There is nothing accomplished on the 'Net today that does not, in some way, require software.
Every click made by Web users and digital workers alike demands software systems that are powerful, reliable, intuitive to use and capable of evolving alongside the enterprise. Something very interesting is happening in the software industry today, however, and as a Web professional you have likely experienced it firsthand. Traditional content management systems (those that have simply allowed 'Net professionals to edit and publish blogs) have turned into solutions for "Web experience management" while shopping carts have become "omnichannel, consumer-focused retail engagement platforms."
While there is an immense amount of innovation, of course, there is an equal (if not greater) amount of consolidation among (and collaboration occurring between) software service companies. The result of this trend is changing the way enterprises conduct business on the Web today and will conduct themselves in the future.
To make the most of the digital universe though, it is as important as ever to focus on the true software stars, those solutions that cater to the entire lifecycle of the customer experience - from consuming information to purchasing products or services (and every virtual moment before and after). Companies today are realizing they need to focus on making the most of their audience relationships (extracting every possible iota of value) - and in some cases are spending a great deal of resources to get there.
If you want some insights into how the Web (and business in general) will evolve in the future, you need only look into how brands are selling. Todays 'Net merchants are personalizing experiences, engaging with their audiences in multiple ways (e.g. social ads and retargeted emails), and on various devices (mobile, tablets, desktops and even wearables) - tactics and technologies that were not even conceived of in the not-so-distant past.
According to Forrester Research, annual spending on ecommerce software by U.S. firms alone doubled from 2010 to 2014 and will nearly double again by 2019. In fact, by 2019, larger U.S. firms will spend well over $2 billion on ecommerce platform software, up from $1.2 billion in 2014.
Those firms typically spend five times more on related implementation and maintenance services, and that spending will nearly double from $5.1 billion in 2014 to $9.8 billion in 2019, according to the report, "U.S. Commerce Platform Technology and Services Forecast."
This shift to the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, in which vendors host ecommerce software that clients' access via the Web, is occurring rapidly. While 42 percent of U.S. companies studied in the Forrester report indicate they license software (and maintain those solutions on premise), that will inevitably increase as more companies outsource the burden of support, scalability and upgrades. SaaS accounted for 44 percent of ecommerce software spending in 2013, but that number will rise to more than 66 percent by 2019 (Forrester). It's the nature of digital business today, but there's way more to the story.
Where the Forrester report comes up short is that it only addresses spending on "pure" ecommerce software - specifically commerce management (the solutions used to provide and manage online stores) and order management (the systems that manage various order processing scenarios through to the point of fulfillment). What's missing is all the related software to help brands manage their Internet presence: site search, personalization, product recommendations, mobile commerce, etc. As you might imagine, a great deal is spent on these on-demand software solutions too. The point is that software spending in the ecommerce space is likely far more significant than even the best-guess estimates.
The marketing software industry, for example, is expected to grow to over $32.4 billion by 2018 according to a report released by the International Data Corporation (IDC). Content production and management in particular will increase from $3.8 billion to $4.7 billion over the four-year period. The report, "Worldwide Marketing Software Forecast 2014 - 2018: $20 Billion and Growing Fast," sheds light on the changes in the digital marketing realm and reveals what the future of 'Net business will look like for brands big and small - greater consolidation and collaboration among the software industry.
Thanks to faster development cycles, and (as you will soon see) expanding partner ecosystems, software vendors can focus on delivering products that do more for their customers. This is none more evident and undoubted than in the realm of Internet marketing.
IDC forecasts enterprises will spend $20.2 billion for marketing software worldwide in 2014, growing to $32.4 billion by 2018, making this one of the fastest-growing areas of enterprise software.
IDC's Strategic Framework for Marketing Technology organizes 76 categories of marketing software into a single view, dividing content, data and analytics, interaction, and management and administration; and there are several interesting takeaways from this report, which could prove useful for brands when developing a road map to guide their technology investment.
For example, the report suggests consolidating applications into a single platform to improve efficiency and effectiveness, working to integrate marketing technology with existing enterprise infrastructure to gain deeper insights into customers, partners and market opportunities, and establishing inter-disciplinary teams and processes to combat the silos specific solutions create. In essence, they should seek out those processes and solutions from the outset that can support an enterprise's growth over the long term. The good news for many is that much of this consolidation is already occurring. Get Social With Software
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution NetSuite, for example, recently announced the acquisition of Bronto Software, a cloud-based marketing management solution that supports email, mobile and social campaigns and whose customer base includes such brands as Armani, Timex and Trek. What does a mid-market ERP offering like NetSuite need with a solution like Bronto? Companies, NetSuite included, are quickly realizing that for them to thrive (attracting and retaining customers) in the future will require that they provide a broad, combined offering of services for those selling in-person and on the Web.
