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KM and CRM: Is the line blurring?

This article appears in the issue May 2013, [Volume 22, Issue 5]
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What does not seem to have happened is one firm dominating in either CRM or knowledge management. Salesforce.com may be "the best" today. But today's market position is no predictor of tomorrow's success in a sector where the competition includes a number of large, capable competitors. Knowledge management seems to be a wide-open horse race as well. No single vendors jumps out as the undisputed leader.

Lessons to be learned

Are there some lessons to be learned from the Oracle InQuira deal and similar ones? I took away several from my consideration of this case.

First, a quick look at Oracle's documentation for InQuira reveals that most of the publicly accessible documents date from 2008 to 2010. Updates are difficult to locate. I expected to find current information about Oracle InQuira systems. Perhaps I overlooked information on the Oracle website, but I found the direct links at http://docs.oracle.com/cd/E28595_01/index.htm less robust than the documentation listed on Bing or Google when I searched for "Oracle InQuira documentation." I came away with the question, "Has Oracle cut back on its commitment to InQuira technology?"

Second, the CRM field contains mostly familiar names. Consolidation has allowed a number of larger, high-profile companies to become the vendors to consider in a large enterprise or government procurement process. The companies listed in the "best of" lists offer a wide range of services. They are necessary because customer support has become more demanding as a solution and because licensees need access to integrated functions. Silos of capability are too expensive and inefficient for today's business climate.

Third, the knowledge management sector is becoming broader in scope. My hypothesis is that KM is recognized as a mission-critical function in savvy organizations. However, the point of entry for knowledge management may be an information pain point that is quite specific. For example, marketing content management may be the problem at a company. The knowledge management solution, therefore, involves some of the Oracle InQuira type functionality, as well as specialized XML (extensible markup language) databases and fine-grained editorial workflow software. Another company may enter the KM arena as a result of a legal matter and the need to prepare information as part of the discovery process.

My hypothesis is that specific applications of information technology are now at a disadvantage if they are one-trick ponies. Organizations need solutions because the business realities force multifaceted approaches to center stage. I also believe that a knowledge management solution has to be anchored to specific business challenges, problems or needs. A fuzzy explanation of integration, the cloud and findability is likely to be perceived as too abstract for some situations.

I am on the fence about the consolidation taking place in many information-centric markets. Consolidation in the automobile industry set the stage for the revolution in manufacturing that bulldozed the U.S. auto manufacturers.

As Peter Drucker observed: "Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes." For CRM and knowledge management, results will change the landscape. Results make clear the future of both disciplines.

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