Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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4/27/2009
06:23 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
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BI (Business Intrusion) Software Needs A Reality Check

Here's the ideal scenario for a retailer: you visit XYZ.com and search for a book on how to avoid annoying marketing scams. They go, hey Michael, your wife's birthday is coming up in a few days and we noticed she was cruising lingerie at Victoria's Secret. She's also buying a pair of tickets to the Dominican Republic on Thursday. Why don't you surprise her with this nice pair of high-heeled sandals that we have in her size. We know yellow is her favorite color.

Here's the ideal scenario for a retailer: you visit XYZ.com and search for a book on how to avoid annoying marketing scams. They go, hey Michael, your wife's birthday is coming up in a few days and we noticed she was cruising lingerie at Victoria's Secret. She's also buying a pair of tickets to the Dominican Republic on Thursday. Why don't you surprise her with this nice pair of high-heeled sandals that we have in her size. We know yellow is her favorite color.Um, great. Only I thought she was going on a business trip to Ft. Lauderdale, and I'm not invited.

Anyway, you see my point. Vendors like IBM, HP and SAP (through Business Objects) are hawking software that can be used to analyze business information almost instantaneously -- not only collect it, but digest and report it back to business analysts as quickly as your hands can fly across the keyboard, all in the name of customer service and, of course, more revenues through upselling, cross-selling, and every other "selling" buzzword you can think of.

Even as we're busy spilling our guts and location information on Twitter and building our profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook and, now, Google Profiles, we're giving vendors access to information they're all too eager to collect and correlate with other information, perhaps using data cleansing software from the likes of Informatica that can check to make sure that the Michael Hickins in one data base really is the same person as the Mike Hickins in another, and that Marie Smith is also Marie Hickins (fake Maries, in case anyone is wondering).

Stowe Boyd touched on this in a recent post he called "Unmarketing and the Webful Brand," arguing that people are creating a new community on the Web that doesn't necessarily include an invitation to sell them stuff:

Whatever it is that companies aspire to take place in their efforts with the web community, they will have to reflect the extra-market motivations going on. This means a direct appreciation of the fact that [...] decisions are not all rooted in pure economics, and that self-identity is less and less linked to consumerist mass identity.

I've had any number of retailers and vendors argue with me that people want this level of "customer service" -- we do want to be pursued by text messages as we walk past the Gap with offers for special discounts on jeans in just our size and color preference.

But even if they think they mean what they say, you know the marketers and vendors are lying to themselves. Speaking on the phone earlier today with Raj Asava, the chief strategy officer at Perot Systems, a huge systems integrator and business intelligence shop, I asked him whether software developers and vendors weren't ultimately doing their corporate customers a disservice by pitching them on the benefits of knowing a little too much about us.

Asava noted that the incremental cost to the likes of an Amazon of putting analytic algorithms against their huge database of customer information makes it very attractive to test our reactions. "We are becoming guinea pigs to them," he said.

He added a little later, "I've seen more intrusion in my personal life than ever before." Exactly what I was thinking.

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