Since the selling process begins long before an actual transaction occurs, communication with prospects is of paramount importance. The acquisition of digital marketing services like Bronto enables brands such as NetSuite to consolidate their offerings, and go to market with functionality that will more fully cater to the needs of users as they grow.
"Just as customers demand seamless cross-channel shopping experiences, they increasingly expect companies to communicate consistently through all of their digital experiences - on site, at stores, in email or through social or mobile," said NetSuite's CEO Zach Nelson. "By combining the two companies' offerings and technology, we can help merchants deliver relevant and consistent digital commerce experiences throughout the customer journey."
It's this sort of consolidation that is quickly reshaping the digital landscape - a trend that likely won't change moving forward. If these solutions don't merge with other supplementary services (or acquire them) they will be forced to at least collaborate - becoming stewards of their brands in the process.
If one is going to sell on the Web today, an ecommerce system that provides more than just a shopping cart is required. Today's Internet retailers need a platform they can count on to grow right alongside their digital enterprise.
While there are hundreds of software solutions available for Internet retailers, some of the leading ecommerce experiences provided today are from retailers leveraging Magento. Now under the virtual umbrella of eBay Enterprise, Magento powers millions of websites for brands both large and small (check out a few noteworthy brands using eBay Enterprise and Magento). At its recent Imagine Commerce conference in April 2015, eBay Enterprise rolled out the latest release of the platform, offering a range of new features and capabilities driven by its partner ecosystem, an important influence in Magento's growth which should secure its future among retailers on the Web.
"The Magento ecosystem continually evolves to deliver innovative solutions that are mobile, scalable, flexible and cost-effective - exactly what retailers are asking for," said Mark Lavelle, senior vice president, commerce technologies, eBay Enterprise.
The newly updated system offers automated product category sorting capabilities (which makes merchandising faster and highlights top-performing products), integrates with Google Tag Manager (for new marketing campaigns, more accurate data collection and access to advanced reporting and analytics), and improves implementation quality and time to market by speeding up the testing process. There is even a new mobile software development kit, which will enable retailers to create custom iOS applications to grow their sales, and build brand affinity and loyalty.
While these are important additions to the software's core, what really makes Magento (and in turn eBay Enterprise) so appealing to retailers is the relationships it has built with other technology vendors. For example, the Magento platform now integrates with Braintree to offer retailers enhanced online payment capabilities. The new Braintree extension will help retailers increase sales, reduce risk and deliver a better customer experience by managing customer issues like exchanges and errors over the phone without ever having to request the customer's credit card information a second time. Merchants can also accept payments globally and rely on state-of-the-art managed fraud protection via Kount, which is offered through the extension. Platform additions of this nature would have previously been too challenging for Internet retailers to implement; a good reason to consider the health of partner ecosystem in the software selection process.
eBay Enterprise and Magento have grown (and rapidly) thanks in great part to their commitment to expand their ecosystem through collaborating with best-of-breed solutions like New Relic and Braintree. This trend will undoubtedly continue in the future and make Magento (and in turn eBay) a service that will not be easy to ignore for retailers.
Web content management, ecommerce systems, marketing automation - these software solutions are the foundation of digital success for every enterprise. There are many other powerful platforms that satisfy specific needs within the modern enterprise however, and while not as essential as those aforementioned, there is most definitely a place for them in the virtual realm and under the digital sun.
Whether social media is or is not producing a return on a company's investment of resources, it is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the channel. Fortunately, software solutions abound to help today's brands - both large and small - make a greater impact for their digital business.
SocialRank, a Web-based software application that lets users "identify, organize and manage" their followers on Twitter, recently added Instagram to the social media websites that it can track. What this means is that Instagram users can discover details about their followers, such as who their most popular and engaged followers are - and anyone who has spent any time at all building a social following knows precisely how important that can be.
There's a lot more to social software than just tracking users on specific platforms, including listening in as well as managing communication (inbound and outbound) that is required in the channel. To drive top-line business growth and key metrics associated with engagement, today's brands must invest in software solutions that provide them with an opportunity to interact with existing and prospective audiences.
While some brands may struggle with getting users to engage with their services and solutions, the savviest enterprisers are turning to gamification in droves to enrich the user experience and increase brand loyalty.
