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If you're a buyer or seller of customer communications management (CCM) solutions, you're living in a great time—a time of great opportunity to radically improve communication processes, communication effectiveness, and customer satisfaction. However, with great opportunity comes great challenges. Right now, that challenge is dealing with a changing enterprise platform landscape and effectively executing a strategy that meets the market where it's going rather than where it is today.

Technology analyst firms, like IDC and our competitors, are not immune to the effects of this shifting foundation. We have to create well-defined but reasonably broad boxes into which we can put a number of firms to study a market—with enough specificity to be useful yet enough flexibility to make the list of market participants both valuable and interesting. We've done this pretty well over the years, because the technologies were differentiated enough so that we could draw recognizable boundaries with little effort, but this is getting harder.

Monolithic content management suites are being replaced by content services. Collaborative processes are crossing the barrier between those inside and outside the enterprise. Process automation, management, and measurement make it possible to ensure complex communications consistently happen in a timely and accurate fashion. Yet, bringing all this together is an enormous challenge—one where CCM platforms could sit right in the middle—if they adapt to do so.

Enterprise buyers want solutions to this multi-faceted problem, but none are available. The number one question I hear from our enterprise customers is, "How well does Product X support integration with products of Type Y or Type Z?" They also want to know how they can improve the speed, accuracy, and effectiveness of their response to an ever-widening array of customer input. They no longer think just about the bill, the statement, or the policy but about the interaction.

To survive, vendors must move well beyond this old model to a new model that focuses on adding value to the process of communicating intelligently.

CCM vendors have responded, to some extent. Design environments have become increasingly browser-based, friendly, and flexible. Multi-channel output and responsive template development are now table stakes for any vendor. Process and workflow management are beginning to appear in some offerings and basic analytics functions in others, but more is needed.

The enterprise needs new capabilities. There are many possibilities and few clear-cut answers. CCM requirements in this day and age go well beyond support for different device and output types to now include streamlining and automating the communication and design processes as well as managing response time, thoroughness, and accuracy.

The vendors know this. Across the industry, firms are in various stages of examining their market position as well as market positioning—trying to assess if the strategies they have pursued in the recent past are going to work in the next two to five years. I’ve had discussions with firms on product naming, product bundling, and value proposition—all of which were spurred, at least in part, by the increasing role of business process, campaign planning, analytics, and interaction management in CCM. In almost all cases, the answer is, "No"—what you’ve been doing isn’t going to work much longer. It’s either too complicated, too narrow, too confusing, or all of the above.

At IDC, we have made two changes to address this new view.
  • First, we've drawn some new boxes. CCM will no longer be a silo that is covered in isolation. We will continue to cover CCM as a software category but will do so inside our new Content Workflow Transformation practice. This allows us to put CCM in context with the rapidly changing ecosystem of process automation, analytics, and integration that we believe will be the future of maintaining ongoing communication with customers. Nothing changes overnight—sometimes the enterprise moves with glacial speed—but the impact of cloud-based services, public APIs, content analytics, and cognitive systems on CCM should not be underestimated.
  • Second, we have begun to catalog the ways in which companies use some of these advanced capabilities in our IDC MaturityScape for Customer Communications Management. Stages ranging from the simple "Limited Communicator" of a small utility operating in a monopoly environment to the largest "Conversational Communicator" operating in a highly competitive market can help both vendors and buyers of CCM solutions determine the CCM practices, processes, and capabilities that are most effective as organizations increase their communications maturity.
There is still a role for CCM specialization, but it can no longer be about the document, the bill, or the statement. Digital transformation is a wave sweeping the enterprise, and it cannot be driven, or even guided, from a silo around critical communications when, in fact, every communication is now critical. To survive, vendors must move well beyond this old model to a new model that focuses on adding value to the process of communicating intelligently.

There are many ways to do this and many opportunities to build platforms that are easier to understand and visualize as part of a holistic, customer-centric communications strategy. The question is, "What niche will your platform fill in this new world, and how will you add value to the new CCM process?"

Terry Frazier is the Research Director of Digital Content Technologies in IDC’s Analytics and Information Management practice. He leads research into enterprise content management (ECM), file synch and share (EFSS), digital signature technologies (e-Sign), and customer communications management (CCM). Follow him on Twitter @ThinkandCompete.