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John Wieland Homes & Neighborhoods Improves Customer Service with Group 1's Data Flow

  • September 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

CATEGORY: Data administration, management, modeling and database performance.

REVIEWER: Dave Cochran, director of information technology for John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods.

BACKGROUND: Since 1970, John Wieland has been designing award-winning homes in dynamic neighborhoods across the Southeast. A strong commitment to customer satisfaction and total quality has earned John Wieland Homes more than 500 awards for excellence including the National Builder of the Year and National Housing Quality Award.

PLATFORMS: Group 1's software is running on Windows 2000 Server and SQL Server 2000 database.

PROBLEM SOLVED: As part of our mission to provide the industry standard in customer service, we wanted to enhance tracking reports. This required software that could extract and integrate information from several operational source systems into a corporate data warehouse. Like many homebuilders, we use lot numbers to uniquely identify properties. Among the challenges with this initiative was standardizing lot number information that exists in multiple source systems and disparate formats. We needed software that could support complex business rules in order to transform the lot identifiers for each system into a standardized format so we can achieve a single view of our relationship with each customer.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Group 1's Data Flow performs data analysis and extracts, transforms and loads data from multiple source systems into our corporate data warehouse. We access source relational databases and conduct complex ETL processes. This is made easier by Data Flow's design environment, which enables developers to quickly visualize data and assists them in understanding the source data system relationships to optimize the development of business transformation logic. Data Flow has enabled our customer service organization to provide more information-rich management tracking reports more frequently. These reports are critical in enabling us to measure and improve our customer service by providing greater insight into warranty-related indices. With Data Flow, we can now provide reports on warranty spending and defect analysis, post-warranty survey scores and customer sign-off and completion percentages. We have also seen tangible results by improving service. We have been able to cut warranty completion times by 22 days on average.

STRENGTHS: Data Flow offers a graphical user interface that is intuitive and easy to use. The technology was also easy to implement, with a two-person team implementing the customer service data warehouse subject area in less than 90 days. Additionally, the product is also powerful. The "regular expression" feature provides complex string comparison capabilities not found in any other data integration tool to segment, transform and extract information from data records. Flagging records that have a text field containing the word "delete" anywhere in the string is a very simple task. Data Flow also provides an automation capability to load the data warehouse without manual intervention. Checks and error procedures were implemented to allow automatic process restart and recovery when necessary.

WEAKNESSES: Data Flow cannot directly read the variant record VAX VMS data source. However, no other tool we evaluated was successful in reading this data, due to its proprietary record format.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Data Flow incorporates a grid display that allows rapid and detailed source system analysis to assist in formulating the most effective data integration plans. It also lets us utilize fuzzy logic to filter, change and manipulate string data with its regular expression transform capabilities. The technology provides a comprehensive toolbox of predefined drag-and-drop transformation logic, allowing developers to spend time solving a specific business problem instead of worrying about syntax and code logic. Finally, its automation module allows us to monitor external system events and trigger data warehouse loads when necessary.

DELIVERABLES: Data Flow provides a lights-out data warehouse load and management capability that allows us to proactively manage our customer service organization.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Product support has met expectations. Group 1 provides access to an online knowledge base that gave us answers to the majority of questions we had during the project's development phase. Product revisions are supplied electronically from the support Web site. Major releases are received on CD-ROM and have been easy to install.

DOCUMENTATION: The Data Flow documentation is easy to understand and easy to use. It also includes an installable tutorial that is used as part of the product training.

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