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The New New Thing

Change is the only constant. Be a forward-looking skeptic.

“CDP”

It landed like a ton of bricks. All of a sudden, the array of acronyms that serve as the verbal currency for technology conferences and white papers parted ways to make room for the new kid in town: CDP.

You probably haven’t heard of it. You’re already behind. Or maybe you have and I’m behind. It was blurted out in a recent podcast recording by a guest who builds enterprise software platforms. I think it’s the future. Or maybe it’s part of the future. Or maybe the future is now.

CDP stands for Customer Data Platform. Wikipedia is already on it:

A Customer Data Platform (CDP) is a type of packaged software which creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems. Data is pulled from multiple sources, cleaned and combined to create a single customer profile. This structured data is then made available to other marketing systems. According to Gartner, customer data platforms have evolved from a variety of mature markets, “including multichannel campaign management, tag management and data integration.”

Now the pragmatist in me wants to call bullshit. The first two sentences effectively describe an API that masks away the dirty work of combining data from a couple of different systems. It sounds like everything else.

The last sentence of the description reveals the key player: Gartner. Gartner didn’t invent the term, or really any other term for that matter. Gartner just taps you on the shoulder and whispers “hey, watch out. It’s coming.” Gartner, Forrester and other research and advisory firms provide insights to essentially warn executives and high-level decision makers what’s going to happen next so they can be ready. They share their insights on emerging trends and key pivots that could leave you behind if you’re not informed and well-positioned. 

That’s only part of Gartner’s job though. At the other end, they share these insights with vendors and service providers (software and otherwise) who echo these trends and “needs” in their marketing. There’s a massive services sector waiting nearby to fulfill a need you didn’t know you had just three months ago. The marketplace is now in place. A Google search for “cdp” at the time of this writing:

Sitting right there in the middle, reluctantly running that search, is… you, Mr. or Ms. CIO/CTO/CPO/SVP of Technology/Platforms/Internet Services/Customer Experience. In one ear you’re being told you’re about to be left behind because the chart is already moving in that up-and-right direction and in the other ear services firms big (e.g. Accenture) and small (e.g. Postlight) and everyone in between are telling you, “Don’t worry. We’ve got your back.”

All things change, nothing perishes — Ovid

Years ago before Postlight, I would’ve dismissed this whole world as a scam. But after starting Postlight and talking to so many business leaders, I’ve come to appreciate the need for this shorthand and the hunger for this guidance. Just about everyone that comes to us for potential work is just trying to upgrade what they’ve got. It’s hard because the rules—and the tools to play by the rules—keep changing.

But why the fear and paranoia though? Why be insecure about what to do and where to go? Why toss around acronyms and terms that you just learned about a month ago? Why not be objective, analytical, pragmatic and confident in the strategic choices you make? 

The reason is simple: Time. You are not making a purchase decision that yields an outcome immediately. You will need time, sometimes years, to see if the strategic direction you took was the right one. Meanwhile, things keep moving fast. The Gartners and Forresters love to show you insights across time. They’re not sharing history lessons. They are trying to help you throw the ball to where the receiver will be, not where he is today.

Education ≠ Indoctrination

Sitting on the vendor side of it all I would share one piece of advice: Don’t ignore it. Keep taking it in, always. “Transformation” isn’t a new thing. It’s the permanent thing. There are always new things happening and new acronyms right behind. You should be educating yourself constantly.

But education doesn’t equal indoctrination. Start off skeptical and see if that new twist should win you over. If you’re asking yourself, “Isn’t that just X from 5 years ago?” Every acronym is an argument waiting to happen. CMS, CRM, ERP, and CDP. It’s fun, and also a little exhausting. But when the arguments result in good software, it’s worth it.

Rich Ziade is president of Postlight, a full-service digital product studio in New York City. Email him at [email protected].

Story published on Jul 17, 2019.