Web services to enhance CRM

By Bob Trott, InfoWorld |  Software

AS COMPANIES continue to enhance their CRM (customer relationship management) strategies with more automation and collaboration, many are finding that emerging Web-services technology holds the key.

"People are stepping outside their existing [CRM] packages to think more about how to really envelop the customer and deliver customer service," said Thomas Murphy, applications delivery services program director at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group. "Web services will bring more information to them in a personalized manner, foster collaborative business relationships, and give [companies] a better understanding of who their customers are."

But as is the case with many nascent technologies, smaller vendors have been first to embrace Web services, whereas the big players have kept a competitive eye on the market.

For example, LeapfrogXML in Richmond, Va., offers a series of 30 Web services for catalogs, payment processing, order management, and dialog marketing, among other applications. Customers such as LifeLinkMD, which sells portable electronic defibrillators, use LeapfrogXML's stand-alone Web services on their Web sites.

"The Web services are combined to provide an application at run time, rather than the traditional approach," said LeapfrogXML CEO Dennis Tracz. "It's a lightweight, loosely coupled way of putting together an application."

LivePerson, a New York-based eCRM (electronic CRM) vendor that offers online chat solutions, is looking to get into Web services later this year. CTO Michael Oeth said Microsoft's .NET initiative and Passport single-sign-on technology hold promise, provided that Microsoft sticks to open standards.

"One of my guys whom I trust very highly is a religious convert. He said, '.NET is the thing. It's where everything's going to go. And we'd better get there, or we're going to be out in the cold,' " Oeth said.

Meanwhile, CRM's old guard is mulling over whether to support the necessary standards to enable their software to be accessed using a Web-services model. Companies such as PeopleSoft and SAP claim this is a natural next step. Oracle has already pledged support for the Web services standards in its Dynamic Services Framework.

The ability to push data down to different devices is at the backbone of PeopleSoft's strategy, according to Chuck Teller, vice president and general manager of PeopleSoft Enterprise Management. The Pleasanton, Calif.-based company is working to support a Web-services model with the XML-based PeopleSoft Internet architecture, as well as with thin clients that allow customers to interact with data.

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