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In the software business, well-intentioned requests for a new feature can sometimes get in the way of a larger strategy. "Feature creep" can turn into future limitations, unforeseen consequences, and deployment complications. If you manage a portfolio of communications (ranging from simple, one-line emails to complex, multi-page contracts), then you know you have to support all these communications with as few solutions as possible.

This is a very real problem for many of us in the document community, since adjacent technologies (like customer relationship management, business process management, enterprise resource planning, and business analytics) have been creeping into our infrastructures. While these are great innovations in their own right, this interferes with your ability to effectively manage and evolve your communications. If we do not proactively define and manage how our communication strategies support the customer experience, we may find ourselves with a problem too complex to manage.

As software budgets shift away from information technology (IT) and infrastructure programs toward marketing and project teams, the specifications and requirements will become more narrow. This is natural, since we're thinking about the project’s scope. However, quick implementations, time to value, and minimum viable product thinking are overestimating the project’s importance and underestimating (or altogether ignoring) the impact on other customer-facing systems.

It's important to be aware of small projects—or “shadow communications”—that reach customers without your knowledge or input. Most of the time, these projects appear too small to matter.

Feature creep often makes an appearance because some of your colleagues have found an easier way to do things. Unfortunately, they are probably right.

Feature creep often makes an appearance because some of your colleagues have found an easier way to do things. Unfortunately, they are probably right. Maybe a user wants to generate a simple confirmation email in order to add a customer to the prospect list. Your customer relationship management (CRM) experts could probably do this in a few hours—with no project plan, but, left alone, this would create a communication outside of your portfolio. This island project could cause a problem if corporate branding or regulations change or if compliance knocks on the door.

The same could be said for enterprise resource planning (ERP) and business process management (BPM) systems. The inventory update could probably trigger messages to your sales team, but that system will likely be overlooked in the next rebrand. Furthermore, the BPM system may be able to send out an insurance card to a new client easily enough, but it may not be optimized for all of the channels you need to support.

Managing your systems is difficult because you are running them for an entire enterprise’s communication portfolio. While you may produce simple emails, auto-responses, and mobile chat interactions, you also have to deal with complex contracts, regulatory compliance checks, archive requirements, and customer experience (CX) consistency steps. So, your systems are designed for the maximum complexity.

Since you see the most complex communication requirements and your stakeholders sometimes only see the least complex, it’s up to you to explain the importance of a managed communication portfolio that supports your business and CX strategies. All these communications must fit together, be consistent, and serve the business. This means re-engineering your service levels in the business.

So here is the thing: You have to make your communications just as easy as your stakeholders would expect. This means doing more of the work, lending your expertise, and, most importantly, sharing how their particular communication fits within the bigger picture. By showing the benefits of a managed communication portfolio, you will earn the right to own that communication as new channels emerge, processes change, and new enterprise systems evolve—ensuring that your portfolio will be well-managed and well-executed.

Scott Draeger is Vice President of Customer Transformation at Quadient. He joined the digital document industry in 1997, after graduating from UNLV. He started as a document designer using a collection of hardware and software technologies, before moving to the software side of the industry. His broad experience includes helping clients improve customer communications in over 20 countries. For more information, visit www.quadient.com or follow him on Twitter @scottdraeger.
 

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