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    Just a few short years ago, customer communication management (CCM) was boring. It was dull, old-fashioned, and not digital enough, making archaic print pages from all those old mainframe and client-server back-office systems. Vendors tried to figure out how to rebrand, reposition, and regain some relevance. Even the term "CCM" fell out of favor, as vendors deemphasized it or even completely dropped it from their branding.

    But here we are in 2016, and the love is back. CCM is hot again. I had really hoped we could come up with a better term, but we didn’t—and I didn’t. So, we go with what we’ve got, and what we’ve got is some serious interest in everything CCM. In the last six months, I have fielded more calls—from systems integrators, equity investors, enterprise buyers, and software vendors—than at any time in recent memory. Not only is there inquiry interest, there is also serious money behind it.

    In recent months, OpenText shelled out almost $500 million to buy the entire customer engagement software portfolio of HP, Inc.—including Exstream. Then, just a few weeks ago, Prinova was on the receiving end of a $17 million investment from equity firm Volition Capital.

    Communications isn’t a back-office function or a marketing function but a core function of the digital enterprise.

    So, what’s happening here? A couple of things.

    Obviously, the emphasis on, and advancement of, multi-channel output and mobile device support by vendors has had a big impact. There’s growing realization among enterprise buyers that modern CCM platforms have a lot of capabilities besides print. Vendors have also begun making the systems easier to use. Interfaces have improved, proofing has improved, and so have the sophistication of configuration and integration tools.

    Most importantly, I think there is a growing understanding within the enterprise that digital experience isn’t just about pretty apps or brilliant marketing. Creating a compelling—a sticky—digital experience over the long term means giving customers ready, easy access to all sorts of information about their transactions and relationship with the company. It means improving and personalizing customer service—and improving self-service.

    While doing this, the enterprise also needs to be constantly collecting and updating information from the customer. This means systems—customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise content management (ECM), digital asset management (DAM), specialized line-of-business systems, and the entire alphabet of three-letter software acronyms—need a common point, a connection point, where the information can be combined, formatted, verified, validated, and vetted according to business rules and legal constraints.

    That’s a big ask. We’re not there yet, but the search is on for how to solve this, because the disconnected silos of data and processes that exist in all of today’s enterprises are simply not amenable to creating the next generation of digital experience, and that leads us to the money. Equity investors and systems integrators all sense this opportunity. This is a complex enterprise problem with growing momentum. The more digital we become, the more important this is. There will be multiple approaches and, ultimately, multiple solutions, but one good place to start is with the enterprise-grade CCM platforms that sit inside virtually every bank, insurer, and investment firm worldwide.

    These systems have been engineered for robustness, scalability, accuracy, and compliance. They have been enhanced in recent years with sophisticated mobile and multi-channel capabilities. They have become easier to use, easier to deploy, and easier to scale. We are seeing the beginnings of process management, collaboration, and analytics capabilities. Cognitive computing, customer journey mapping, real-time approval workflows, and next-best interaction recommendation engines are all emerging or on the horizon with various CCM vendors.

    Vendors also see the opportunity. At the recent OpenText Enterprise World in Nashville, OpenText CEO Mark Barrenechea made it clear that he expects to be a market leader in both customer experience management and customer communication management. OpenText’s approach is to create platforms of integrated and interoperable solutions, and the firm was showing early examples of working analytics code developed from the HP, Inc. acquisitions.

    GMC Software, Pitney Bowes, Doxee, and others are all building out their offering capabilities, features, and functions on what is, essentially, a communications platform approach. Over the next few years, I believe we will see growing acceptance of these communications platforms within the enterprise.

    Communications isn’t a back-office function or a marketing function but a core function of the digital enterprise. It’s a sophisticated function that will require expertise, investment, and effort to evolve. The high level of interest in CCM makes me believe we are entering a prolonged period of activity in this area.

    What’s old has become new again. We knew all along it was still relevant. We just had to modernize a bit, and then wait awhile for everyone else to catch up.

    Terry Frazier is a Research Director within IDC's Document Solutions research group. He is responsible for the Smart Customer Engagement practice as well as written research in managed print and document services and document outsourcing. Follow @IDCHardcopy on Twitter.

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