By Gerry Murray, Research Director, Marketing and Sales Technology, IDC
Normally, when a global enterprise acquires a major software business, it takes years before significant improvements and integrations are released. But when HCL acquired Unica in July 2019, it was in a unique position. It had been implementing and supporting Unica customers for years. Thus, HCL had significant engineering and technical support capabilities already in place with deep knowledge of the codebase.
However, it was not clear how much of a commitment HCL would make to bringing Unica into the modern cloud era—until now. And the commit is big and fast on every level. Customers should be extremely confident in how quickly and significantly HCL Unica will modernize their marketing infrastructure and enable their journey to the cloud.
Your MarTech Is Your Brand
There is a lot of new and improved product functionality in Unica’s recent and upcoming releases. But before we get into those details, it’s important to think about modern digital marketplaces, new buyer expectations, and the fact that in many ways, marketing technology today is your brand. Digital marketplaces are characterized by connected diversity. Brands must provide continuity across identities, devices, timeframes, locations, interactions, and keep up with the constant change going on in and between those vectors. That puts enormous importance on getting your marketing infrastructure right. It must be compliant, responsive, scalable, open, flexible, fast, intelligent, precise, transparent, affordable, intuitive. It must be able to embrace change, simplify complexity, and maintain control. It must operate as an integral part of a holistic end to end system that can enhance customer experience from ad click to call center and back again because customers today expect brands to behave as a single entity. What happens in one interaction should enhance the next interaction wherever and whenever it occurs.
That requires a modern solution based on open source code, open APIs, microservices, and many native cloud architecture. It requires machine learning capabilities to access, analyze, and activate a wide range of big data from internally sourced batch jobs of (semi-)structured data to real-time streaming feeds from external services. It requires a user experience that enables marketers to intuitively create campaigns and monitor how audiences, content, and offers perform.
It takes an ecosystem of dozens of solutions to do it all. But at the heart of the stack, global brands must have a mission-critical system that will control and connect, optimize and orchestrate, regulate, and report on complexity at scale. It must be designed to do so in concert with the systems used by all other customer-facing functions. Otherwise, it is simply not possible to have a fully realized customer experience strategy, and the gaps between interactions will become glaringly obvious to customers. The immutable law of competing in the digital marketplace is that every experience raises the bar for every other experience, no matter which brands are involved. In corollary, that means you are either setting the bar higher than your competitors’ ability to deliver, or you are failing to meet baseline expectations for how you interact with your customers. In the digital marketplace, technology will determine your fate.
Unica’s Customer-Centric Roadmap
With all the experience HCL has with Unica, it would have been easy to cruise along in maintenance mode. Instead, realizing that the customer base was evolving and might be interested in deploying its solution on different options including modern cloud-based alternatives, they immediately invested engineering, product management, and marketing resources, and set out to understand how customers are planning the future of their marketing practices and platforms. HCL conducted in-person meetings with 250 customers to influence the short- and long-term product roadmaps for Unica.
Key insights from these interactions included: Centralized orchestration and execution of omnichannel customer engagements, more open integration with touchpoints, unified offer management through centralization and integrated content, deeper personalization capabilities such as offer caching, A/B testing, alignment between online and offline channels, expanded channel coverage for engagement on digital outbound channels (Email/SMS/PUSH), choice of deployment options and productivity and usability enhancements through UI/UX updates to improve ease of use, drive efficiency and enhanced experience.
Unica set to work addressing these enhancements, starting with its 11.x (2019) version and then with its 12.0 (Apr 2020) version and a roadmap to continue this direction with its 12.1 version, slated for H2 2020. Unica 11.x, released in 2019, included more than 1,400 customer enhancement requests, and its recent 12.0 version includes more than 200 enhancements.
To enable its customers to have more agility in consuming these enhancements through the associated versions, Unica 12.0 now supports cloud-native containerized deployment built on Docker/Kubernetes framework. Coupled with faster upgrade mechanisms and a premise agnostic architecture, customers should now have both the flexibility and simplicity in deploying Unica solutions as per their requirements.
Unica 12.0, released in April 2020, brings to the market a set of usability and technological enhancements that include:
- Centralized offer management that brings together offers and content in one place with integrations to content management systems like Adobe AEM and geolocation sources like Bing and Google.
- More than 500 REST APIs that enable a wide range use cases such as creating campaigns in bulk, applying treatment rules for offers from third party systems, getting automated alerts when prescheduled campaigns run, and much more.
- Intuitive UI/UX design with drag and drop, point and click actions that provide significant efficiency in building personalization strategies, campaign optimizations and running your marketing initiatives
- Native out of the box insights built on BIRT (Business Intelligence Reporting Tool), an open-source data visualization and reporting tool. Although Cognos continues to be supported for reporting, marketers are no longer dependent on it and now have a choice of access to insights right within the application.
Unica 12.1, coming in H2 2020, will continue to add more cloud-native capabilities, UI/UX upgrades, and more depth in functionality across the board that should make Unica much more competitive against other major marketing cloud platforms. Apart from its current core offerings, it will feature:
- Unica Deliver, an enterprise-grade native email delivery engine estimated to be 20% faster than leading vendors
- Unica Journey, a centralized orchestration service to manage your customer engagement across channels and interactions
- Unica Link, an open and flexible integration framework with easy to use data mapping capabilities
The great leaps forward to Unica 12.1 and beyond should convince current customers that HCL will deliver continuous innovation and modernization into their marketing capabilities. 12.1 and future versions should also be strong considerations for new customers, especially those fighting renewal or upgrade sticker shock with other marketing cloud vendors. HCL is not charging for upgrades to 12.0 from versions 9 or 10 and plans to offer new consumption-based pricing that will further align cost with customer value.
The pace of engineering improvements suggests customers strongly consider the cloud versions for continuous updates. This may not be possible for all, but there are significant benefits. As with every software product out there, the work is never done. Areas of future attention include mobile push, content management, planning/budgeting, AI-as-a-service, and more. There is a firehose of features already available, and we expect accelerated cloud release cycles to bring future functionality to the market even faster.