VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management. VRM tools provide customers with both
- independence from vendors, and
- better ways of engaging with vendors.
The same tools can also support individuals' relations with schools, churches, government entities and other kinds of organizations.
To vendors, VRM is the customer-side counterpart of CRM (or Customer Relationship Management) and other systematic means for engaging customers.
VRM tools provide customers — that's all of us — with ways to operate with full agency in the marketplace. This includes the ability to assert intentions in ways that can be understood and respected, while still protecting personal privacy. It includes ways to bear bear our own side of the relationship burden, and to have the same kind of scale across many vendors as vendors have across many customers. (An example of scale: being able to change one's address, phone number or last name, for every vendor with which a customer deals, in one move.)
VRM relieves vendors of the perceived need to "capture," "acquire," "lock in," "manage," and otherwise employ the language and thinking of slave-owners when dealing with customers. With VRM operating on the customer's side, CRM systems will no longer be alone in trying to improve the ways companies relate to customers. Customers will be also be involved, as fully empowered participants, rather than as captive followers.
VRM is part of a larger picture as well. Perhaps the best name and description for that larger picture is Life Management Platforms, coined by Martin Kuppinger of Kuppinger Cole. He describes them this way: "Life Management Platforms will change the way individuals deal with sensitive information like their health data, insurance data, and many other types of information – information that today frequently is paper-based or, when it comes to personal opinions, only in the mind of the individuals. They will enable new approaches for privacy- and security-aware sharing of that information, without the risk of losing control of that information... At KuppingerCole we expect and predict that Life Management Platforms, with related standards, protocols, business models, applications, etc., will be the one technology driven component that will have the strongest influence on our everyday life (and, on the other side, on enterprise infrastructures and the Internet architecture) for the next 10 years."
ProjectVRM's purpose is to foster development of tools and services that make customers both independent and better able to engage — and to guide research on the effects of those, as they come into widespread use. This is a long-term project, set against a background of entrenched social norms, policies, technologies and business monopolies that date back to the dawn of the Industrial Age.
What called VRM into the world was the Internet, and the opportunities for new forms of engagement that were not possible without a worldwide network that nobody owned, everybody could use and anybody could improve. That network was born in the form we know today on 30 April 1995, when the NSFnet backbone, on which commercial traffic had been prohibited, was decommissioned. This instantly made the Internet a worldwide marketplace, and not just a side project of governments, universities and a few big companies. ISPs sprang up, along with graphical browsers, email, file transfer and the rest — all based on an open peer-to-peer protocol suite that had the effect of pushing toward zero the functional distance between everybody and everything on it — and costs as well.
However, as William Gibson told The Economist in 2003, "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." This is why the full implications of the Net have emerged unevenly, and follow the differing adoption rates of DSL, wi-fi, data over cable and mobile phone systems, and the emergence of smartphones — across differing cultures, societies, income levels, network infrastructures, and levels of government and incumbent monopoly control.
The Industrial Age also didn't end when the Net showed up. For example, while many marketers embraced The Cluetrain Manifesto (which appeared on the Web in 1999 and in book form in 2000, and was co-authored by Doc Searls, who started ProjectVRM), many more saw the Net as one more way to "target," "capture," "acquire," "manage," "control" and "lock in" customers, as if they were slaves or cattle.
Here's one example of how the world has changed since we started ProjectVRM. At our first meeting, in October 2006, Paul Trevithick said, correctly, that "user install" was a huge hurdle for all developers, including future VRM ones. At the time, however, nearly all user installs were on desktop and laptop computers. There were no iPhones or Androids, and the first app stores were nearly two years away. But once those stores were in place, instantly install-able apps exploded into use, and evolved almost constantly.
But, while the user install hurdle came down on the smartphone front, the independence hurdle rose higher than ever. That's because the main sources of smartphones — Apple and Google — have come to dominate our lives to a degree that rivals or exceeds the influence of the great monopoly phone companies of the 20th Century. Independence that is still possible on general purpose PCs is not possible on iPhones and is minimally possible on Androids. Both "ecosystems" are giant walled gardens that trap both users and developers, even as users enjoy countless benefits.
Worse, our browsers and mobile devices have also became instruments of surveillance, with our activities being reported constantly back to faceless machines and software systems within business and government. This also severely limits personal independence, and puts privacy in great demand. Answering that demand today are apps that block advertising and tracking online. This is by far the most popular category in our list of VRM developments. (This is also why Doc Searls has been following the "adblock war" since ProjectVRM began.)
No doubt many other expected and unexpected changes in the marketplace will help and hinder VRM projects in the coming years. Whether or not ProjectVRM will persist until its goals succeed is an open question. What's not an open question is the whether or not the project's ideals and goals are worth pursuing.
