CRM and knowledge management (KM) were once considered entirely different disciplines, with the two sharing little but perhaps the same data warehouse hardware and a vague understanding that both efforts were meant to improve business efficiency and customer satisfaction. It has become clear, however, that the two disciplines were really working toward the same goal, and that to deliver continuous improvement to business clients, they would have to start speaking the same language.
"Clearly, harnessing knowledge is important in a CRM environment," says Mary Wardley, lead CRM analyst at IDC. Thus CRM, KM, and data search-and-retrieval solutions are converging--out of necessity and out of customer demand. "These three markets are in concert, evolving next to each other, and sort of contingent on each other," she says.
Knowledge-centered CRM firms like RightNow Technologies have brought greater attention to the crossover, as have such mergers as ATG/Primus. Wardley credits the focus that comes from applied business initiatives like CRM projects with giving KM greater focus. "Knowledge management, I would propose, suffers from [the lack of clarity around] 'What do you do with it? Is this corporate knowledge, or is it product, people, and customer knowledge?'"
KM focuses largely on finding the right solution to a problem that requires detailed insight, be it locating the right expert at the right time, or ensuring that the solution to a complex problem can be written once but reused many times. It is not difficult to understand why that capability is of great interest to CRM strategists. Industry estimates suggest that upwards of three quarters of variable support costs come from the time and energy put into the resolution of customer support inquiries, rather than routing and post-call management. "The [routing and management] processes have already been automated by robust systems from Genesys and Aspect, and from Siebel, PeopleSoft, and Clarify," says Ben Kaplan, vice president of marketing and products for knowledge systems developer Kanisa.
"The resolution process remains largely unautomated, because [KM] technologies are tools and not solutions, devoid of business process …