Opinion: Data warehousing gets a shot in the arm

There's a sea change taking place right before our eyes. Real-time (or close to real-time) data access, rather than batched monthly reports derived from a data warehouse, is helping companies tailor business processes to suit customers' evolving needs. And that's only half of the change. The second half is that real-time access across the enterprise is giving companies an enterprise view of aggregated data and what it means.

Compaq Computer (when there was a Compaq) called it ZLE (Zero Latency Enterprise). Today, the boutique vendors selling BAM (business activity monitoring) software will have you believe that only they know how to do gather and present data in real time and that data warehousing is old school. Well, the old school, at least as represented by TeraData, a division of NCR, still has a few tricks up its sleeve.

Using what it calls active data warehousing, along with business analytics, TeraData is opening up new ways to look at CRM. The change is most noticeable as it crosses over to access multiple knowledge databases about customers and products. These databases contain data relevant to each unique customer, thus giving companies a more complete picture of the customer and helping them create marketing programs that have a higher close rate. They also give the customer more control through more powerful self-service applications.

Barton Goldenberg, president of ISM, a business strategy company, points out that there is a new kind of customer out there. "If your service model is based on telephony, you will become a dinosaur. The WWW generation doesn't accept this anymore," Goldenberg tells me.

Self service, on the other hand, allows the customer to use the company's internal knowledge bases. This is being done to great success at Cisco Systems. Goldenberg says 83 percent of all customer service issues at Cisco are resolved online. Providing access to massive amounts of data from disparate databases is what TeraData is all about.

I spoke with Ronald Swift, NCR's vice president of strategic customer relations, about how TeraData customer Travelocity is using enterprise data warehousing to deliver unique offers to its customer base.

When an airline offered a deal last year to fly round-trip from Los Angeles to San Juan, Puerto Rico, at a super-low price, Travelocity.com sculpted a unique offering. Rather than spamming all of its customers, the company looked into its knowledge bases to see which customers expressed interest in either San Juan or the Caribbean or which customers had previously flown there. Based on the returned data and other parameters, Travelocity sent e-mail to about 25,000 customers who matched the profile. The result was a 25 percent conversion rate, Swift says.

The new generation of CRM data warehouses will join data from sales, marketing, and finance to deliver one synchronized view. It will connect the data to an intelligent CRM process that can change the response on-screen based on customers' responses. Active data warehousing will allow companies to log in and make queries, not just wait for canned reports.

As customers' needs continue to change, companies will struggle to understand and address those needs quickly. The competition will be fierce: Startup companies will deploy newer technologies and old-school players will have to adapt.

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