Blog post

Customer Data Platforms: Eliminate the Moat Around Your Data

By James Meyers | August 03, 2018 | 4 Comments

MarketingDigital Marketing Strategy and ExecutionMarketing Data and Analytics

Am I the only one who wonders this question— why would an organization deploy a technology that unifies enormous quantities of customer data if their business teams can’t access the resulting data? It would be like building one’s dream house inside a 100-meter insurmountable moat. (Good luck getting past those alligators, marketers!)

I am a big believer in solving the root cause of problems (my superiors drilled it into my head as a previous data scientist). Don’t stop asking why, they’d say! That root-cause philosophy brings disappointment when I continually observe vendors being short-sighted with their product offering. Many allege to be a customer data platform (CDP) — which finally delivers the much-ballyhooed single view of the customer — but they neglect to provide its must-have requirement, the point-and-click user interface (UI) (see “A Marketer’s Guide to What Is — and Isn’t — a Customer Data Platform” – Gartner subscription required).

CDP Diagram 2

Let me explain the frustration this causes for business teams and more notably, for marketers.

Whether today’s philosophers classify it this way or not, we live in an age of data democracy. A world where tools deliver unparalleled access to information (e.g., Google), one where the non-technical employee aspires for the same level of access to data as someone in their Analytics or IT department. The reality is our business teammates are tired of data bottlenecks. They want self-service.

In fact, it underpins why CDPs came to exist… (spoiler: it was due to unmet needs everywhere!)

  • Marketers needed…
    • A unified view of their customers to enable their personalization goals
    • Firsthand access to customer data instead of waiting for Analytics or IT to provide it
  • Analytics needed…
    • Comprehensive customer profiles to enable accurate modeling
    • Help aggregating and cleaning endless siloes of customer data
  • Frontline associates needed…
    • Information to prevent customers from knowing more than they do
  • IT needed…
    • Relief from the onslaught of data requests and system integration projects
    • Time to focus on ever-growing compliance and governance regulations
  • Customers needed…
    • Reprieve from re-submitting their goals and preferences with each new channel they interacted with

And the desire for self-service and data democracy isn’t going away (see “Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising, 2018” – Gartner subscription required). Vendors across technology categories are deploying augmented analytics features across all phases of the analytics workflow, from data preparation to data modeling to insight generation. Down the road, it would not be surprising to see CDPs aim to differentiate their UIs with some of these features:

  • Automatic data preparation (designed to automatically audit and reveal data quality issues)
    • Sample non-CDP vendor(s): Datawatch, Paxata, Trifacta, UniFi
  • Insights via search bars (i.e., natural language querying or NLQ)
    • Sample non-CDP vendor(s): Tableau, Power BI Q&A
  • Automatic data insight generation (i.e., natural language generation or NLG)
    • Sample non-CDP vendor(s): Microstrategy, Nielsen Visual IQ, Oracle Day by Day

Knowing these trends towards self-service, marketers must demand the inclusion of a business-friendly UI. They cannot afford to invest in another data-unifying technology and not check the final box of empowering their non-technical teammates to analyze and action upon all that data (remember MDMs and EDWs?). The onus is on you, Marketing. Don’t forget to eliminate the moat!

Fyi: Perhaps in a next post, I may talk about the must-have features inside a CDP’s user interface.

For now, tell me what you think. Do you agree the UI is oft-forgotten? Do your marketers beg for self-service capabilities to eliminate data bottlenecks? Use the comments section below; I’ll do my best to respond.

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  • David Spitz says:

    You make a great point, James, that a major use case for CDPs is democratizing data access. The Venmo case study on gives a great example of this. However, in the spirit of root cause analysis, I would also argue add that, CDPs need more than a UI-driven connections screen. They also need to provide primary data instrumentation capabilities to capture clean, complete & timely data from the point of origin (eg web sites and apps), without always being reliant on data from secondary sources. I am shocked by how many CDPs do not offer this. As a result, while they may democratize data access, the data they are providing access to is disjointed, slow, and not fit for many desired uses.

    • James Meyers says:

      Thank you for the reply, David. You are 100% right that CDPs must collect, cleanse and unify data from ALL data sources (e.g., POS, web/mobile/app, campaign history/engagement, CRM, EDW, etc.), or else the vaunted ‘single view of the customer’ remains a dream. Oh, and I did not even mention that this data is ideally collected, cleansed and unified in real time!

  • Matt Parisi says:

    Democratizing data is such an important concept that gets so little attention, thank you for shining a light on it. I don’t think it’s quite as simple as saying that most CDPs lack a UI (after all, just about any vendor could credibly claim to have a UI to some extent), but that’s a very useful critique of the existing definition that’s being used out there as the basis for vendors claiming the CDP label.

    The common definition of CDPs is a little broad for a buyer evaluating the space (it is helpful for initially understanding the tech)…precisely because of issues like this. There are CDPs (or vendors calling themselves CDPs) out there that don’t provide a UI, which is only hurting the space overall. I don’t think adding a UI as a requirement solves the problem, it would be an improvement, but it brings up an extremely important point…

    If CDPs are the solution (or at least part of the solution) to the fragmented data problem, then it’s absolutely critical that they provide tools, of which one example is a UI, to democratize data access. I would further add that “democratizing data” means different things to different professionals based on skill set.

    A business intelligence professional has very different needs than a developer, who has very different needs than a marketer (and so on) when it comes to democratizing data. This makes it a really tall order, especially when you consider the number of channels that have to be accommodated…you can’t just have a CDP for your mobile app, or a CDP just for the website, or even a CDP just for analytics.

    The spirit of the “built for marketers” part of the definition and the more recent wording requiring that a CDP be “packaged” software largely are trying to get at this point, but I think don’t quite go far enough. That’s why there are so many vendors able to label themselves a CDP, and why there are “CDPs” out there without a UI (and ultimately why the value of the category as a label might decline). BUT….the important part is when considering CDP initiatives targeting fragmented data as the problem to solve, consider the various groups that are required to truly break down silos. Consider the unique data needs for each of those groups. And then match those needs against the vendors out there. Does each vendor have functionality built for those groups to work in a truly universal, unified way?

    • James Meyers says:

      I agree, Matt. Democratization is not achieved by simply providing a UI, but rather providing a UI that allows each user group to achieve their objectives (e.g., data collection, data cleansing, profile unification, analytics, segmentation, orchestration/activation, etc.). A great CDP UI allows for all of those.