Systems of Engagement are… What?

Like “New Wave” in the 1980’s, the term “Systems of Engagement” seems to be developing as a catchall term for a new breed of enterprise software that doesn’t fall neatly into other categories. Traditionally, end-user facing software could be categorized as a system of record such as CRM or ERP, productivity software including office applications, communications such as email, and enterprise content management which helps companies manage vast troves of unstructured information. There is also been a class of software that helps companies understand the information collected and stored in these other applications which is now called Big Data and Analytics but is also known as business intelligence and data warehousing or simply “reporting”.

None of these describes a whole new set of applications that are meant to improve social interactions between people, be they customers, partners, or employees. These interactions may revolve around marketing or selling with customers. They may try to increase collaboration or innovation in a company through sharing. This new breed of application differs from other software in that they act to disintermediate – remove the middleman – interactions between people.

Most software is designed to provide support for some type of business interaction but only at one end. If a customer calls a company for help, the CRM helps the salesperson or customer support representative to carry out that interaction. The customer doesn’t interact with the CRM system directly but through an intermediary. Social software backed by analytics and cognitive computing, on the other hand, allows the customer to interact with company resources and people directly without the middleman. In theory, this builds meaningful engagement between the company and the customer that leads to a long lasting relationship that is profitable for both. Hence, we call these systems of engagement.

The problem with the systems of engagement tag is that, like so many other technology movements, it has been applied too broadly. Take marketing automation. Most of the functions of marketing automation software automate internal marketing functions. They help the corporate marketer to organize and manage marketing. It’s the marketing professional not the software that is creating engagement with customers. Just because there are a few social features tossed in or the system can help manage social media responses does not make it a system of engagement. Some vendors though talk about marketing automation as a system of engagement when, in fact, it’s a system of record.

The lines can be blurry. Sometimes a system of record can have some system of engagement features and vice versa. True systems of engagement, though, have two main qualities. They facilitate interactions between people – they are inherently people-oriented not data-oriented – and they disintermediate that interaction. The term “systems of engagement” has merit but only if it is not rebranding other types of software to latch on to the new trend.


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