BellSouth Advertising and Publishing Corp. (BAPCO) is the Yellow Pages publishing arm of Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp., a telecommunications leader, which offers local telephone service across more than 20 million access lines in nine southeastern states. BAPCO's primary focus is to "connect buyers and sellers," publishing Yellow Pages as the local shopping information source. Yellow Pages are typically compiled using scoping, an operational method tying a customer's main phone number to the wire center location of the phone network.
It is no secret that directory advertising and publishing is a profitable venture for BellSouth and other players in the communications field. The Yellow Pages publishing industry is a $13 billion business nationwide, of which BellSouth currently captures nearly 10 percent. More importantly, there is the potential to grow and expand directory advertising and publishing as technology evolves and becomes more accessible to telecommunications competitors for the development of robust data warehouses.
With the advent of local number portability, the proliferation of area codes and the dissatisfaction of current scoping techniques used by Yellow Pages publishers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to advance the growth of advertising and revenues.
Today, Yellow Pages publishers rely on nondescript wire centers as a primary method of organizing customer information. Publishers, using data provided from the local phone companies, typically scope their directories around these neighborhood centers. Unfortunately, these centers do not necessarily reflect actual shopping patterns. This is undoubtedly an important ingredient as Yellow Pages advertisers decide which directories to use in targeting their market.
Directory publishers throughout the industry agree that a better method should be implemented to identify their listings. In fact, rather than being tied to wire centers, scoping managers agree that they need to assign every listing a geocode a latitude/longitude identifier appended to their database that indicates where the residence is. Geocode is the permanent and stable anchor to the user base when a resident moves and keeps the same phone number. With it, publishers are capable of following market shopping patterns.
The problem is that the world has moved forward, and this has had an adverse impact on BAPCO's databases. If BAPCO can find a way to better scope and to meet consumer and advertiser needs, its customers and BAPCO win. Building a clean, accurate data warehouse with geocoding is the most viable solution for BAPCO to do that.
To implement the geocoding technique required, BAPCO selected Qualitative Marketing Software Inc. (QMSoft) and its Centrus solution an innovative, multiplatform total solution that is expected to positively change the way Yellow Pages publishers market and put in place workflows and processes.
QMSoft's solution, an efficient and accurate method for scoping directories and assigning the free listing base of customers, allows Yellow Pages publishers to interface with their database at the service-order process level. This standardizes the various sources of data; appends and corrects fields, such as ZIP codes and postal community names; and geocodes each listing with longitude/latitude. It next uses the point-in-polygon method for defining the directory scope and the assignment of free listings; incorporates marketing components for decision-making models; and creates a market-based scope rather than a geographical one.
With QMSoft's consulting and support, BAPCO is going through a publishing systems conversion to keep better track of ads and listings. BAPCO is taking a fairly antiquated yet proprietary ACCESS database and updating it to meet current and future needs. This multimillion-dollar systems upgrade, appending and assigning geocodes to all numbers maintained in BAPCO's database, is a critical success factor.
Project leaders and suppliers (BAPCO, QMSoft, Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. and Advanced Technology Center) are still in the process of implementing and integrating the package due to the immense size of BAPCO's proprietary ACCESS (Advertising Consolidated Customer Employee Support System) database and Year 2000-compliant, client/server support systems. Those additional systems include an Informix relational database utilizing Sun, UNIX and NT servers and Windows NT desktop computers all of which are connected to a local area and UNIX network. A longer setup comprised of three phases of testing and development is required because of the magnitude of the system conversion. It is expected to be complete by 1999/2000.
BAPCO benefits from incorporating its proprietary database into its data warehouse. ACCESS, developed more than 15 years ago by Tel Aviv, Israel-based Amdocs Inc., is singular to the directory advertising industry. The database is proven to provide more flexible queries. The database also holds more than five years of BAPCO's actual advertiser history and records, with advertising trends.
Using ACCESS, BAPCO is able to keep data current and on-line, using internal support to run and maintain it. The biggest drawback is that it is a massive system. If BAPCO begins to work outside of the standard operating procedures and craves "a la carte" offerings, the add-on costs of customization, cause budget overruns.
On the software side, BAPCO is using Business Objects and Marketing Management System, with canned reports. The storage software, also developed by Amdocs, is proprietary, unique to directory advertising, another benefit. As a result, there's no worry about forcing "off-the-shelf" software to fit BAPCO's business. On the other hand, its complexity poses training issues for personnel to extract data. Efforts are in the works to improve this at BAPCO.
Benchmarking and testing made sure the boundary files designed for the conversion (representing tens of millions of business and residential listings) were acceptable and could run through the applications to accurately assign a geocode. The goal was to achieve quickness and accuracy. Using a batch process, the first test was completed successfully within a week.
The bottom line is, that BAPCO improves customer service, increases its growth potential via new product offerings and reduces its costs thanks to the development of its data warehouse with geocoding capabilities. Cost savings would come as a result of fewer errors and better-configured books, reducing "waste" coverage. With shopping patterns well-represented, BAPCO will be able to distribute books to its most ideal advertiser sand user bases and reflect these groups accurately in the book's listings.
An independent consulting group BAPCO works with recently noted that improved directory scoping efforts and a more powerful data warehouse have the potential to significantly improve BellSouth's cost structure and revenue potential. A major impact is BAPCO's ability to custom tailor products to advertiser and user needs, while emphasizing product quality, value and speed-to-market.
BAPCO learned early on that a coordinated, planned effort is helping with the anticipated success of its data warehouse by identifying all areas and departments at BAPCO impacted by its development. It's important to find out during all phases what each group needs, including those you think would not be impacted.
More importantly, select a project leader to integrate and balance cost and efficiency with the understanding and scope of the project. Designate a mediator to keep things from getting too customized, which often leads to more expense. Make sure everything is there from the beginning. While this may seem obvious, it's something that is often overlooked.
Bobby Peters, analyst, and Todd Ague, project manager, from BAPCO; Danny Brasuk, principal at Peachtree Geographics.
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