The Future is VRM post

Its no secret I'm a bonafide Cluetrain drunk. I didn't just sip that Kool Aid, I killed it. And really, any foray into social strategy is Cluetrain-light on training wheels. The concept of VRM ought really to resonate with most of those already espousing the open, social Web. My first introduction to the concept of VRM was several years ago when I ran into Fred Davis in San Francisco who, among other topics, discussed his dot com-era venture, The Lumeria Project (and well, I suppose before that it really began after reading The Cluetrain Manifesto in college--it came out my junior year of high school). The LP was essentially a VRM platform that for obvious reasons never made it past the first few rounds of financing. Not only was user behavior online not ready for such a venture (and really, the general culture at large), but the Web was not ready. Now, we're getting there. Of course, Doc Searls has been heading up ProjectVRM, headquartered at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, where he is a fellow, for quite some time now.

So, an intro to VRM as put together by the VRM Hub group headed by Adriana Lukas in the UK:

Imagine being able to take charge of your information and data, notes and records about past transactions, your purchase history, future plans and ideas, preferences and knowledge about areas of your life. At the moment you are the last person to be able to benefit from all this accessible only via various platforms. Your ‘digital detritus’ is not yours, it is information that others harvest and use for their own purposes. Imagine to be able to do that with the same ease as checking email, posting to a blog, adding a bookmark to del.icio.us, searching Google, commenting on an article, uploading a photo to Flickr, managing your google or ical calendar, leaving a review on Amazon, adding an application on Facebook. All this whilst protecting your privacy to the degree you find comfortable, sharing your activity or data as you wish, not as mandated by the platform providing some functionality in exchange for your data (Facebook, Amazon etc).

Imagine having your customers share with you what they like, want and think of you. At the moment, you are dependent on market research, which is like looking through a keyhole at the rich ‘user-generated’ world. Imagine being able to relate to your customers, consistently and persistently, where they contribute directly to your supply chain where it makes sense - whether it is R&D, product design, distribution and marketing. Interaction with them is modular, intuitive and user-driven freeing much of your resources spent on marketing and transaction cost.

The above is part of the vision of the Project VRM. The name stands for Vendor Relationship Management and it originates from ‘flipping’ CRM - customer relationship management. Project VRM is a community-driven effort to support the creation and building of VRM tools. The project is headquartered at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and headed by Doc Searls, a fellow with the center. The project is building a framework that sets standards and protocols for a category of tools that enable individuals and organizations to relate and transact on more equivalent terms. By minimizing the leverage and control one party has over another in a (typically commercial) relationship, individuals and organizations can instead focus on creating and sharing value. The VRM opportunity is not rooted in us vs. them emotionally-driven arguments but in creating a more efficient and balance relationship between business and their customers, markets and companies, demand and supply.

What’s in it for the individual?
The ability to manage and analyze your data will give you better knowledge about yourself, the kind of knowledge that is the holy grail of most companies’ customer data management. The awareness of your preferences, understanding of your needs will help you to articulate them easier and strengthen your position with vendors.

What’s in it for businesses?

We live in an increasingly decentralized world with more customer choice, yet vendors continue to fiercely collect and control customer data and exploit the opportunities therein. The ultimate goal of VRM is better relationships between customers and vendors, by considering and constructing tools that put the customer in control of their data and ultimately their relationships with other individuals, companies and institutions.

Benefits of ‘letting go’ of customer data:

1. Customers share the burden of storing and protecting the data - eases compliance, privacy & security concerns
2. Increased access to information about customers - direct benefits to the customer to share more data rather than less.
3. New services from previously unavailable access to customer data


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