REVIEWER: Ian Espiner, head of IT for lending and savings at Bradford & Bingley Group.

BACKGROUND: The Bradford & Bingley Group is the UK's largest independent financial and mortgage advisor with more than 200 branches, nearly 180 local agents and more than 800 independent advisors. Bradford & Bingley is also the UK's fourth largest estate agency with nearly 380 branches.

PLATFORM: IBM mainframe.

PROBLEM SOLVED: As part of its plan to convert from mutual status to become a public limited company, British financial services firm Bradford & Bingley Group had to ensure the quality and accuracy of the customer profiles held within its databases. Working with Innovative Systems, data accuracy across 2.6 million members has been improved from 90 percent to almost 99.5 percent ­ enabling the firm to meet the legal requirements for demutualization and ensure that more than 200,000 additional members are correctly classified for share distributions. The automated data cleansing process saved the IT department approximately 100 man-years of effort.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: In addition to using the Data Quality and Data Linking products from Innovative Systems to maintain the accuracy of the customer database, Bradford & Bingley conducts ongoing data quality audits to ensure that it maintains the data quality levels required for demutualization. We will also continue to assess the accuracy of customer information from third-party marketing companies to ensure that this source does not introduce inaccurate data. Going forward, we plan to deploy the products on an NT platform for marketing activities.

STRENGTHS: The main strength of the Data Quality and Data Linking products is their ability to handle generic data sets. Another important strength is their ease of deployment. Additionally, both products provide us complete control over business rules.

WEAKNESSES: At the time of initial implementation, post-sale and delivery support was provided from the United States. There was no local support in the UK. However, Innovative now offers 24x7 local support in the UK. The PC review component was DOS-based, which was not user-friendly. It now is NT-based and easy to use.

SELECTION CRITERIA: I selected Innovative Systems as the only supplier whose tools had the pedigree of achieving "operational" levels of accuracy in very short time frames. Innovative was able to take a sample of the data prior to their selection and tell us the current level of accuracy and the level we could hope to achieve. The data quality audit revealed that our customer database was 85 to 90 percent accurate. This was considered an acceptable level of accuracy for statistical and marketing purposes but not for demutualization. Most other data quality tools we looked at had come from a bulk-mailing environment. These would not have been suitable for the sophisticated uses we required.

DELIVERABLES: The Data Quality product provides a report that easily identifies records with data errors as well as the type of data error, enabling targeted, time-effective inspection. The Data Linking product provides a match audit report that identifies which records have been grouped together as duplicates and why they are considered duplicates, enabling informed decisions about consolidation and the merge/purge of records.

VENDOR SUPPORT: The vendor support was excellent. I wish more vendors offered such flexibility. Even though support was originally based in the United States, Innovative was always ready to fly someone to the UK to solve a problem.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation was excellent and comprehensive. Even prior to the Innovative product training, we were using the tools based on the understanding gained from these documents. Documentation is now available on CD-ROM with hotlinks.

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