I’ve been toying with this idea for a while, and I think it’s starting to stick. More and more I’m seeing that the most critical business problems to be tackled today in the enterprise center around enabling and improving the myriad relationships — inside the firewall, outside the firewall, and all points in between — that make key business processes come to life. This can be as simple as organizing the sales cycle, a classic CRM function, or something more complex like linking a complex external ecosystem to itself (your external marketplace) and then tying that ecosystem closely to the different stakeholders in the company who are in charge of optimizing that eco-system (channel and partner managers, sales and service managers, procurement and supply chain managers, etc. etc.).
This complex web of external relationships tied closely to internal stakeholders is made all the more valuable by the growing presence of external communities of interest and the unstructured data and processes that they use in their day-to-day lives. These communities can be made up of customers, or external contractors, or suppliers, all of which need to be carefully managed by the individual stakeholders whose job it is to keep the ecosystem alive and providing competitive advantage. It’s a many-to-many matrix of interactions and relationships that craves new software and business processes in order to get it right.
This explains the enormous growth in CRM sales, far out-pacing the sales of classic ERP. It also explains the value of tools like Microsoft Dynamics xRM, which extends the CRM model to handle the non-customer relationships in the new ERP. It also defines the opportunity of companies like RelayWare, which is carving out the partnership relationship management space with this goal in mind. And it defines a clear path to integrate social media — like Facebook — and new on-line sales and marketing sites with classic enterprise processes.
This new ERP opportunity represents an excellent way to organize enterprise business planning, and as such requires something other than classic ERP software, which focuses on resources, not relationships. There are a lot of ways to solve the problem, but the main order of business is to look beyond traditional resource planning towards the greater challenge of relationship planning. Considering the fact that collaborative software has so far mostly shown us how poorly our collective skills at collaboration are, I believe the challenge of enterprise relationship planning will be with us for a long time to come.