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All About the Data

Published
  • August 01 2003, 1:00am EDT

"The most important thing to know about us," says Tony Fisher, president and general manager of DataFlux Corporation, "is that DataFlux is all about the data. We understand that data is a strategic corporate asset, and our goal is to help companies achieve value from that data."

Fisher recounts that several trends are impacting the data management industry today. The first is the veritable explosion of data that companies must cope with on a daily basis. Data from a variety of sources is flowing into corporate databases, and companies are desperately seeking ways to effectively and efficiently manage that data. Additionally, as companies transition from operating as individual lines of business to integration across all lines of business, data enables successful integration. The data is the one common thread from line of business to line of business. This higher dependency on data for organizational effectiveness is a key driver in the product development strategy at DataFlux.

DataFlux was acquired by SAS in June of 2000 to extend SAS data warehousing capabilities for customer relationship management by integrating data cleansing technology. Fisher provides insight into pre-SAS DataFlux and the evolution after the acquisition.

DataFlux History

"DataFlux began as a venture-backed company," explains Fisher. "Three systems integrators were developing decision support and business intelligence applications and data warehouses. They found that the same problem existed at every client site. They determined that it was not the robustness and completeness of the applications they built that ultimately determined success or failure for the work that they were doing; it was the quality of the data that went into the applications that made the difference between success and failure. After talking about it for a while, they decided to build software that could clean the data. They spent a number of years concentrating on the technology. Toward the end of the nineties, SAS was making a lot of headway in the data warehouse environment, and they were looking for specific technology to augment their data warehouse environment. It was exactly the type of matching technology that DataFlux had built. DataFlux and SAS were geographically proximate, and SAS purchased DataFlux outright," he says. "SAS made the decision to allow DataFlux to continue to operate as an independent subsidiary – continue to build, market and sell their own products – as well as provide technology to SAS. The acquisition by SAS validated the DataFlux product and technology and brought a lot of stability to DataFlux." Fisher continues, "There were not a lot of direct changes to DataFlux. DataFlux continued to operate primarily as a technology company, concentrating on building the best technology in the industry."

Prior to joining DataFlux, Fisher was in charge of data warehouse development, database access and meta data tools access at SAS. Fisher relates that once SAS acquired DataFlux and decided to keep it as an independent subsidiary, it was a fairly natural progression for him to move to DataFlux as president and general manager.

Approximately a year after the acquisition, Fisher began to transition DataFlux from a data hygiene vendor to its current status as a provider of data management solutions. Fisher explains the company's progression. "At one of our company meetings, I explained that data cleansing had been good to us, but it was never going to get us where we wanted to go. It is a small niche market. I emphasized that we needed to broaden our technology beyond just data cleansing," he says.

Fisher noted that the company's relationships with its customers also required attention. "Our existing customers did not know about any of our new capabilities. A real eye-opener for me occurred when we received a request for proposal from one of our better customers. Their project was tailor-made for our technology, and we figured it would be a slam-dunk. When we called them to thank them for sending the RFP, they told us that they didn't even know we could do what they required. They explained that they sent us the RFP but were actually pretty far down the road with some other vendors. We lost that business – and it was business that should have been ours. It was a good relationship that we thought we had, but we had not taken the time and energy to keep customer relationships strong and solid."

Fisher now proudly relates that the increased attention to DataFlux customer relationships has been successful. "One of the things we hear from our customers time and time again is that we always provide what they need, we always send what we agreed to send and we are always up front with what we tell our customers. This is true for everything from the sales cycle to tech support and beyond. The people here have established very solid relationships with customers, and that is one of the things that differentiates us from a number of our competitors," comments Fisher. "We have great technology in the four building blocks of data management, and it is our technology and our people that separate us from the competition."

The Four Building Blocks of Data Management

To transition the company's focus from data hygiene to data management, Fisher and the DataFlux management team identified four major categories for future growth. "We made a strategic decision to focus on data profiling, data quality, data integration and data augmentation. These four building blocks of data management comprise our methodology that outlines best practices and delineates our comprehensive approach to solving even the most challenging data problems," explains Fisher. "These are all very compatible technology areas, and they have enabled us to grow from a data cleansing company into a data management company."

Data profiling enables organizations to ascertain the condition of their corporate data. DataFlux data profiling software inspects data for errors, inconsistencies, redundancies and incomplete information. Once the problem areas have been identified, data quality software from DataFlux helps organizations determine the best course of action to reconcile and correct the data. The process of merging or linking disparate data sources quickly and accurately is accomplished with the data integration software from DataFlux. Additional DataFlux software functionality includes analysis and categorization, augmentation, data transformation, standardization, address verification, geocoding, international data management, customer matching and relationship linking, parsing and transformation of business data, categorization and rationalization.

