Customer Interaction Hubs (CIH) are one of the things I've been thinking about a lot lately due to some consulting I've been doing. If you're not familiar with the term, it's because it fairly far to the left on the Gartner Hype Cycle S-curve. A CIH can be though of as a next generation CRM tool, in some respects, but it's so different in its approach, not to mention that it uses CRM as a component, that that description hardly does it justice.
I recently read an interview with Gartner analyst Esteban Kolsky at eGain (free registration required) which helped my thinking about the CIH. The CIH manages three important resources that companies have at their disposal for interacting with customers: channels, rules, and knowledge. Note that there are other resources, like people, that the CIH doesn't manage. Think of the CIH as a big switch that uses rules to control the flow of knowledge in and out of various customer interaction channels (chat, phone, web, forums, email, etc.).
The goal of the CIH is improved interaction with customers at reduced cost by providing an end-to-end customer experience across all channels. You might have experienced the frustration of losing the context of a customer support interaction when we moved from email to phone. A CIH makes sure that doesn't happen. What's more, the CIH should seamlessly transition a customer from a self-service interaction to an assisted interaction.
Kolsky thinks that a company is well-positioned to reap the benefits of a CIH when they have large transaction volume (50,000 transactions per week). While I agree with that in the short term, I think the very nature of the technology, particularly it's ability to manage self-service and assisted transactions, makes it a natural "long-tail" player as it matures.
Kolsky lists the components of CIH as "channel management, parsing engine (including linguistics), search engine, analytics, rules management, workflow management, and integration middleware." Note that these are tools for integrating diverse, decentralized components into a working whole. Where CRM suites are large monolithic systems, CIH systems are integration components that have to be put to use within the company's overall infrastructure. That infrastructure includes other components like the CRM system, phone systems, IVR, Web systems (including analytics), business intelligence, and so on.
Finally, Kolsky calls the CIH an evolutionary architecture. That's true. You probably already have some of the processes that would be in a CIH somewhere in your support organization. Building a CIH requires finding out what you have, conducting a gap analysis to find out what you're missing, and then starting to coalesce processes and code into an integration point that serves as the CIH.