, so they cannot offer it to Ted for self-service.

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