VRM development work is based on the belief that free customers are more valuable than captive ones to themselves, to vendors, and to the larger economy. To be free
- Customers must enter relationships with vendors as independent actors.
- Customers must be the points of integration for their own data.
- Customers must have control of data they generate and gather. This means they must be able to share data selectively and voluntarily.
- Customers must be able to assert their own terms of engagement.
- Customers must be free to express their demands and intentions outside of any one company's control.
In the "Markets Are Relationships" chapter of the 10th Anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Doc Searls writes this about the goals of VRM efforts:
- Provide tools for individuals to manage relationships with organizations. These tools are personal. That is, they belong to the individual in the sense that they are under the individual's control. They can also be social, in the sense that they can connect with others and support group formation and action. But they need to be personal first.
- Make individuals the collection centers for their own data, so that transaction histories, health records, membership details, service contracts, and other forms of personal data are no longer scattered throughout a forest of silos.
- Give individuals the ability to share data selectively, without disclosing more personal information than the individual allows.
- Give individuals the ability to control how their data is used by others, and for how long. At the individual's discretion, this may include agreements requiring others to delete the individual's data when the relationship ends.
- Give individuals the ability to assert their own terms of service, reducing or eliminating the need for organization-written terms of service that nobody reads and everybody has to "accept" anyway.
- Give individuals means for expressing demand in the open market, outside any organizational silo, without disclosing any unnecessary personal information.
- Make individuals platforms for business by opening the market to many kinds of third party services that serve buyers as well as sellers
- Base relationship-managing tools on open standards and open APIs (application program interfaces). This will support a rising tide of activity that will lift an infinite variety of business boats plus other social goods.
These are ideal characteristics of VRM tools:
- VRM tools are personal. As with hammers, wallets, cars and mobile phones, people use them as individuals,. They are social only in secondary ways.
- VRM tools help customers express intent. These include preferences, policies, terms and means of engagement, authorizations, requests and anything else that’s possible in a free market, outside any one vendor’s silo or ranch.
- VRM tools help customers engage. This can be with each other, or with any organization, including (and especially) its CRM system.
- VRM tools help customers manage. This includes both their own data and systems and their relationships with other entities, and their systems.
- VRM tools are substitutable. They don't lock individuals into any company's silo.
VRM Development Work
The list is too long to put here. So go to the VRM Development Work page.
ProjectVRM is a D&R — Development and Reserch — project. Development has always come first. Now, as VRM is coming to be adopted in the world, we need to encourage research the same way we have encouraged development — and conduct it as well. Here are a few questions we might probe, as the principles, goals and tools listed above start having effects:
- How will VRM companies work together and/or at cross purposes? How will new categories emerge, and markets grow, as an effect of both?
- In what ways and to what extents are VRM tools and services interoperable, or substitutable?
- Will VRM disrupt existing businesses, enhance them, neither or both? How and where? One example: online advertising, which is already impacted by ad and tracking blockers. And, once selective ad and tracking blocking becomes more normative, what happens to surveillance-based personalized advertising? (It is easy to track investment; but what about actual effects on businesses, e.g. publishers and advertising companies)?
- How will existing CRM and other customer relationship systems (e.g. Customer Experience Management, call centers) open up and change after they begin shaking hands with VRM tools and services on the customer side?
- How will jargon normalize? With personal data, for example, will "stores," "lockers," "life management platforms," "vaults" or PIMS (personal information management systems) become the prevailing label?
- How and where will intentcasting catch on first?
- In which countries or geographical regions will VRM and approaches like it first become organized and take off? How? Why?
- How do policy environments — laws, regulations, government purchasing practices — encourage or discourage VRM development, usage and market growth? (Of special interest already are European and Australian privacy laws, and Government Digital Services appetites for normalized citizen data in the U.K.) And how do VRM developers and/or citizens affect policy decisions?
- In what ways and to what extents to VRM developers adopt open standards, produce (and support) open APIs, and both use and generate free and open source code?
- One of the results of a ClarityRay survey (no longer online, since ClarityRay was bought by Yahoo ) was that ad blocker users tend to spend more money online. It would be good to expand on that. Do privacy tools other than ad blockers also have an effect? Does the effect hold even when you control for skill and time spent online?
- It would be good to follow up on last year's Pew study on Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online and ask, To what extent are user concerns about security and privacy affecting commerce? What security and privacy tools, behaviors, and policies are most effective for helping to address those concerns and promote commerce?
Conference Call archive and audio links can be found at the Community Portal page.
- VRM Day on Monday, 25 April, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.
