Spotlight: Delivering Innovative Customer Experiences via the Cloud

Businesses are discovering creative ways to leverage swarms of customer data to provide intelligent support and personalized interactions.
Customer Experience

JobAdder provides software that enables more than 8,000 recruiters match candidates to jobs, track the candidates' progress, manage job orders, and more. And with the help of WalkMe, an enterprise engagement platform provider, JobAdder streamlined its services, sped up the onboarding process, and saw a reduction in service tickets.

Both companies depend on cloud computing to power their businesses.

Founded in 2007, JobAdder has "been in the cloud from the beginning," says Ryan Shiba, learning and development manager of JobAdder."Cloud computing is critical to the success of our customers as it allows them to use our software anywhere, anytime. Cloud software makes them more productive and efficient and requires far less investment in IT,infrastructure,and software costs."

Cloud computing is transforming how companies do business by providing cost-efficient, on-demand data resources. Companies are increasingly investing in cloud technologies, which include infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as service (SaaS) solutions.

The SaaS segment alone is expected to exceed $130 billion in global revenues by 2020, according to Forrester Research. And IDC predicts 11 percent of IT budgets will shift away from traditional in-house IT delivery toward cloud delivery models by 2016. At the same time, organizational leaders continue to develop innovative ways to drive improved business results through the cloud.

Cloud 2.0

A few years ago, it was common for organizational leaders to debate the value of cloud-based solutions, but those days are in the past, maintains Forrester Research analyst Liz Herbert. "Decades of fighting the cloud are over," says Herbert. "The cloud has become the first approach for most solutions, and in some cases, it's the only approach. Now, it's more about deciding which type of cloud-public, private, hybrid, etc.-makes sense for a company's needs."

Businesses from startups to global organizations are creating cloud-based ecosystems to gain speed, scalability, real-time collaboration, and deliver better customer experiences. But they're not stopping there. Enterprises are beginning to move from primarily using cloud-based technology for tactical point solutions or for cost savings to driving improved business results and innovation, Herbert adds.

The cloud's ability to collect and share data across different platforms provides businesses leaders access to a deeper pool of insights while enabling them to make faster decisions, among other benefits. "One of the amazing things the cloud provides is the ability to assimilate data that was once confined to proprietary systems, making the concept of interconnectivity so much easier than it used to be in the past," notes Sean Carithers, vice president of customer experience solutions at TeleTech.

The true value of a cloud-based ecosystem is not the cloud architecture itself, Carithers notes, but in the power of the connections available through a cloud ecosystem. An ecosystem with thousands of touchpoints is much more useful than an ecosystem with limited partners and fewer touchpoints.

Physicians, for example, have limited insights into their patients' health unless they are able connect a patient's medical record with clinical and lab results and other sources of information. And even then, it can be time-consuming for physicians and their assistants to manage and update medical records.

To address this challenge, Georgia Health Connect (GaHC) is building an interconnected health information exchange to provide smaller practices, hospitals, and health systems with greater access to electronic health information.

GHC selected Liaison Technologies, a cloud-enabled data integration and management platform provider, to help it integrate with the Georgia Health Information Network (GaHIN). "The GaHC and GaHIN connection provided by Liaison's cloud-based technology platform expands the performance and reach potential for statewide provider communication and collaboration," explains Dr. Dominic Mack, executive medical director for GaHC and co-director with the National Center for Primary Care at Morehouse School of Medicine."Better access to individualized healthcare data by doctors, nurses, and other clinicians will ultimately translate into improved patient care while streamlining workflow, minimizing administrative costs, and reducing potential patient care risks due to medication and medical errors."

By working with GaHC and GaHIN, physicians and hospitals would receive access to aggregated patient data, giving providers a more complete picture of a patient's current medications and history, along with reporting and analytics tools to gain additional insights into a patient's health.

