Scottish Widows is a subsidiary of Lloyds TSB group, and we were Scotland's first mutual life office in 1815. Today, we are the United Kingdom's second- largest provider of pensions, life insurance and investment products. We strive to provide an extensive product range, consistent long-term performance and exceed the expectations of our customers. Scottish Widows offers insurance products including life, critical illness and mortgage insurance, as well as financial services such as savings accounts, pensions, credit cards and trusts.

A few years ago, we faced a huge challenge in managing relationships with customers across different product channels. We realized that a central, customer-referenced data warehouse with a single customer view was essential. The challenge is to bring all sales and marketing views together. It's not rocket science, but the size of our business makes it a scalability problem.

Our in-house data warehousing project originally started in the mid-1990s, but it ran into the classic problem of choosing the right data model and structure. Due to the lack of end-user input and having to compete with Y2K work for IT resources, the warehouse still had not gone live by early 1998.

In April of 1998, we chose to work with Sybase and implement their Industry Warehouse Studio (IWS) for Insurance software. IWS gave us a data model, and Sybase consultants gave us relevant skills and strategies that had been proven to work. We had expertise in transactional systems, but Sybase had data warehousing expertise. Our choices were to figure it out for ourselves and run the risk of not getting it right, or to leverage a tried-and-tested approach ­ such as the one offered by Sybase.

We first made sure that users' needs would be satisfied by the new system. You need user involvement from day one, and once you get their input, it's easier to get buy-in from senior management. You merely show them what the front-line people need.

Another key to the project was hiring a data warehouse manager. We did this halfway through 1998, and having someone "own" the project paid off. The manager coordinated our in-house staff with Sybase consultants and other vendors. He also kept senior management up to date. This kept everyone tuned-in and excited about the project.

This approach was the right one in that we had our first data warehouse running within eight months compared to efforts in the early 1990s that never really got off the ground.

For the solution recommended by Sybase, we handled ETL (extract, transform and load) software development in house because we needed to take feeds from 12 legacy systems. We felt our IT staff knew these systems better than anyone on the outside would. However, we needed a place for all this data to go.

We chose Sybase because Industry Warehouse Studio for Insurance gave us a data model into which we could funnel all of our legacy information. Sybase consultants provided the skills and strategies relevant to the insurance industry so that our models precisely met our needs. Sybase also helped us choose the proper data visualization software that's needed on the front end of a data warehouse. Because IWS integrates with several data visualization vendors, we had the flexibility to select the one that best met our needs.

One of the major successes after we implemented Industry Warehouse Studio was a marketing campaign which generated responses from 24 percent of the customers we contacted. This was incredible compared to earlier campaigns that typically netted a one percent return. Going forward, the IWS system will naturally help us achieve higher degrees of success. The more we interact with customers based on IWS information, the better our information becomes. This will allow us to develop even more targeted niche campaigns that generate even better response results.

I recommend that any company implementing a data warehouse solution ensures the data entered into their operation system is correct and that everyone understands how crucial this is. The results you generate are only as good as the data from your front-line applications. Also, realize that you need the proper expertise to turn that data into actionable knowledge. Most insurance companies are not experts in data warehousing. You probably need outside help. Find a vendor, such as Sybase, that you can trust. The data warehouse will become an ongoing relationship that, if done properly, will include working side-by-side with the vendor for the life of your company.

Sybase Industry Warehouse Studio for Insurance is a pre-built application that exploits industry-specific, transaction-level data in a typical insurance organization's data warehouse. IWS provides business intelligence capabilities that help insurance organizations analyze customers, products and markets while reducing the risk of developing and integrating off-the-shelf business analysis tools.

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