Or in other words: Did the agency model kill data quality? When you watch the TV series “Homeland”, you quickly realize the interdependence between field operatives and the command center. This is a classic agency model. One arm gathers, filters and synthesizes information and prepares a plan but the guys on the ground use this intel to guide their sometimes ad hoc next moves.
The last few months I worked a lot – and I mean A LOT – with a variety of mid-sized life insurers (<$1B annual revenue) around fixing their legacy-inherited data quality problems. Their IT departments, functioning like Operations Command Centers (intel acquisition, filter and synthesize), were inundated with requests to fix up and serve a coherent, true, enriched central view of a participant (the target) and all his policies and related entities from and to all relevant business lines (planning) to achieve their respective missions (service, retain, upsell, mitigate risk): employee benefits, broker/dealer, retirement services, etc.
The captive and often independent agents (execution); however, often run with little useful data into an operation (sales cycle) as the Ops Center is short on timely and complete information. Imagine Carrie directing her strike team to just wing it based on their experience and dated intel from a raid a few months ago without real-time drone video feeds. Would she be saying, “Guys, it’s always been your neck, you’ll figure it out.” I think not.
This becomes apparent when talking to the actuaries, claims operations, marketing, sales, agency operations, audit, finance, strategic planning, underwriting and customer service, common denominators appeared quickly:
- Every insurer saw the need to become customer instead of policy centric. That’s the good news.
- Every insurer knew their data was majorly sub-standard in terms of quality and richness.
- Every insurer agreed that they are not using existing data capture tools (web portals for agents and policy holders, CRM applications, policy and claims mgmt systems) to their true potential.
- New books-of-business were generally managed as separate entities from a commercial as well as IT systems perspective, even if they were not net-new products, like trust products. Cross-selling as such, even if desired, becomes a major infrastructure hurdle.
- As in every industry, the knee-jerk reaction was to throw the IT folks at data quality problems and making it a back-office function. Pyrrhic victory.
- Upsell scenarios, if at all strategically targeted, are squarely in the hands of the independent agents. The insurer will, at most, support customer insights around lapse avoidance or 401k roll-off indicators for retiring or terminated plan participants. This may be derived from a plan sponsor (employer) census file, which may have incorrect address information.
- Prospect and participant e-mail addresses are either not captured (process enforcement or system capability) or not validated (domain, e-mail verification), so the vast majority of customer correspondence, like scenarios, statements, privacy notices and policy changes, travels via snail mail (and this typically per policy). Overall, only 15-50% of contacts have an “unverified” e-mail address today and of these less than a third subscribed to exclusive electronic statement delivery.
- Postal address information is still not 99% correct, complete or current, resulting in high returned mail ($120,000-$750,000 every quarter), priority mail upgrades, statement reprints, manual change capture and shredding cost as well as the occasional USPS fine.
- Data quality, as unbelievable as it sounds, took a back-burner to implementing a new customer data warehouse, a new claims system, a new risk data mart, etc. They all just get filled with the same old, bad data as business users were – and I quote –“used to the quality problem already”.
- Premium underpricing runs at 2-4% annually, foregoing millions in additional revenue, due to lack of a full risk profile.
- Customer cost –of-acquisition (CAC) is unknown or incorrect as there is no direct, realistic tracking of agency campaign/education dollars spent against new policies written.
- Agency historic production and projections are unclear as a dynamic enforcement of hierarchies is not available, resulting in orphaned policies generating excess tax burdens. Often this is the case when agents move to states where they are not licensed, they passed or retired.
What does a cutting-edge insurer look like instead? Ask Carrie Mathison and Saul Bernstein. They already have a risk and customer EDW as well as a modern (cloud based?) CRM and claims mgmt system. They have considered, as part of their original implementation or upgrade, capabilities required to fix the initial seed data into their analytics platforms. Now, they are looking into pushing them back into operational systems like CRM and avoiding bad source system entries from the get-go.
They are also beyond just using data to avoid throwing more bodies in every department at “flavor-of-the-month” clean-up projects, e.g. yet another state unclaimed property matching exercise, total annual premium revenue written in state X for tax review purposes by the state tax authority.
So what causes this drastic segmentation of leading versus laggard life insurers? In my humble opinion, it is the lack of a strategic refocusing of what the insurer can do for an agent by touching the prospects and customers directly. Direct interaction (even limited) improves branding, shortens the sales cycle and rates based on improved insights through better data quality.
Agents (and insurers) need to understand that the wealth of data (demographic, interactions, transactions) corporate possesses already via native and inherited (via M&A) can be a powerful competitive differentiator. Imagine if they start tapping into external sources beyond the standard credit bureaus and consumer databases; dare I say social media?
Competing based on immediate instead of long term needs (in insurance: life time earnings potential replacement), price (fees) and commission cannot be the sole answer.
Every fall Informatica sales leadership puts together its strategy for the following year. The revenue target is typically a function of the number of sellers, the addressable market size and key accounts in a given territory, average spend and conversion rate given prior years’ experience, etc. This straight forward math has not changed in probably decades, but it assumes that the underlying data are 100% correct. This data includes:
- Number of accounts with a decision-making location in a territory
- Related IT spend and prioritization
- Organizational characteristics like legal ownership, industry code, credit score, annual report figures, etc.
