IT confronts the Splinternet

We need to step up to the multidevice, multichannel challenge

Something happened while we were sleeping: The Internet became the Splinternet. Here's how my colleagues Josh Bernoff and Shar VanBoskirk describe it in a recent report: "The golden age of Internet standards is ending. The Web is splintering, and interactive marketing is fragmenting along with it. Welcome to the age of the Splinternet." You can see exactly what they mean in the figure below.

Forrester chart

OK, so that's the problem statement for interactive marketers.

But if you're on the e-commerce team, you're thinking about how to sell over mobile apps and TV apps as well as on tablets and multiple browsers -- all the things your customer expects -- as a single company offering a single experience.

If you're in customer service, you're thinking about how to turn a Twitter request into a direct engagement, with a trouble ticket and resolution code. You're thinking about the impact of smart mobile devices on your traditional services channel mix.

If you're in the executive suite, you're thinking about how to deliver a consistent brand experience across all customer devices and channels.

To thrive in an era where customers are empowered to engage with you in any channel and device they want, you have to serve that customer over a steadily and inevitably fragmenting set of devices and channels and media.

Remind you of something? Yep, it's like e-commerce all over again. E-commerce started out with every group -- marketing, HR, communications, customer service -- building a narrowly defined solution. But ultimately, IT got involved to provision the e-commerce platform. The Splinternet is following the same path: fragmented solutions for each business function, device and channel.

If you're in IT, you can stand by while every part of the company builds its own channel-specific, device-specific, function-specific solution. Or you can step in to coordinate a whole-company response and create the platform for the Splinternet. Here's what that means for IT:

You have to raise awareness of the impact of the Splinternet. The process of coordinating a whole-company response starts by bringing Web, marketing, IT and business people together to understand the Splinternet problem and opportunity. You should plan an off-site workshop to kick-start the collaboration. At least one multinational company we know of has done that already.

Your customer engagement technology has to work across channels and devices. And that means that search, transaction state, content targeting, analytics and optimization have to be coordinated across multiple delivery channels. For example, an experience initiated online has to also be delivered over a mobile app, and an SMS or Twitter or Facebook service request has to trigger a phone call to a preferred customer.

You have to coordinate and organize to support every relevant delivery channel. If your e-commerce team has the Web under control, but your mobile team is still focusing on employee apps, that's a problem. If your social marketing support team is defining a listening platform for marketing but ignoring the customer service implications of social, that's a problem. Identify the organizational barriers and work across business and IT boundaries to overcome them.

Your multichannel strategy must embrace every major form factor and media type. It's no longer a PC, browser and Flash. It's now any device, any browser and a bunch of video formats. Get started by separating the content-delivery API from the document-retrieval API. NPR.org has done with this an XML interface over an SOA infrastructure.

You can watch and wait until marketing and customer service and e-commerce teams grit their teeth in frustration and spend their technology dollars on point solutions from vendors. Or because you are IT and have the broadest view of the technology requirements across all customer devices, channels and touch points, you can call out the Splinternet as a challenge and an opportunity. Then go orchestrate the resources and technology to deliver the best customer experience possible over the Splinternet.

To orchestrate the platform for the Splinternet, do four things right now:

1. Go talk to your interactive marketing team to make sure you are on the same page.

2. Start working on that multichannel delivery architecture.

3. Build a mobile task force that looks simultaneously at the customer and employee opportunity.

4. Consider the cloud as a way to provision for the multidevice, multichannel Splinternet.

Ted Schadler is a vice president at Forrester Research and co-author of Empowered.

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