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Fighting Spam, Fueling Growth

More productivity and increased sales will remain high priorities when choosing software in the coming year.
Businesses have tried working around the problem by building master customer databases, but that's a complex and labor-intensive chore, so there's a growing number of customer-data integration products on the market. A December Meta Group report says the products are entering a relatively high-growth phase over the next two years, with telecommunications and financial-services companies leading the way.

There's no shortage of customer-data integration products hitting the market. SAP offers Master Data Management, Siebel Systems has its Universal Customer Master, IBM sells the Client Information Integration Solution, and Oracle offers its Oracle Customers Online. Smaller companies specializing in the market include DWL Inc. with its DWL Customer software. These products automate the process of pulling data from multiple operational systems to create a centralized customer-data store that uses a standard naming method.

Other technologies can play a role in integrating customer data. Enterprise-information integration software from vendors such as BEA Systems and IBM can create a virtual, consolidated view of scattered customer data. Companies such as Tibco Software, SeeBeyond Technology, and Information Builders' iWay subsidiary market enterprise-application integration software, and services companies such as Acxiom and Experian market their own customer-data integration technology.

Network Appliance implemented Oracle Customers Online in May. The system consolidates data from applications such as Oracle E-Business and Siebel's sales-force automation and feeds the information back to operational systems such as customer support. The system also can be used for analytical chores, such as providing an account manager with a detailed report on every aspect of a valued customer. "We're no longer stuck in the rut of having to rationalize and reconcile all that information," Klimke says.

Customer-data integration doesn't come cheap. Meta Group calculates the average cost at $350,000 for software and another $1 million for systems-integration services.

Money to spend on any software won't be particularly easy to come by in 2004, even if the economy is expanding and managers feel more optimistic about their companies' revenue prospects. But if the tools can deliver employee-productivity gains, business-technology leaders will give them a look. If they can improve both productivity and sales, they might just write the check.

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