Customer Information is Your Company's Life-Blood - Part II

Achieving the fabled "single, unified view" of customers may be the current Holy Grail of business. But even the most ambitious attempts to implement state-of-the-art Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software could end in failure if a crucial element is overlooked: an integrated information infrastructure. In the second part of the series, EMC's Ajaz Munsiff elaborates.

Achieving the fabled "single, unified view" of customers may be the current Holy Grail of business. But even the most ambitious attempts to implement state-of-the-art Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software could end in failure if a crucial element is overlooked: an integrated information infrastructure.

It is no secret that knowing your customers is the key to serving up the right product at the right time. But providing the best service to your most profitable customers isn't possible without first having identified who they are. Companies that want to obtain a single, unified view of customers often turn to the latest Business Intelligence or CRM software packages, and end up specifying a data storage system for the project almost as an afterthought.

According to Forrester Research analyst Joe Butt, "companies are amassing huge amounts of data, across all channels, in order to achieve one view of their customers. But what you need to start out with is a centralized storage system. Having customer information centralized and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week means that if a customer comes into your store, visits your Website, or calls your Help line-whatever the touchpoint may be-you know who that customer is and you have a history of them."

Finding the Blue Chips with an integrated approach

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"Without an integrated approach to customer information, you wouldn't be able to determine who your blue-chip customers really are."
Joe Butt, Forrester Research Analyst

Companies whose information infrastructure is still set up in the old stand-alone "silo" configuration may be missing crucial pieces of the picture. "For example, I may be a great catalog customer, but a lousy Web customer. Or I may be a terrific retail customer but have never bought a single thing from your catalog. Without an integrated approach to customer information, you wouldn't be able to determine who your blue-chip customers really are," says Butt.

Not only does a company need to be able to take transactional data and massage it in real-time, but it needs to be able to perform higher-level business intelligence, or batch analytics, across all channels in order to analyze what is working, what is not, what demand seems to be, if people are behaving differently by channel, and so on. "But unless you have that combined integrated view, what you'll have will be very, very misleading," Butt continues.

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The difficulty is that many companies are organized around product lines or services, rather than the customer.
Tom Liu, Vice President, Data Services, Transamerica

Customer profitability analysis represents a huge opportunity, but only a fraction of companies have pursued it in a serious way, say experts. The difficulty is that many companies are organized around product lines or services, rather than the customer. While determining the profitability of a product is easy enough, doing the same for customers is trickier without a centralized way to manage customer data, especially for those that buy multiple products or services across different channels.

Transamerica: Centralization is strategic

Of course, gaining a unified view of customers is only one of the benefits of data integration. Centralizing common data processing functions across multiple business units is another important advantage. This was one of the key objectives at Transamerica Corporation, a San Francisco-based global financial services company. Transamerica is developing an enterprise-computing environment to support several strategic business initiatives.

Transamerica's enterprise storage system is consolidated, intelligent and scalable, and supports server platforms from Windows NT to UNIX, to mainframes and OS/400 on a single platform, reducing the need to extract and replicate data. This is an important benefit for Transamerica, since it has businesses in life insurance, annuities, commercial lending, leasing, and real estate.

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"Management at each different business unit doesn't really want to have to worry about which platform and application runs on what, or who the various platform vendors are"

"Management at each different business unit doesn't really want to have to worry about which platform and application runs on what, or who the various platform vendors are," says Liu. On the other hand, server-centric storage systems often result in the creation of simply another island of data, and data transfers may require costly and complex point-to-point solutions among all the different systems.

Transamerica's integrated enterprise storage network has also enabled the company to continue using its critical and extensive IBM mainframe resources and to enhance them. The company is now able to transfer large amounts of financial data between its mainframe and open systems environments at very high speeds without impacting system performance or availability. And as the company expands, its storage network will continue to play a major role in Transamerica's success. "We have a real estate information company that is putting together a database that is absolutely huge in terabyte size," says Liu.

Transamerica has achieved its primary business objective-to banish the silo forever and replace it with information sharing across multiple business units. But it has also gained a data storage environment with integrity, high-speed performance, high-level reliability and recoverability, plus data migration features that will enable the company's future growth and expansion.

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