Starting from what many will see as a basic level, a building is made up of a range of different items. Each of these will have its own needs – for example, lights will need to be replaced when they fail, air conditioning systems will need to be checked and serviced on a regular basis.
You can buy commercial, off the shelf software (COSS) to help with managing the resources required to carry out such tasks.
Now, let’s take human resources. An organisation’s employees all have their needs – being paid, ensuring that vacation entitlement is managed and that it can be booked easily, as well as maintaining records on punctuality and performance. Again, COSS is available.
At a customer level, there is a need to ensure that an organisation has a full view of what is going on – from the sales leads brought in through marketing campaigns, calls being made by sales staff to the orders being placed and items delivered in a punctual and effective manner. Guess what, COSS is available.
I could go on – and unfortunately, in many cases technology vendors have. Organisations have ended up with a range of COSS that ultimately fails to support the business; islands of disconnected data and information means that individuals cannot see enough of the information needed o get the visibility they need across the business and decision making is therefore impacted.
The one common factor across most of the issues being dealt with in the above examples, however, is that there are humans involved, even if their interactions may end up being with an inanimate object, such as light bulbs. If the starting point was that everything is an “entity”, then a different approach can be taken.
“Entities” can be wonderful things. For example “Europe” is an entity (even if it doesn’t behave like one most of the time). However, it is made up as a group of other entities – the countries that constitute the broader entity. Under here could be cities, buildings, people – each has a set of descriptors that make them what they are – and these descriptors can be used across a range of other entities.
So why is this important? An entity engine can underpin the needs of an organisation. The sales function, made up from a set of individuals, will need to view a range of information that has historically been spread across multiple systems. The marketing function has the same issue – as does HR, financial staff, contractors, the board level directors and so on. There are a lot of individuals and groups out there that need access to an in-the-round view of what’s happening out there.
Now – take one of these individual. Apply a set of descriptors to them – are they an employee? Are they part of a larger group? Do they have specific security clearance to see things that others in the same groups can’t see?
Then take the data and information. Existing information can be aggregated in an effective manner – not by creating a massive data warehouse, but by applying simple connectors from a “master” database to existing systems, then we start to see a picture emerging. If the existing data can be described in an entity metaphor, then matrices can be built up that match the various business needs.
Through visualising these matrices in a flexible manner, the relationships between entities can be mined and presented to different users in different ways to provide business value. That this can be done across a full range of data and object types means that a common engine can support multiple different business processes and issues.
A company that has taken this approach is mvine – it started in the music business, providing a means for unsigned bands to present themselves and their songs through a simple to use portal front end, but with a massive amount of granularity at the back end. MP3s could be given away, or could be sold. Users could have full public access, could have to subscribe, or could have a mix of access. It rapidly became apparent that the bands could be any entity – as could the MP3 files and the users, and this opened up the possibilities for mvine’s growth.
Now, mvine has moved into providing a SaaS service to a range of different verticals; from banks to universities, from e-commerce web sites to market research and advisory companies. It can do this because the underlying software regards everything as an entity – whether it be an individual, a group of people an MP3 file, a light bulb or a bank customer’s current account.
mvine does not purport to be a CRM, ERP or other enterprise software vendor. Its strapline is “Growing relationships, accelerating business”, which admittedly makes it sound a little like a CRM play.
However, I believe that its capabilities are greater than in dealing with relationships, particularly between people. Herein lies the challenge for mvine – it can do a lot, but this means that creating the beloved “elevator pitch” is difficult. Positioning itself in the market is problematic as it can address such a broad range of issues. It has to be able to differentiate itself from standard portal plays, from master data management, enterprise application integration/service bus and business intelligence vendors.
As a relatively small and new player in the tech market, mvine has the luxury of being able to play a high-touch prospect model where it can focus on explaining what it actually does face-to-face – and generally wins the business based on this. At some stage, however, it will exhaust the “big ticket” projects and will need to move to a lower touch sales model.
By this time, it is hoped that it will have a sufficient library of case studies and use case scenarios to be able to demonstrate to prospects how it can help them – and that word of mouth recommendations will have moved the market from one requiring a strong push sell to one where pull begins to be the order of the day.
Overall, I believes that mvine has a strong offer based on a solid technical underpinning where everything is regarded as an entity. It needs to grow in a controlled manner, and any lack of focus could stress the model. It will need to be able to create a stronger identity in the market and move more towards a lower touch sales model – but deserves to succeed.