Get Satisfaction's new gamification module, for example, recognizes and rewards community members for actions (e.g. answering a question, sharing a best practice, suggesting an idea, or writing a product or service review). Companies will also be able to track members' contributions, award badges to active individuals and even showcase contributors.
"Gamification is remarkably effective at motivating individuals to take action in an online community," said Rahul Sachdev, CEO of Get Satisfaction. "It galvanizes everyone to contribute more and offers a built-in multiplier effect for valuable community engagement."
Brands including Blackbaud, Hootsuite, Extreme Networks, SPS Commerce and Telstra are already seeing measurable increases in community contributions by their members, community managers and employees according to Get Satisfaction. There are many other examples of gamification being integrated into popular software to deepen engagement as well. For example, Majestic.com, a privately owned search engine and "link intelligence" system, recently incorporated gamification into its online business offering to help its visitors and users better understand and leverage its services. By turning its system into a game, users essentially compete against each other in a Massively Multiplayer Game (MMPG).
The technology, code named Majestic Awards, rewards users the more they use the website. Visitors increase their level and win online trophies for using or engaging with the Majestic product and the brand in different ways.
Dixon Jones, marketing director of Majestic, said "Having one of the richest indexes of the Web on the planet is of little use until marketers understand its value. By turning the learning component of Majestic into a game, we expect some (if not all) users to quickly improve their use of our data. This creates a win-win for everyone. It also makes it fun for marketers to try Majestic."
There might be more searches being conducted on mobile devices than ever before (as well as an increase in mobile traffic to digital properties), but that does not mean that there has been an increase in actual purchases on non-desktop devices. Some uniquely powerful software applications are looking to change that, helping ecommerce brands not only differentiate their services, but also provide truly compelling experiences for users in the mobile realm.
KAON Interactive, for example, recently announced the availability of the latest version of its Application Delivery Network (ADN) platform with new features for its real-time interactive 3-D product experiences, which will result in faster and more intuitive interactions on mobile. The latest release uses a new algorithm for rendering 3-D product models that accelerates frame rates up to three times faster across every device. Users will be able to engage in real-time with photo-realistic 3-D products, have the ability to view integrated marketing messages and explore product options, functions and features - improving understanding of the value of products.
Consumers are demanding more intimate and personalized experiences with brands and as a result, live chat solutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Zendesk has unveiled a new live chat solution designed specifically for large teams. The solution, dubbed Zopim Premium, is built for organizations with larger teams that manage live chat and a growing volume of real-time customer conversations. Moreover, the solution provides new workforce management tools so team leaders can better track the performance and productivity of chat agents and multiple departments.
"Live chat is critical for building personal and engaging relationships with customers online and on mobile," said Royston Tay, Zendesk's vice president and general manager of chat. "Customers today expect the kind of immediate and effortless support that chat delivers. As those demands grow for organizations, they require more advanced tools for managing their teams and growth in chat volume, so they can deliver exceptional customer service at scale."
The real-time monitoring solution enables organizations to monitor chat volume, visitor experience and agent performance. Other features include new integration and customization options, 24/7 live chat support and the ability to restrict agent logins by location for enhanced security.
Customer relationship management (CRM) solutions are a necessity today for those enterprises that take the interactions they have with consumers seriously. The leaders in the space are certainly undertaking some serious innovation as well. Marketing automation provider Act-On Software, for example, recently unveiled new product capabilities dubbed Act-On Anywhere and CRM Connector. The new features extend the use of Act-On Marketing Automation for both sales and marketing teams, as they enrich CRM data with marketing intelligence and prospect behavior to better personalize sales outreach.
CRM Connector, for instance, enables salespeople to see marketing touchpoints and lead scores so they can know why a lead has been qualified and assigned to them. In addition, users can prioritize the top prospects and spend more time selling, as well as access real-time behavior intelligence about a prospect's interests and activities.
The other new feature, Act-On Anywhere, enables salespeople to access detailed marketing engagement data about any company or contact while using any browser-based CRM system. Plus, users can interact with prospects on LinkedIn by viewing any prior interaction they may have already had with the prospect's business. They can also optimize interactions on Gmail by using Act-On's prebuilt email templates with the mail app, as well as track email opens and clicks of any email sent.
It is a great time to be a Web professional. There are amazing software solutions available to help enterprises do more (and with less). As software vendors continue to consolidate and collaborate, digital businesses and their consumers stand to benefit the most.