A business case for customer data integration

The use of customer data integration (CDI) tools just may be the cure for return on investment (ROI)-challenged enterprise software deployments. According to Elizabeth Roche, enterprise applications strategies vice-president for Meta Group US, the migration to managing customer information assets using a CDI strategy has begun.

CDI technology consolidates and manages customer data from a variety of enterprise sources, including contact details, customer valuation data, and information collected via direct marketing, Roche explained Tuesday during a "CDI without Mistakes" customer seminar in Toronto.

Experts note that a lot of technology such as customer relationship management (CRM) software bought by enterprises ends up as "shelfware" -- or software that's been bought but never implemented.

A recent study by research firm Gartner noted that in 2002, 42 per cent of CRM software licences purchased went unused. Gartner calculates the value at approximately US$1 billion to US$1.27 billion.

Not only is the CDI market growing, but both small and large vendors are moving into this space. SAP AG and Oracle recently announced CDI offerings (NetWeaver and Customer Data Hub, respectively).

According to Roche, as it stands today, many organizations have over-invested in technology and in CRM software deployments. For enterprises, adopting a CDI software solution to manage master customer data is becoming "increasingly compelling," Roche said.

A 360-view of the customer isn't good enough, particularly in a heterogeneous IT environment, Roche said. A strong business case and processes need to be employed as well. The dot-com boom meant enterprises often adopted a "buy now, worry about deployment later" strategy.

"Stop buying...a strategic pause is often needed," Roche noted, adding that organizations currently mired in a improper CRM deployment should "retrofit" a business case to achieve ROI.

According to Justin LaFayette, chairman and founder of Toronto-based enterprise software provider DWL, the fact that the larger vendors are entering the space confirms CDI's usefulness to the enterprise.

LaFayette said early adopters of CDI technology include the financial services and telecommunications sectors who are using the technology to improve their CRM, data warehousing and enterprise resource management products.

Peter Chan, a senior technical consultant (telecom sector) at Toronto-based IT services firm CGI Group, noted that his clients are realizing that technology and a clear business case go hand in hand. Particularly in the telecom sector, Chan noted the biggest challenges are in the area of consolidations and mergers, include dealing with disparate and duplicated data inventories.

A lot of this information tends to overlap, Chan said, adding that CDI technology appears to be a way to match this data effectively.

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