Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Balandra Orchestrates Customer Journey Without a CDP

Balandra Customer Flow Diagram
The need for a system that assembles unified, sharable customer profiles is now widely accepted. So is the label of “Customer Data Platform” to describe such systems. What people do still debate is whether a Customer Data Platform should only assemble those profiles or should also include features to “activate” them in the sense of selecting customer treatments. I personally find the discussion uninteresting since the plain reality is that some companies want activation features in their CDP and others do not.  Companies that don't want activation in their CDP may already have a separate activation system or prefer to purchase a separate one.  This means that activation is optional, and, thus, not a core CDP feature. QED.

Theory aside, it’s true that the majority of CDPs do include activation features.  This makes a stronger argument for the weaker claim that most buyers want activation features in their CDP.  But this has nothing to do with CDPs in particular: it’s just an instance of the general rule that buyers prefer integrated systems to separate components. This is known (to me, at least) as Raab's Law, stated most succinctly as "suites win".

A diehard advocate of “CDPs need activation” might question whether activation systems can truly be purchased separately. My response points to Journey Orchestration Engines (JOEs), a small but intriguing category that includes Thunderhead, Pointillist, and Kitewheel among others. These products select the best treatment for each customer in each situation and transmit their choice to delivery systems (email, Web CMS, mobile app, call center, etc.) for execution. All need customer profiles to function, but they don’t necessarily meet the RealCDP requirements for accepting data from all sources, retaining all details, storing the data internally, or sharing their profiles with others. This is because their designers’ focus is on the very different challenge of making it easy for users to define, manage, and optimize customer treatments across channels.

Meeting that challenge requires presenting customer data effectively, identifying events that might require an action, selecting the right action in the current situation, and sending that action to external systems for delivery. Some tasks, such as data presentation and delivery system integration, are also found in other types of systems. The unique challenge for Journey Orchestration Engines is finding the right action while taking into account the customer’s complete situation (not just the current interaction). This requires understanding all the factors that are relevant in the current situation and choosing the best among all possible actions.

Of course, "all" is an impossibly high standard.  A more realistic goal is to understand as many factors as possible and choose among the broadest range of available actions. It’s an important distinction because the scope of available data and actions will grow over time.  This means the key capability to look for is whether a system has the flexibility to accommodate new data and actions as these become available.

This brings us to Balandra, a Madrid-based journey orchestration engine.

Balandra is designed for complex service industries such as insurance, telecommunications, and healthcare, where companies have multiple, complex operational systems. Left to run independently, these systems will each send their own messages, creating a disconnected and often inappropriate experience for each customer. Balandra intercepts these messages and replaces them with a single stream is governed by a common set of rules.

The rules themselves draw on a structure that organizes customer experience into major processes such as onboarding a new client, setting up a new service, or filing an insurance claim. Each process is assigned a combination of data, lifecycle stages, available actions, and decision rules. When an event occurs that involves the process, Balandra executes its rules to pick an action based on the customer’s data and lifecycle stage.

This may not sound especially exciting. But it’s important to contrast Balandra’s approach with conventional customer journey flows.  These follow a specified sequence of messages and events, at best with some branching to accommodate different customer behaviors as the journey progresses. But a conventional journey flow can only include a fairly low number of steps and branches before it becomes incomprehensibly complex. The rule-based approach avoids this problem by letting users  create different rules for different factors and apply them in sequence. So, you might have one rule that checks for recent customer service issues, another that checks for customer value, and another for previous purchases. Each rule would add or exclude particular messages from consideration. After all the rules had executed, a final rule would select from the pool of messages that remain available.

The advantage of this approach is that each rule executes independently, avoiding the need for a complex decision tree that specifies different treatments for different combinations of conditions. Rules can just be added or dropped into the mix knowing that they’ll apply themselves only when relevant conditions are met. For example, a rule might check for recent customer service problems and suppress new product offers within the following two weeks if one occurred. This happens (or doesn’t happen) across all interactions without explicitly building that check into each journey flow.

To be clear, Balandra isn’t the only system to take this approach. In fact, its actual rule definition and execution is done using a standard business rules engine – IBM’s Operational Decision Manager (ODM), formerly ILOG. The system does have an interface that lets non-technical users define the data associated with each process and specify connections with delivery systems. It can ingest data in real time via APIs, through event streams such as Kafka, or through batch file updates. It can support both real time interactions and batch processing for outbound campaigns.

If you’re keeping score, Balandra doesn’t qualify as a CDP because it only uploads a fraction of the data related to a customer – the interactions between customer and company systems. While this means Balandra clients might still want a separate CDP system, it also enables Balandra to use many fewer resources than a CDP would.

Balandra launched its product in 2014. It currently has four clients in production, all in Spain, and is looking distribution partners in other regions. Pricing starts around $50,000 per year and grows based on the number of customers.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Reflections on the CDP Revolution in France (and the Rest of Europe)

The CDP Institute just published a report on the CDP Industry in Europe (download here). This was based primarily on the global Industry Update released last month. This showed especially fast growth in Europe, with a year-on-year increase of 74% in the number of European vendors and 80% in European CDP employment, compared with growth outside of Europe of 38% in vendors and 59% in employment.

We spent quite a bit of time in Europe last year, so I certainly have my own ideas of the reasons behind these sharp increases. But it always seems best to get information from people who live in the region. So as part of the report we collected comments from several European CDP vendors and consultants on what they saw happening in their markets. Their complete comments are included in the report. They are largely consistent with each other, so I think it’s fair to give a summary. Here’s my interpretation:

• The European market is divided into several zones, each at a different stage of the development. The UK market is closest to the U.S. and most mature. Growth there began in 2017, paused as companies worked to meet the GDPR deadline of May 2018, and then resumed. The Netherlands and Germany are next in line, with growth taking off after mid-2018. Southern Europe, Eastern Europe and the Nordics the least mature, with limited deployment to date. Maturity can be measured by understanding of CDP, adoption levels, and the speed of sales cycles.

• Each market is served by native national vendors. These are often affiliated with marketing agencies or consultancies and usually provide a combination of data assembly and campaign management. Large U.S-based vendors have a substantial presence in the UK and Netherlands/Germany regions but little activity elsewhere. These vendors are primarily focused on data assembly. Some of the European vendors also sell throughout the UK/Netherlands/Germany markets. Few non-local vendors have much presence in Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, or the Nordic.

• France is a market of its own.  Most CDP sales in France are made by French vendors, who sell little outside of France.  U.S. and non-French European vendors do continue to try to penetrate the French market, so far with limited success.  Unlike other markets, the French vendors generally started as Data Management Platforms (DMPs) although they took a broad approach that included some CDP features from the start. They have now further evolved to towards CDP although their DMP roots still show.

• GDPR was an early impetus to CDP adoption but that momentum is now largely spent. Current interest in CDP is based on the core use cases of data unification and campaign management. In the more mature markets, where CDPs are better understood, this interest is most likely to result in buying a packaged CDP system. In the less mature markets, this interest is more likely to result in buying a solution from an agency or in building a solution in-house.

These observations largely parallel my own impressions of the region. One difference is that none of the commenters mentioned the several European CDPs that compete globally as specialists in travel, telecommunications, financial services, or retail. The reason may simply be that only one the vendors who contributed to the report is in this category.  Also, none mentioned the limited funding available to European CDP vendors, an extremely sharp contrast to heavily-funded U.S.-based firms.

There’s much more in the report, both in the vendors’ comments and in the industry data.  Again you can download it here.  Enjoy.