We have clients who are examples of bona fide data warehousing best practices. Their data warehouse and business intelligence (BI) solutions are solid components of their IT infrastructures. Their development pipelines evolve in lockstep with their business requirements.

We usually assume that once we've helped companies reach this level of maturity, we're done. However, data is bigger than the data warehouse, and new data needs expand with evolving businesses. Hence, the explosive growth of customer data integration (CDI). We think CDI is the next wave in information enablement. To our surprise, many of our best practice clients agree.

Since 2002, we've provided regular injections of expertise to a major consumer electronics manufacturer. This company is a household name and considers its customer information to be critical to its ongoing branding. It has a robust enterprise data warehouse that deploys cross-functional data to a dozen departmental marts, a portfolio of BI applications that serve multiple business divisions and distributors, and a customer relationship management (CRM) system that manages customer contacts.

What the electronics firm didn't have was a way to track individual customers and distinguish them at the time of the interaction. This was essential when it came to rebates.

Rebates represent a significant means for contacting customers to announce new products or alert them to updated versions. Submitting a rebate represents a customer's de facto opt-in: by mailing in a rebate, the customer must provide name, household and email addresses, and purchase details. The information the company collects via rebates has a higher degree of accuracy - consumers are typically more honest and thorough in relinquishing personal information if it means receiving a check in the mail. Indeed, because retailers were reluctant to share their own customer data, rebates were the manufacturer's principal means of really knowing its buyers.

The manufacturer would receive a rebate coupon from a customer who had recently purchased a product, but the firm had no way of knowing whether the consumer was using multiple mailing addresses. Moreover, the company needed to track individual members of a household over time so it could notify them of warranty expirations, product upgrades and recalls if necessary. Online and mail-in registration, Web purchase information and prior rebate information drive decisions about which consumers to communicate with, help track opt-out and opt-in details, and determine the best messaging channels.

There were some lively discussions about how to leverage the data warehouse to integrate consumer data. The data warehouse team had to admit that, although the platform stored detailed customer history, the extract, transform and load (ETL) processes weren't robust enough to recognize households and individual customers, or to handle the changing attributes of a consumer on an ongoing basis.

We showed the electronics manufacturer how acquiring a CDI solution could help solve the rebate problem. When a customer requests a rebate, his personal information is entered into the rebate processing system. The CDI system, known as the customer data hub, verifies the business rules involved (e.g., one rebate per household) and either approves or denies the rebate. In the case of a new customer, the rebate processing system updates the CDI hub with the customer's details.

In the case of an existing customer, the CDI hub recognizes that customer and provides the rebate system with information about whether the customer has already received a rebate for the product in question. Moreover, the hub could link an email address to a household, allowing the manufacturer to reconcile a customer's online access to her mailing address.

By its definition, a CDI hub has data matching and integration "baked in" to its processing. It can register new customers and recognize existing ones, communicating bidirectionally to operational systems and providing them with updated status information, often in real time. CDI hubs examine and compare numerous attributes. Indeed, the sheer complexity of determining the appropriate combination of values to see if a match exists between multiple records can challenge even the best team of ETL programmers.

This was the true value of CDI: it became the customer system of record for the manufacturer, which realized that the problem wasn't storing the rebate data - the problem was integrating it. After all, the rebate system was merely one of many applications that needed to recognize customers and process their information. As new business applications were added to the company over time, the hub evolved to become a rich source of accurate and reconciled data for both operational applications and the data warehouse. Each time an application needed to access or update customer data, it used the hub as the "once and done" solution. The manufacturer's CDI hub had become, to use the popular phrase, the single version of the truth about customers.

Moreover, to the relief of IT management, members of the data warehouse team became the hub's biggest fans. CDI provided higher-quality data more quickly and lightened their ETL load. The hub also integrated data from operational applications that hadn't yet touched the data warehouse. More precise and faster rebate processing, easier data integration, more accurate customer data and more successful marketing campaigns. Problem solved! 

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Information Management content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access