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Customer journey orchestration engine software is designed to help organizations analyze customer interactions across multiple touchpoints, execute the best communications and predict future customer interaction.

Sounds like the promises marketers have been hearing all along in the digital transformation era, no? Yet, they still have their struggles. Can these journey orchestration engines, or journey visioning platforms as Forrester calls them, deliver on these promises? Can they sit underneath your engagement systems such as marketing automation, email marketing and personalization engines and successfully orchestrate a customer’s journey?

Some say yes, these journey orchestration software platforms can do this. “If you do it right, and that's a big if, and if it's capable enough, and that's another big if, then you should be able to invoke all kinds of activity across all kinds of different customer engagement points,” said Tony Byrne, founder of the Real Story Group. “... I don't know how else we get to where we want to go without systems like this. That's why we're bullish on the concept if not always the vendors. Because otherwise you have all of these different one-to-one point integrations.”

What is a Journey Orchestration Platform?

Analysts and vendors in this software arena position these platforms differently, but most promise the collection of customer data based on digital interactions and delivery of the best possible customer engagement actions. 

Here are some industry views of customer journey orchestration software and what it can deliver:

Combination of Journey Visioning, Orchestration

In its Forrester Wave: Journey Visioning Platforms, Q4, 2018 (fee required), the research company sees these software platforms falling into two overlapping categories within journey analytics:

  • Journey visioning: Data fusion, journey design and planning, and journey testing and optimization.
  • Journey orchestration: Journey visioning capabilities and also delivers — and places a greater emphasis on — journey automation and orchestration.

The practice of journey analytics, according to Forrester researchers, looks at customer behaviors across multiple touchpoints in order to interact with customers in the best possible way and also predict future interactions. According to Forrester, journey analytics can provide — in terms of capabilities — a combination of data fusion (connecting data dots across customer’s journey), journey design and planning (journey maps that predict future behavior, measure interactions), journey testing and optimization and journey automation and orchestration (predictive and prescriptive analytics for automating interactions).

Contextual Awareness, Customer Activity, Execution

In her April report on what Real Story Group calls Journey Orchestration Engines (JOE), researcher Sarah Brown found that JOEs "should join ongoing and contextual awareness of prospect/customer activity to an ever-growing knowledge of those prospects/customers in order to make timely and informed decisions on what best to do next, and to effect that action."

Real Story Group sees six business use cases that JOEs may provide:

  • Digital customer acquisition.
  • Offline/online customer acquisition.
  • Sales enablement.
  • Channel partner orchestration.
  • Revenue optimization and retention.
  • Service and support.

Related Article: Customer Journey Management in an Era of Disjointed Journeys

Journey Listening Platforms or Journey Action Platforms?

Software in the customer experience space seems to be split between listening to (analytics) and communicating with customers (marketing automation, content management, etc.).  Byrne cited a debate in the customer journey orchestration software industry about what these platforms do and what they should do. Some feel they're journey listening centers that map and expose what's actually happening and allow you to watch, learn and then optimize at the edge in all your different systems. “So to that extent, they're very much like CX analytics platforms,” Byrne said, “which basically tell you what's happening with your customers out there. And they can do visual ways of mapping touchpoints, and then allow you to see bottlenecks and then interpret that and try to analyze it.”

The other camp says these platforms should be more expansive and not just listen, but act on it. Proactively set up journey maps that you activate. Listen to events and then take action based on what you saw. “So, to that extent, it is similar to some of the campaign management mapping tools that you have in an email platform or a marketing automation platform, except these live lower in your stack, so they're not just going to be based on which email you’re going to send this person next. It could be different things.”

Related Article: 6 Ways to Make Your Customer Journeys Continuous

Vendor Landscape: Legacy, Emerging Players

The vendor landscape in the customer journey orchestration space is a combination of traditional customer analytics providers and some emerging pure-play orchestration startups.

In its November report, "Using Machine Learning to Analyze and Optimize Customer Journeys" (subscription required), Gartner researchers found major vendors in the customer experience analytics space include Adobe, IBM and Salesforce. Those vendors are integrating machine learning to aid customer journey analytics along with more specialized vendors such as [24]7.ai, ClickFox, Pointillist and Thunderhead.

In its Journey Orchestration Landscape, Real Story Group splits the vendors into three categories:

  • Martech suite: Oracle, Adobe, Salesforce, IBM
  • Marketing BPM: Teradata, Pega, infor, bpm'online
  • Pure-play: Usermind, Relay42, Thunderhead, Pointillist, Kitewheel

Byrne said he’s seen examples of martech providers OEM-ing some of these orchestration vendors. Particularly, he cited Salesforce-Thunderhead and Acquia-Kitewheel.

Forrester’s “most significant” journey visioning platform providers include: ClickFox, IBM, inQuba, Kitewheel, NICE, Pointillist, SuiteCX, TandemSeven, Teradata, Thunderhead, Touchpoint Dashboard and Usermind.

Related Article: Great Customer Journeys Begin With the Right Tools

Beware of Orchestration False Promises

Some vendors are calling themselves orchestration engines, but in reality they’re just orchestrating part of the customer experience, according to Byrne. He said major marketing cloud vendors have orchestration capabilities that are mostly wrapped up in their outbound email platforms. “So they will say they have these great multi-channel orchestration capabilities, but really, it's centered on email,” Byrne said. “Typically, something may be triggered but it’s not truly omnichannel. Omnichannel should be able to orchestrate all kinds of things but maybe never generate an email.”

Why Data, CDPs Matter in Orchestration

The key piece to successful orchestration of the customer journey is grabbing the data, according to Bill Delrieu, senior director analyst for Gartner. “The idea of orchestration is that you have an action, that next-best action recommendation,” he said. “And that kind of recommendation is really only possible when you've accumulated the data on all the channels and ... understand the journey that your customers are taking. So there's a big analytics piece of it. The vendors I've seen that do really interesting things in that space, they have a very strong background in analytics as well as the orchestration."

To that data piece, Byrne often sees orchestration platforms traveling hand-in-hand with customer data platform (CDP) deployments. Many CDPs bundle lightweight orchestration services themselves, Byrne said. Orchestration requires “really good unified customer data” and assumes organizations have people who are “savvy about all these different engagement systems. You’re kind of pulling levers remotely,” Byrne said, “so it becomes kind of a master control room.”

Related Article: Choosing a CDP Vendor? 5 Questions to Ask Before Taking the Plunge

The Need for Data Governance

The emergence of customer journey orchestration software is consistent with the fact that more and more companies understand that they need customer data to live in multiple places at once, said Delrieu. “They need to really put in place a data governance plan,” he said, “and a clear understanding of when to use what type of system for accessing that customer.”