Digital transformation is not as clean as diagrams make it out to look. Not that the diagrams are clean in the first place. I did find a pretty clean one that I love in "Beyond Big Data Basics: In-Stream Processing Cures Batch Processing Blues" on iamwire.com shown below. This diagram is clean because it is not a detailed infrastructure diagram, it is an explanation of how stream and batch data can be combined with data science for positive improvements across a business. One of the things I love most about this is that it inadvertently articulates some of the non-marketing needs for customer data platforms.
There is room in the original diagram for a customer data platform to help organize this information; to allow channels to interact with, collect, and make use of this data. Imagine inside-out parentheses overlaid on the diagram to the sides of the data lake, so that the arrows hitting "online applications" and "technical support" are all intersected by the parentheses )( ... or don't. Let me show you what I mean:
Modern infrastructure diagrams include a data hub or data marts (or both) to get information where it needs to go. For marketing, that is the customer data platform, though oversimplified for the purposes of such diagrams. Marketers don't just need data, we need data combined and augmented for marketing purposes. Segmentation and orchestration are not "moving data around," for example.
What I am trying to show above, and will continue to note, is that there are various other situations when similar capabilities are needed outside of marketing.
With all of the applications for the technology, any level of uncertainty about its future seems unwarranted. It may just be because of the type of technology a CDP is... but at least a couple times in the last few weeks I have been asked:
Do customer data platforms have "staying power" as their own area of marketing technology?
Yes! CDP will continue on as the backbone of growth marketing for the next decade plus, and businesses will find various other uses for them. Customer data platforms are just that useful.
Of course, not all customer data platforms will make it. At the least, it is safe to say that some systems do not have staying power as "customer data platforms" even if they continue on as something else. This depends on what our accepted definition ends up being.
It is really tough to pick apart the specific features that a CDP must have. Some features are easy to point out as not required by definition, though, and all CDP handle some non-CDP functions in addition to their core capabilities. For example, a CDP does not need to be an ESP. If the CDP is also an ESP, it probably has vendor-based preference, which needs to be considered closely. What happens if you don't want to use their ESP? Will it support your use cases with one or two ESPs you would be likely to consider? How often has your organization changed, added, or inherited ESPs in the last five years?
Are CDP really the anti-suite?
On one hand, a CDP enables suite-like capabilities with best-of-breed technologies. On the other hand, the suites do not negate the CDP. The suites will lag behind in some areas, or be in direct conflict with some first-party data programs, and customer data platforms will be there to fill in the gaps. These gaps will mostly be in data collection and data/decision delivery to execution systems the suites want nothing to do with.
CDP enables businesses to be nimble in specific areas without losing sight of overarching goals of unification. This happens by taking baby steps, or steps in an otherwise impossible direction, towards making use of a unified customer profile. For some businesses, being nimble is a cost consideration that allows them to operate at a high level on a budget. For others, it's a technology and process consideration, or "build versus buy". There is a time and a place for agility just about anywhere, and customer data platforms are in it for the long haul.
If "not all CDPs will make it," is the decision on a customer data platform a risk?
Not a prohibitive risk, but as noted above, and as most would guess... you can expect volatility. Some vendors won't make it. Some will be swallowed up by others. A CDP will be bought by IBM. A CDP will be bought be Oracle. Many a customer data platform will continue on its successful path alone. Hedge against the risk by ensuring a good plan is in place to get value from the platform quickly, and to make use of customer data in multiple cost-saving and business-building ways over the long-term.