Case Study: Nationwide leverages the Web

Two years ago, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., the US's sixth-largest insurer, made a significant move designed to bring its customers closer. Since 1994, Nationwide customers could do business with the company through its three main sales channels -- local agents, a toll-free number and the Internet -- but the data collected from those transactions was siloed. Nationwide's "Customer Choice" strategy was designed to create a common customer experience and to integrate data across all of its sales channels. And with its Electronic Business Intelligence initiative, or EBI, Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide could further analyze Web-based data across all these access points to make more strategic business decisions.

To implement the project, Nationwide formed a team with a business manager, Susan McManus, director of marketing and usability systems, and a systems manager, Joyce Edwards, division manager for e-business intelligence. McManus and Edwards, who presented their case study at Computerworld's Premier 100 conference this week in Palm Desert, Calif., offered their advice for others who are beginning to measure their businesses' Web activity.

How It Works

Customer information in the EBI system flows from the business side, which defines the metrics to be measured, to the Web developers, who build the metrics tracking into the applications. The EBI system then collects and logs the data and churns out reports. The information then goes back to the business side, where strategic decisions are made based on the data. The metrics allow Nationwide to integrate its off-line and online data to get a better picture of customers' preferences and needs. The company can then use the information to fine-tune marketing campaigns or weed out Web pages that aren't receiving traffic.

"Now, customers can get a quote on Nationwide.com, call a customer representative [by phone] and pick up the transaction where the Internet left off, and ultimately, [Nationwide] makes a sale," said McManus. "EBI offered us the ability to analyze data about customers and transactions and integrate that."

McManus and Edwards credited the success of the project on a few best practices, including a cross-functional partnership between the business and IT departments, shared standards and processes, an emphasis on working closely with the site's Web architects, and the ability to leverage the company's data warehouse to support transaction volume and link to business activity.

The insurance industry isn't immune to increased pressure to reduce costs and create revenue. "With EBI, we've been able calculate [return on investment] on current applications and make estimates to get new projects funded," said McManus. "E-business metrics is a new field," added Edwards, who cited challenges included overcoming standards issues, data quality and privacy concerns, and dealing with large volumes of data.

Nationwide rolls out a major release of its Web site every month, with functionality prioritized based on measurements generated by EBI, said McManus.

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