Friday, January 18, 2013

IBM Interact Adds Interactions to Enterprise Marketing Management

My continuing tour of real time interaction managers landed with the good folks at IBM two weeks ago, where I caught up with what’s now IBM Interact. The product was originally launched more than a decade ago by Unica as Affinium Interact.*

The concept of Interact has stayed quite consistent over the years, although the underlying technology has been overhauled several times. The general trend of the changes has been closer integration with other components of the IBM/Unica marketing suite. For example, the original Interact had its own flow chart interface, but the system now uses the same segmentation interface as IBM Campaign. The two modules can also share segment definitions, offers, and interaction history. There’s also some integration with other IBM marketing products, notably the Product Recommendation component inherited from IBM’s CoreMetrics acquisition.

Interact's concept is the same as other interaction managers: touchpoints send it data about a current interaction; the system uses rules, models and data to select one or more offers; and the offers are sent back to the touchpoint for delivery. The differences among these systems are matters of nuance: Interact stores its own permanent customer profiles, while some other systems must re-load data from external systems during each interaction.  Interact assigns fixed scores to offers within each segment definitions, while other systems use scoring formulas shared across segments (although Interact can do that too).  Interact can create self-training predictive models, not all competitors have this option.

A couple of other features seem more or less unique. Interact determines whether customers are eligible for an offer using either qualification rules or Campaign-generated “white lists” and “black lists”; other systems use rules alone. Interact can also assign offers at global, segment, or individual levels, while other systems don’t provide all those choices.

It’s unlikely that any of these differences make Interact significantly more powerful or easier to use than competitors. In practice, the system’s major appeal will be its close integration with Campaign and other IBM products. It is now part of the IBM’s Enterprise Marketing Management (EMM) group, which includes both Unica and Coremetrics, both acquired in 2010. This group supports IBM’s larger strategy of selling systems that use huge quantities of data to run all aspects of large organizations. The company has identified marketing organizations as a major potential market within this strategy and is spending aggressively to both develop that market and take advantage of it.

You might think that Interact plays a central role in IBM’s marketing ecosystem: after all, real-time interactions are the epitome of data-driven marketing. But just a tiny fraction of IBM’s 2,500 EMM customers use Interact (actual figures are confidential) and most deployments seem to be focused on specific -- dare I say tactical? -- applications in one or two channels. The company’s EMM focus seems to be more on analytics and outbound marketing: for example, its most recent EMM acquisitions were Tealeaf Technology (Web experience analysis)  and DemandTec (merchandising analysis) . But it does report increasing interest in Interact among its clients, and high hopes for future growth.

*A year’s free AARP membership to everyone who remembers the Affinium brand and can sing the jingle.**

** Okay, just kidding.  There never was an Affinium jingle, so far as I know.

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