The Impact of Poor Data Management

Armed with a wide array of data management products, DataFlux is now positioned to help organizations understand and solve their data management issues. However, Fisher reports that many organizations don't fully understand the breadth of problems that result from poor data management.

"It is very difficult for organizations to understand the impact of poor data management," states Fisher. "It seems odd that it is so difficult, but I think there are a number of reasons for that. One of the reasons is that the place where you are making data improvements is not necessarily the place that is going to benefit from the improvements you've made. Oftentimes, there is a disconnect between where the problem is and where the problem is felt. Additionally, because organizations tend to operate as independent departments, it is difficult for different parts of the organization to understand that it is in their mutual best interest to make these improvements. It's getting worse every day as data volumes grow. Unless people take the time and energy to correct the problem now, they may be faced with catastrophic consequences down the road," emphasizes Fisher.

Inundated with data from a variety of sources, organizations across the globe are turning to DataFlux for assistance. Fisher explains, "There is just far more data, and it is exploding in databases. Also, there are fewer checks and balances as that data is coming in from partners, suppliers and customers entering information on a Web site that goes directly into a customer database. Organizations find themselves much more susceptible to problematic data coming into their systems in the first place. Enlightened organizations are beginning to understand that there are good ways to manage the data flow in order to prevent a lot of quality management problems they are experiencing today. These organizations are coming to DataFlux, and we're helping them achieve consistent, accurate and reliable data across their enterprises. We have technology, for example, that embeds directly into a Web site. If you enter your name and address on the Web site and there's a similar name or address in the customer database, our technology will display a message such as, 'We found this in the database. Is this you?' Our software limits the number of invalid data entries. The industry has evolved and our products have matured to take care of that evolution. Having the ability to see what's coming, recognize that it is going to be yet another problem for organizations and have the technology available when organizations start to feel the impact is exactly the type of thing that we are able to do," says Fisher.

Fisher again stresses the importance of integration. "I think the most critical aspect of data management for companies today is the ability to integrate. Companies have, for a very long time, tended to operate as independent departments or independent lines of business. They've duplicated a number of systems; they've duplicated a number of processes. We did see a huge push in the nineties with ERP systems to try to consolidate some of the processes. There was obviously a huge amount of success with that, but I think now we're going to see a real effort to integrate complete lines of business. Processes operate on one piece of your business. They don't operate across the business. Data is the thing that spans across your organization. Therefore, as you begin to integrate different lines of business, the data is going to be the key component to do that," states Fisher.

"We have a good customer story along those lines," says Fisher. "We work with one of North America's largest resort real estate companies that owns a number of ski lodges, golf courses, resort properties and retirement communities. They have built their portfolio through a series of acquisitions, and they kept the acquisitions as independent lines of business for a very long time. Each business unit was independently successful; but this company realized that in order to really excel, they had to be able to understand who their customers are, what they are doing and what they're going to do in the next stage of life – across all of their lines of business. They wanted to track every lifestyle change from the time a person is four years old and attends his first ski school to the time he is 65 years old and wants to purchase a piece of retirement property. This information would enable them to send ski coupons when he's 20-something and family-oriented promotions when he is 30-something. When he turns 50, they could send him golfing package offers. Simply put, they wanted to be able to track their customers from all of the different parts of their business across the entire life cycle," explains Fisher. "Our software is very dynamic in that it can be used to track products, individuals, suppliers – any type of data. Our software can look across very disparate data sources and very disparate applications and identify the same data element to track, collect and create lifetime value information on that data element – that's exactly what our customers are doing with our software," states Fisher.

DataFlux Fact Table

Year Founded: 1997
Privately Held Company
Number of Employees:
40
Number of Customers: 750+
SAS Subsidiary since June 2000

By developing an enterprise-wide strategy for data management, companies are able to look at data across all processes and combine the operational and business intelligence (BI) worlds. "If you look at the market, you see two camps of software technology. One is in the operational space – the ERP systems, the operational CRM systems and lots of legacy code. There is also a heavy BI environment as well. Our technology spans the two, and the concept of a central repository of business rules and information is the key component. We have the interfaces to help the customers develop the rules that are important for their organization. How do they define their business? What are the ranges that are acceptable? When do they know something is in range or out of range? What's valid and what's invalid? All of this goes into that central repository, and then it's applicable in the operational environment and the BI environment. It's equally as important to manage that data in the operational environment as you manage the data in the BI environment, and we span the two worlds," Fisher states.

Success is truly all about the data. "Companies have spent tens of millions of dollars on ERP systems, CRM systems and data warehouses. We're not asking anyone to change those things. DataFlux wants to make those systems more successful. The only way to do that is by making sure that all of them interoperate with each other. We're all about simplifying data management for these organizations," concludes Fisher.

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