The following case study/profile was originally published by BI Review. For similar industry implementations and profiles please visit BI Review's Web site.

 

With 200 million retail customers including 146 million credit card accounts, Citigroup's Global Consumer Group (GCG) is among the very largest consumer franchises in the world. Like its financial service peers, Citigroup is seeking to better understand and serve customers across portfolios of products and services. Unlike its peers, GCG by itself is a Fortune 15-sized company with lines of business in banking, credit cards, consumer finance, securities and insurance, operating under trade names that include CitiFinancial, Citibank and CitiMortgage. Such a breadth and depth of information makes it a monumental task to create value out of this content and requires an architectural approach to information management.

In all financial service settings, BI strategy begins with customer data, but the greater challenge is providing context that makes information valuable for different operational roles. "Like the whole industry, we're moving beyond updating the change of address to consider why the change of address happened," says Charlie DeFelice, director, customer information environment, Citigroup GCG. "Did you need a larger home because your family is growing? Did you receive a promotion that has caused you to relocate? What are the life change events you have gone through that made this happen?"

Insights to these events often reside in customer portfolios of credit, loans, investments and other interactions with GCG lines of business. The challenge therefore is to gather and deliver germane bits of information from across the organization into a layer that is practical for use in sales, marketing, the call center, the branch office or the executive suite.

DeFelice sees fresh, user-friendly event-based information as the visible tip of a metaphorical iceberg of data where, beneath the surface, product systems push or pull information across lines of business. From there, the information can be targeted to different stakeholders in the organization through existing user interfaces. "My job is to create a very thin layer above all of the applications that exist in Global Consumer Group today in order to really understand our customer no matter what product he or she uses in any one of 54 countries 24/7, 365 days a year," he says. This gets back to architecture, where Citigoup's mechanism of choice is a "publish and subscribe" model of collecting and connecting data. The model is a form of the increasingly mainstream IT strategy known as service-oriented architecture (SOA). An arcane term to most business executives, SOA might be sufficiently described here as "plug-and-play" integration that connects any variety of application and data sources in a lightweight and cost-effective way. Across industries, SOAs are slowly becoming a boon for IT, because they arrest the galloping growth of infrastructure, connect siloed resources and reduce maintenance costs. While just about all very large organizations are already planning or building SOAs, the shrewdest are planning toward beneficial business outcomes at the same time SOA "plumbing" is being built. Count Citigroup as one company that has thought this way from the start.

"We've been very selective about what we do and in the end it's all about serving the customer," says DeFelice. "The iceberg paradigm, that piece that sticks above the water can grow as the business dictates." For example, it might be useful to determine how many customers of Smith Barney, anther Citigroup company, also have credit cards, checking accounts or auto loans with CGC. "It's not just selling, it might be helping a customer get out of debt, or put a child through college. We have done that in the past, but in a very limited way."

The first phase of the project, recently completed, was to aggregate records into a single repository. To date, DeFelice's group has assembled 51 million customer relationships across six product groups in North America into an operational data store. This baseline information will be refreshed via services in near real time for use by a variety of channels and end users. Ideally, a customer might order a credit card through the call center and walk into a branch office an hour later, where the information would already be updated and available to service representatives. Any information updated at the branch will likewise be repopulated across lines of business. Among the services on the information backbone (or service "bus") will be a recommendation engine to help associates make offers of value to the customer. "If you're someone who has a home, even though your mortgage is not with us, we can offer you certain products that might align to your lifestyle needs," DeFelice says. "There is really no limit to the potential opportunities for serving the customer." While this level of service is important to customers, DeFelice's group is also ensuring that entitlements and screens are in place to comply with increasingly complex privacy laws and with customer preferences.

Two things differentiate this project from the conventional data warehouse exercise. The first is that it will offer near real-time views of the customer across channels and lines of business without huge, repetitive data manipulations. A second difference is the ability to deliver access to common services on top of the service backbone that provide insight and leverage across customer-facing channels, product development, marketing, sales, and service. Assembled as components, these services will allow context-based information to be connected and consumed in a fashion appropriate to the user.

It is this kind of flexibility along with attendant IT benefits that is moving so many businesses toward service-oriented architectures. To be fair, it takes resources and determination to create and stick to such a course, which is why SOA tends to be a long-term commitment. Internally, DeFelice spends a good bit of time with stakeholders on the business side to articulate progress and options as the project proceeds. Line-of-business executives sit on an advisory board where progress and recommendations are channeled all the way to the group CEO. This does not include preaching or minute details about technology, and pays respect to operational roles. Business after all faces multiple cultural challenges as new insights and ways of selling are made available. IT's role is to facilitate continued success, not to dictate it, DeFelice says. "We've gone to the housing paradigm where we've cleared the lot, poured the foundation and given them the artist's rendering of what their house will look like if they proceed. From there the business is driving every bit of this and will tell us what to build next. We can explain the details but the important thing is to make customers comfortable with us." Internal or external, the customer remains king at Citigroup.

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