Online or On Demand: What's Better?

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Since I started in this industry more than 20 years ago, I have been exposed to many variations of marketing database maintenance. There are house files, master files, pseudo databases, databases, relational databases, warehouses, enterprise warehouses, datamarts and others. Each uses different technology and processing procedures to capture some level of customer history or activity.

In concept, little has changed. Though technology has improved - processes are faster and cheaper than ever, and there are more of them - the customer transaction information is basically the same. The metrics are more detailed and easier to get to for analysis purposes, however, and more enhancement data is available.

Recent times are more exciting than ever in this regard. No matter how you maintain your customer history, you should have faster, smarter access to it. Reports that took six months to develop are routinely delivered in a month or less. As a result, marketing strategies have changed. Marketers are much more targeted with their offers and the timing of them.

Today we use terms like customer relations, customer relationship management and customer managed relationships. These are new times, with new technology and new strategies to reach the same end: acquire new customers and motivate existing customers to buy more. I hasten to add that it is becoming more about the customer every day. As a consumer, I like this aspect very much. As a professional, I'm excited by our current capabilities to support that effort.

Faster and smarter are the order of the day. After decades of struggling with internal groups and vendors, marketers can have direct access to their database, produce reports of their choice and even run those illusive ad-hoc reports on their own. They can execute their own selections, create their own output media and format and ship the file, too.

Though technology has come a long way, not all organizations are ready for it. Many say they want online database access; some even say in real time. However, only the most committed, organized and carefully implemented online database installations have succeeded. The success rate is low - I've read as low as 28 percent in one recent Gartner, Meta Group report about CRM installations.

I'm sure there are several reasons for this. Some involve the initial concept, project scope, development effort, support and cost. There also is the expectation factor. I once heard the CEO of a Fortune 500 company say, "I want a world-class database in three months." It didn't happen, but trying took its toll on the company's marketing efforts.

With few successes, why risk it?

One contributing factor to failure is the lack of infrastructure to properly implement a new database. Existing staff usually is unsuited to the job of executing queries against a database. They don't understand the data as it resides in the database and have to learn new tools to access it.

Communication channels, the language and process are all different. Using Boolean logic, even in user-friendly applications, just isn't for everyone. A misplaced "greater than" or "equal to" statement can provide remarkably different results that can go undetected for some time.

Wouldn't it be nice to take advantage of the new technology while still doing business the way you currently do? Relatively quick and inexpensive access to your updated marketing database can be had in an on-demand environment.

You can communicate through an account manager or database analyst to request the reports you need, the way you want them. You can request ad-hoc counts or reports and get them in one or two days.

Some advantages of an on-demand environment are:

o You don't have to hire anyone until you're ready.

o You don't have to do your own work.

o You don't have to learn new systems or languages.

o You can continue to focus on what you do best.

o Your work is quality controlled.

o You have practically immediate access to the information you want.

o The cost is usually less than with a more robust system.

o You can learn what you really need with regard to staff, reports and access.

o Your company can define a practical database development and implementation initiative that will have a greater chance of success.

If you're ready for direct access to your database, and you have a good infrastructure, then online may be the wise choice for your company. Otherwise, consider the alternative of an on-demand database.


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