However, the adoption process is slow-going, Mack admits, as only a handful of hospitals and independent practices have joined the organization so far. "We're just starting out and we still have to do quite a bit of selling to get providers on board with this idea, some of whom are still using paper records," Mack says. "Our vision is to have numerous small practices continue to work independently, but by joining the HIE [health information exchange], they'll have access to a lot more information and analytics reporting than they would have by themselves."

Shopping in the Cloud

E-commerce is another area that is greatly influenced by cloud computing. Thanks to cloud-based e-commerce applications, retailers can track inventory across their stores and website from a central database and rapidly respond to market changes.

The cloud also allows retailers to provide improved customer experiences, such as 360-degree views of a hotel room, says Joe Weinman, author of Cloudonomics: The Business Value of Cloud Computing "One of the clearest ways in which the cloud can help is by enabling better user experiences for customers in ecommerce," Weinman says. "You can do that through immersive experiences and letting customers order items from their phone. All the content and inventory management comes from the cloud."

Cloud computing also enables the latest craze in e-commerce: in-context "buy buttons." Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and Google are each experimenting with capabilities that allow consumers to make purchases directly from a site or an ad without being sent to another website. Cloud behemoth has also joined the fray.

Salesforce's Community Cloud allows businesses tobuild sites where customers, employees, and partners can interact with each other and share information. Clients of the Community Cloud will soon be able to add buy buttons to their own sites, allowing users to make purchases within the communities, explains Mike Stone, senior vice president of marketing for Salesforce Community Cloud.

Stone points toTripAdvisor as an example of how the approach works in a community setting. Given that users are already sharing notes about the quality of a hotel room, allowing them to also book a hotel room on the site makes sense. Adding a buy button to a community "lets businesses introduce a product directly into the flow while customers are engaging with them," says Stone. "Andthis creates a better, frictionless experience."

Salesforce is offering the buying feature through a partnership with three e-commerce companies: CloudCraze, Demandware, and Bigcommerce. Companies must work with one of these partners to embed the buy button on their site. Three companies are already experimenting with the new feature: Avid Technology, which makes audio and video production tools; PonoMusic, a site founded by Neil Young; and Deloitte, which built a digital hub for a global CPG company that uses it to enable local convenience stores to place orders via the community website.

Who owns the Data?

There's no question that cloud computing allows companies to collect and analyze a limitless amount of data that they can then use to deliver better customer experiences. But as companies and their partners find more uses for customer data, questions continue to arise about who ultimately owns the data and who is responsible for keeping it secure.

"Customers are becoming more concerned about their privacy and the data that is collected about them," says John Lucker, principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP.

For instance, insurance companies are increasingly including data generated from telematic devices which record a person's driving behavior, to help calculate coverage estimates. "Customers are building up a credible data set and want to share that data with other insurers," Lucker notes. "However, this data is typically considered the property of the business. But customers are beginning to ask, 'Why isn't this my property?'

Furthermore, consumers don't always see the value in sharing personal information with merchants. Shoppers at a grocery store who sign up for a loyalty card "usually receive generic coupons that take a few dollars off in exchange for allowing the store to make money off them [through advertising]," Lucker says.

If customers are going to continue sharing their user data and personal information, they need to see a greater value exchange. Companies must take a strategic approach to the data and use it before the data becomes stale, says Lucker. The first rule of thumb is "to think through your data and make sure it's in a harmonized form," he says. "It doesn't have to be perfect, just useful enough to start finding patterns and making decisions with it."

And even if a campaign or project doesn't deliver desirable results, it's important to learn from failures as well. "What people don't realize is that many techniques have inherent imperfections but if you're going to measure success by working on something for months until it's perfect, you're creating a curve of diminishing returns," Lucker says. "There's a lot of fear in failure and the cost of that failure but companies need to move past that."

Indeed, cloud-based technology offers numerous opportunities to deliver better customer experiences, but it's up to companies to seize those ideas and be truly innovative.