Despite all the ways enterprises can slice customer data, they’ve struggled mightily to put the pieces together into a coherent customer profile.

This past September, Microsoft, SAP, and Adobe announced they’re taking on that unglamorous challenge with their Open Data Initiative. In what’s widely seen as a challenge to Salesforce’s dominance of the customer relationship management market, the three tech giants are partnering on a one-stop model that exchanges and enriches customer data between previously siloed systems.

“Microsoft, Adobe and SAP understand the customer experience is no longer a sales management conversation,” SAP CEO Bill McDermott said in a joint press release. “CEOs are breaking down the silos of the status quo so they can get all people inside their companies focused on serving people outside their companies. With the Open Data Initiative, we will help businesses run with a true single view of the customer.”

One View; Many Obstacles

On the surface, creating a “true single view of the customer” may not sound like much of a challenge for companies with terabytes of customer data. But the truth is that up to 73 percent of companies’ data is never even analyzed.

Why is so much data gathering dust? Departments within the same company often went digital at different times while using different tools. At the same time, many of the software companies that serve them refused to collaborate with competitors. The result has been a twofold headache of incompatible systems and department-specific data depots.

Take sales and marketing, which should share data about everything from customers’ pipeline progress to lifetime value projections. Sales went digital first by a wide margin: Salesforce was founded way back in 1999, one of the first SaaS tools on the market. Almost no marketing technologies debuted for more than a decade afterward, with just 150 on the market by 2011. By then, most sales teams already had their own systems humming along and were woe to change for the sake of another team.

Unfortunately, because the marketing technology space is so young, tools tend to have few functions and even less intercompatibility. Given that the average enterprise uses 91 separate marketing technology solutions, just 9 percent of marketers report they’ve managed to construct a fully functional marketing stack — much less hook those 91 tools up to their sales software.

Why Compatibility Counts

The firms behind the ODI see that siloed data and platform compatibility are two challenges that cannot be separated from one another. Equally intertwined are the benefits businesses realize by solving them:

1. Streamline the customer experience.
Although eight in 10 customer experience leaders say their company will soon compete “mostly” or “entirely” on the basis of their company’s CX, just 22 percent of them report they exceed customers’ expectations. But if companies see CX as so central to their business strategy, then why can’t they deliver experiences they know customers want?

In a blog post about the ODI, Brad Rencher, EVP and general manager of Adobe’s digital marketing business unit, blamed not a lack of data, but lacking data accessibility. “Companies looking to transform customer experiences need customer data that is real-time, intelligent and predictive, to deliver relevant and personalized customer experiences at scale,” Rencher wrote.

2. Break down compliance barriers.
One of the biggest headaches of siloed data became immeasurably bigger this past May, when the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect. In order for compliance professionals to know exactly what data they have on which customers, they must be able to search across departments, tools, and data storage schemes. And if a customer requests that his or her data be expunged, compliance professionals need to know that no “rogue” deposits remain after clearing known databases — no small feat, given that two-thirds of companies have such hidden depositories.

But U.S. companies that don’t deal with EU consumers’ data aren’t off the hook. Sweeney Williams, Vision Critical’s senior director of security, privacy, and compliance, argues the ODI can help companies prepare for similar compliance challenges coming to the California market. “One underappreciated side benefit [of the ODI] is its potential to enhance a company’s ability to act on data requests, such as those required under GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act,” Williams points out.

3. Simplify data security.
For the same reason fortresses are tight nests of structures rather than separate clumps, companies make data security radically simpler when they store their consumer data all in one place: Data silos must each be guarded with their own set of access controls and security protocols.

Companies that sign onto the ODI will rely on a common data lake within Microsoft Azure. To help them defend it, Microsoft revealed alongside the initiative that it would be building its cybersecurity reporting feature, Secure Score, into Azure’s Security Center to protect hybrid cloud data. “I’ve been bullish on Secure Score since its unveiling — I’ve long held that the enterprise needs a proper, standardized security benchmark system,” security analyst Patrick Moorhead wrote in Forbes.

Microsoft, Adobe, and SAP may be selling their Open Data Initiative on the promise of comprehensive customer profiles, but its impact goes far beyond marketing and sales. Data silos threaten not just the customer experience, but also an enterprise’s own efficiency, compliance, and security. The ODI may not be a sexy project, but its sponsors know it’s the one enterprises sorely need.

Deanna Ritchie

Deanna Ritchie

Managing Editor at ReadWrite

Deanna is the Managing Editor at ReadWrite. Previously she worked as the Editor in Chief for Startup Grind and has over 20+ years of experience in content development.