What is a customer data platform?
What is the purpose of a customer data platform, and how can it benefit your organization?
Written by Vegard Ottervig on
Today, virtually every business is digital at some level. As a result, the number of involved systems and collected data is growing rapidly. The consequences are legal risks and a suboptimal customer journey.
What can be done? Enter the customer data platform (CDP).
It is not uncommon for a single business to gather and manage data on several different systems—like CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, and billing. Each system creates new silos of customer data and spreads sensitive and personal data across both organizational and geographical borders. This leads to a fragmentary overview of your customer data, and is an issue for both GDPR compliance and practical management.
Legal requirements demand for instance that any business must tell a user what they know about him, as well as concurring to the right to be forgotten. A more commercial issue is to provide the ability to deliver a consistent communication and personalization across different channels, like websites, ads, and newsletters. This is especially valid for larger organizations, as they have many customers and employees, and are cross-border—something which often leads to silos.
A customer data platform is a type of packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database accessible to other systems. Data is pulled from multiple sources, and is cleaned and combined to create a single customer profile. This structured data is then made available to other marketing systems.
According to Exponea, a CDP builds a complete picture of your customers on an individual level. Collecting primary customer data from multiple sources—like transactions, behaviors, and demographics results in a 360-degree customer profile. This is also known as a single customer view, and can be used by third-party tools for marketing purposes.
A CDP does not encompass every digital sphere. An identity and access management solution is for instance not the same as a CDP, but can act as a source. The main purpose of an identity solution is the authentication of users and authorization of allowed actions, and it is unnatural to place e.g. transactions or a user history into such a framework.
But transactions can be interesting for a marketing automation solution. Marketing automation focuses on tracking leads and sending messages, but this again is not the main focus of a CDP. Marketing automation can, however, be built on top of a CDP.
A CDP in itself does nothing in relation to marketing automation—it doesn’t send out personalized messages, nor does it perform leads scoring. But there are some overlapping. A marketing automation solution is interested in gathering info and sending messages, but is not as good at sharing data and APIs. In a CDP, an API is the main purpose.
Identity, CRM, e-commerce, CMS, and marketing automation are typical systems wanting to own identity data, but a CDP is best suited to tie these systems together in a holistic package. This can help you comply with laws and to improve the user experience.
There are several CDP vendors on the market, like Exponea, Optimove, Emarsys, and Blueshift, with Adobe and Salesforce with their own solutions on the horizon.
But there is still no easy way to feed data in and out—and every source must be integrated point by point in a custom way for each different vendor. This creates a new problem, as the new solution in reality is just a new silo. It is not helpful if companies have to build new solutions every time the need arises, in addition to it being costly and time-consuming. It will also be difficult to replace a CDP vendor with this setup.
The good news is that there is an effort to standardize CDPs.
As stated on their website, the OASIS Context Server (CXS) Technical Committee was chartered to create specifications for a customer data platform as a core technology for enabling the delivery of personalized user experiences.
The committee writes as follows: “The [CDP] will simplify management, integration, and interoperability between solutions providing services like Web Content Management, CRM, BigData, Machine Learning, Digital Marketing, and Data Management Platforms.”
Members of the technical committee are producing a detailed list of use cases, a domain model, and a reference implementation to serve as a realistic example of how the standard can be used.
There has already been published a version 1.0, in addition to a GraphQL API. One goal is to make CDP vendors to support an API approach instead of an in-house, point to point solution.
See also: Headless CMS explained »
While OASIS contributes a standard, Apache Unomi is the first project to implement the standard in a product. The result is an open source, freely available customer data platform available for everyone.
Unomi is a reference implementation of the CDP standard, with contributions from Jahia, Enonic, and others. Enonic also has a chair in the standard committee.
Future plans include efforts to offer more shrink-wrapped versions of Unomi, and—for Enonic’s part—hosting a Unomi instance and integration with Enonic XP.
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