- Self-Data: The European PIMS Landscape, part of FING's Mesinfos work.
- Internet Identity Workshop — IIW on Tuesday-Thursday, 26-28 April, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.
- VRM Day on Monday, 6 April
- Internet Identity Workshop #20, (7-9 April) at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.
- VRM Day on Oct 26
- Internet Identity Workshop #21, (27-29 October) at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.
- VRM Day 2014b, on 27 October, in advance of the Internet Identity Workshop, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.
- Internet Identity Workshop (Notes) #19, (28-30 October) at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.
- VRM Day 2014a 5 May at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. Free.
- Internet Identity Workshop (Notes) #18, 6-8 May at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.
- Data Tuesday "VRM : le contrôle des données aux utilisateurs !" au 12/14, rue Henri Barbusse – 92110 Clichy
- VRM Day 2013a , in advance of IIW, below, 6 May in Mountain View, CA.
- Internet Identity Workshop #16, 7-9 May at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. IIW is where #VRM in some ways began and where it remains a huge part of what gets worked on there.
- European Workshop on Trust & Identity, 12-13 February, Vienna, Austria. The focus is on identity, but VRM is sure to come up.
- European Identity & Cloud Conference, 14 -17 May, Munich, Germany. Kuppinger-Cole, which puts on the conference, has a focus on life management platforms, which are highly relevant to VRM.
- Internet Identity Workshop #17, 22-24 October at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.
- PICNIC Festival 2012, at the EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam, Netherlands. September 17-18, 2012. Register here. Big fun annual event. Doc will speak there.
- VRM pre-IIW meeting/worshop. Location TBD. October 22, 2012. Interested VRooMers gather to catch up and prep for the next three days at IIW.
- Internet Identity Workshop #15, Computer History Museum, Mountain View, CA. October 23-25, 2012. Register here. This is very much a VRM workshop, since it's an unconference where many VRooMers show up and hold sessions of their own choosing.
- Datavenu, at the School of Management, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. On August 7-8, 2012. Register here. First VRooMy event in Minnesota, organized by Barb Bowen. Kaliya, Doc and Phil are speakers.
- Are Free Customers More Valuable Than Captive Ones?, by Doc Searls at South by Southwest Interactive, Austin, Texas, March 9-13.
- STL Partners Executive Brainstorm, San Francisco, March 27-28.
- Pre-IIW VRM workshop at Ericsson, 200 Holger Way (Zanker & 237), San Jose, CA 95134, 9am-5pm April 30. Our usual meeting, with a special welcome for newbies.
- European Identity and Cloud Conference, Munich, April 17-20. Craig Burton, Phil Windley Drummond Reed, Kim Cameron, Doc Searls and other VRM'ers will be there
- Intention Economy Mashup Event London, Innovation Warehouse, 1 East Poultry Avenue, London. EC1A 9PT 4:30-9:30pm, Monday, 23 April Put on by Tony Fish, Sam Sethi and Iain Henderson. Named after Doc's new book, which will be almost out then. Doc will speak there.
- VRM and CRM Inter-op London 2012 London , EC1A 9PT Tuesday, April 24, 2012 from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM (GMT) Hosted by Iain Henderson, with a special invite to CRM professionals.
- IIW14 Internet Identity Workshop #14, Mountain View, CA, May 1-3. The venerable unconference where there are many VRM breakout sessions.
- IIW #12, May 3-5, Mountain View, CA
- Conversational Commerce Conference, February 2-3, San Francisco
- IMPACT/2011, March 22-23, Salt Lake City, UT
- VRM Gathering at SXSW Interactive 2011
- IIW XII (2011-A) May 3-5, 2011, Mountain View, CA
- IIW XIII (2011-B) October 18-20, 2011, Mountain View, CA]
- VRM+CRM 2010 August 26-27 Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
- VRooM Leadership Workshop took place on 31 Oct * 1 Nov in Mountain View, CA
- VRM East Coast Workshop 2009 (VRooM 2009) took place on 12-13 October at Harvard University
- VRM at SXSW 2009 were meetings during SXSW in March 2009, Austin, TX
- VRM West Coast Workshop 2009 took place May 15-16, 2009 in Palo Alto, CA.
- VRM2008 took place in Munich on 21/22 April 2008
- VRM Workshop 2008 took place in July 2008 at Harvard University
We have two mailing lists:
- Our main Mailing list. You can subscribe and view the archive here.
- Our geeks-only Open Source VRM developers list, which hasn't taken off, but we want to at least save the link, should it want to
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- registering up at the top of this page
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We encourage you to use the hashtag #VRM when blogging or tweeting about the topic.