The Quest for the 360-Degree Customer View and a Single CDI

Loraine Lawson

Loraine Lawson spoke with Philip Russom, an analyst with The Data Warehousing Institute, on what a recent TDWI report, "Customer Data Integration: Managing Customer Information as an Organizational Asset," revealed about multiple CDI solutions.


Lawson: What did the report show about customer data integration?
Russom: It points out that there's some interesting contrast in CDI. On the upside, a lot of users think CDI is valuable, they definitely want to have it in their jobs, they think it yields benefits, but the downside is the same users in the survey are saying that their organizations really don't invest that much in CDI. They're saying that the customer data is incomplete and that the success of CDI is somewhat fair to middling. It's not great.


Another interesting aspect of what I found was that a lot of companies have multiple CDI solutions. One of the points of CDI is to pull together in one place a fairly complete view of the customer through data. It's not so much complete. I think one of the bigger points that people seem to miss, it's not so much that the view of the customer is complete - it's that you have settled on one singular view of the customer, as opposed to looking at the customer from different viewpoints. So, when an organization has lots of CDI solutions, then it's like the CDI solutions are sort of competing with each other. More to the point, they quite often contradict each other.


Lawson: I noticed the report said there were different solutions for analytical and operational and I wondered if that was because many of them are legacy systems. I would be frustrated if I were a business CEO looking at this. It seems like they're always promised one view of the customer, but in actuality they just get a different solution and then it becomes a silo. Are there technologies on the horizon that will address this?
Russom: You know, I think what you're saying has a lot of accuracy in terms of what I see. I just hear it in slightly different words from people. I interview a lot of users and a lot of times the users contradict themselves and they don't realize it until I point it out to them.


I'll talk to people who are in IT or data warehousing or I talk to a lot of people who are really more of the business sponsor. On the one hand, these kinds of people will say, "Well, you know, we really need access to data from across the enterprise." Hence, data as an enterprise asset or - if they're not ready for that kind of project, they'll say, "We need data from across the enterprise and that's why we depend on our data warehouse." Don't forget: One role of the data warehouse is to have a single approved view of certain business entities and that can certainly include the customer.


On the one hand, they'll contradict themselves by saying, "But, but, but we still want our old view. Because I'm running a production line in manufacturing. I just need to see the view of products and supplies and suppliers as seen from my department." Other folks will say, "Yeah, we need to see the full 360-degree view of the customer across the enterprise but I'm in sales, I still need to see just this old view of the customer that we've always depended on strictly from the sales department." Marketing people say the same thing.


You know, sales and marketing, quite often they're very focused on stuff like what the customer has bought in the past as an indication of what they'll buy in the future and they kind of ignore stuff that the financial department would care about. The financial department would care about things like is the customer really profitable. Sometimes it looks like the customer spent a lot of money with you but you never know. They may have returned a lot of it. They may have reported lots of defective products. They may have demanded a lot of call center time or some kind of technology support and so on and so forth. So even though they bought a lot of stuff from you, you don't really know their profitability until you get the full information from across the enterprise.


People want their enterprise view, but they also want their kind of myopic departmental view as well. That in itself is kind of a mindset issue that is hard for some people to get past.


Lawson: Well, I mean it makes sense to me actually because the rewards are built on their own little world view. You know? You have a sales quota to meet, it really doesn't matter how the customer looks in terms of what percentage of your sales quota you meet.
Russom: That's an excellent point. Let us never forget that the humans do their best work when there's incentive.


Lawson: I get that; I was a reporter and one organization wanted us to share our source information. I would have a core set of people I called regularly and I didn't want other people bothering them or they wouldn't want to talk to me. And sometimes you would have reporters who stumbled in and made your sources mad. As I saw it, it was not actually in anyone's interest for me to share that information willy-nilly.
Russom: That's a great analogy. There are similar issues with customer data. Don't forget that the customer is actually one of the most sensitive business entities you could ever touch. It's because they're human beings and if you share a lot of customer data, quite often in a lot of companies it means that the sales and marketing department is going to contact them relentlessly trying to upsell or cross-sell them. A lot of humans don't like that. I personally don't like that. So there are sort of human issues like that but, there are laws. There are different types of regulations even if they're not legislated by some government. So, you have to be careful about what you do with customer data.


We've been living with HIPAA for two decades now, right? And it's funny how we still occasionally see companies do really stupid things that are HIPAA violations. There are certain things you can and cannot do with things, especially really sensitive data like medical information that go with the patient - don't forget that the patient is equivalent to a customer. We think of it as a health care issue but HIPAA does provide guidelines for use of customer data across the board.


Also, do you remember e-business in the 90s? As more applications came online and suddenly people had all of this customer data, they thought, "Wow, let's leverage this stuff. Let's use it." And there was kind of a revolt in the late '90s among a lot of customers. A lot of customers demanded more careful use of their own data.


I kind of like the way things worked out in the 90s. We didn't end up with hard and fast legislation. I think more of it was like guidance.


Lawson: I would like to get back to the point of how businesses should look at CDI. Is it even possible to achieve this integrated, clean 360-degree view of the customer - even if they don't want to be seen?
Russom: Yeah, that falls into the Holy Grail department. It's something you pursue but you're never going to find it.


So why do you pursue it? It's because you're greatly improved by the search. No, you're never going to get all 360 degrees. In fact, there was one guy I interviewed, and I forget the number, but he said that his company had actually created this scale to see how close they could get to 360 degrees and according to that - the scale was 0 to 360, right, to go along with this bit of dogma about customer data. So he gave me a number - I'm sorry I forgot the number. He said, "Well, we've tried really hard but we can't get past 269 degrees." He felt bad about it and I told him, "My friend, you're way ahead of most companies here."


Don't forget, it's a Holy Grail. You're better off for pursuing it but don't expect to ever find it.


Lawson: Can you get down to one technology stack? One CDI solution?
Russom: Oh, that's another great question. I don't know if you realize it, but health care insurance has gone through dramatic market consolidation. I'm sorry I can't give you a name, but one of these companies that has been going around buying up a lot of the health care insurance companies has, as you can imagine, a massive IT department. I was talking to a guy in IT and he said, "I have to confess to you that we've only gotten our CDI solutions down to two." And I said, "You're kidding. You feel bad about that?" And he said, "Yeah, because the Holy Grail is one."


His company had acquired 40-some-odd health care insurance providers. His department had done so well handling this just killer workload of mergers and acquisitions. Again, they're in health care so people who are insured, they're seen as a weird mix of patients from the customer viewpoint, but mostly as customers from the insurance viewpoint. It's got a funny twist on it, but it's still customer data. It's funny that they had done such a brilliant job of getting it down to two master patient indexes and yet somehow he felt bad that they couldn't get it down to one.

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