- Key contacts, roles and sentiment
- Prior interaction (campaign response, etc.) and transaction (quotes, orders, payments, products, etc.) history with the firm
Every organization, no matter if it is a life insurer, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, a fashion retailer or a construction company knows this math and plans on getting somewhere above 85% achievement of the resulting target. Office locations, support infrastructure spend, compensation and hiring plans are based on this and communicated.
So why is it that when it is an open secret that the underlying data is far from perfect (accurate, current and useful) and corrupts outcomes, too few believe that fixing it has any revenue impact? After all, we are not projecting the climate for the next hundred years here with a thousand plus variables.
If corporate hierarchies are incorrect, your spend projections based on incorrect territory targets, credit terms and discount strategy will be off. If every client touch point does not have a complete picture of cross-departmental purchases and campaign responses, your customer acquisition cost will be too high as you will contact the wrong prospects with irrelevant offers. If billing, tax or product codes are incorrect, your billing will be off. This is a classic telecommunication example worth millions every month. If your equipment location and configuration is wrong, maintenance schedules will be incorrect and every hour of production interruption will cost an industrial manufacturer of wood pellets or oil millions.
Also, if industry leaders enjoy an upsell ratio of 17%, and you experience 3%, data (assuming you have no formal upsell policy as it violates your independent middleman relationship) data will have a lot to do with it.
The challenge is not the fact that data can create revenue improvements but how much given the other factors: people and process.
Every industry laggard can identify a few FTEs who spend 25% of their time putting one-off data repositories together for some compliance, M&A customer or marketing analytics. Organic revenue growth from net-new or previously unrealized revenue is what the focus of any data management initiative should be. Don’t get me wrong; purposeful recruitment (people), comp plans and training (processes) are important as well. Few people doubt that people and process drives revenue growth. However, few believe data being fed into these processes has an impact.
This is a head scratcher for me. An IT manager at a US upstream oil firm once told me that it would be ludicrous to think data has a revenue impact. They just fixed data because it is important so his consumers would know where all the wells are and which ones made a good profit. Isn’t that assuming data drives production revenue? (Rhetorical question)
A CFO at a smaller retail bank said during a call that his account managers know their clients’ needs and history. There is nothing more good data can add in terms of value. And this happened after twenty other folks at his bank including his own team delivered more than ten use cases, of which three were based on revenue.
Hard cost (materials and FTE) reduction is easy, cost avoidance a leap of faith to a degree but revenue is not any less concrete; otherwise, why not just throw the dice and see how the revenue will look like next year without a central customer database? Let every department have each account executive get their own data, structure it the way they want and put it on paper and make hard copies for distribution to HQ. This is not about paper versus electronic but the inability to reconcile data from many sources on paper, which is a step above electronic.
Have you ever heard of any organization move back to the Fifties and compete today? That would be a fun exercise. Thoughts, suggestions – I would be glad to hear them?
Last time I talked about how benchmark data can be used in IT and business use cases to illustrate the financial value of data management technologies. This time, let’s look at additional use cases, and at how to philosophically interpret the findings.
So here are some additional areas of investigation for justifying a data quality based data management initiative:
- Compliance or any audits data and report preparation and rebuttal (FTE cost as above)
- Excess insurance premiums on incorrect asset or party information
- Excess tax payments due to incorrect asset configuration or location
- Excess travel or idle time between jobs due to incorrect location information
- Excess equipment downtime (not revenue generating) or MTTR due to incorrect asset profile or misaligned reference data not triggering timely repairs
- Equipment location or ownership data incorrect splitting service cost or revenues incorrectly
- Party relationship data not tied together creating duplicate contacts or less relevant offers and lower response rates
- Lower than industry average cross-sell conversion ratio due to inability to match and link departmental customer records and underlying transactions and expose them to all POS channels
- Lower than industry average customer retention rate due to lack of full client transactional profile across channels or product lines to improve service experience or apply discounts
- Low annual supplier discounts due to incorrect or missing alternate product data or aggregated channel purchase data
I could go on forever, but allow me to touch on a sensitive topic – fines. Fines, or performance penalties by private or government entities, only make sense to bake into your analysis if they happen repeatedly in fairly predictable intervals and are “relatively” small per incidence. They should be treated like M&A activity. Nobody will buy into cost savings in the gazillions if a transaction only happens once every ten years. That’s like building a business case for a lottery win or a life insurance payout with a sample size of a family. Sure, if it happens you just made the case but will it happen…soon?
Use benchmarks and ranges wisely but don’t over-think the exercise either. It will become paralysis by analysis. If you want to make it super-scientific, hire an expensive consulting firm for a 3 month $250,000 to $500,000 engagement and have every staffer spend a few days with them away from their day job to make you feel 10% better about the numbers. Was that worth half a million dollars just in 3rd party cost? You be the judge.
In the end, you are trying to find out and position if a technology will fix a $50,000, $5 million or $50 million problem. You are also trying to gauge where key areas of improvement are in terms of value and correlate the associated cost (higher value normally equals higher cost due to higher complexity) and risk. After all, who wants to stand before a budget committee, prophesy massive savings in one area and then fail because it would have been smarter to start with something simpler and quicker win to build upon?
The secret sauce to avoiding this consulting expense and risk is a natural curiosity, willingness to do the legwork of finding industry benchmark data, knowing what goes into them (process versus data improvement capabilities) to avoid inappropriate extrapolation and using sensitivity analysis to hedge your bets. Moreover, trust an (internal?) expert to indicate wider implications and trade-offs. Most importantly, you have to be a communicator willing to talk to many folks on the business side and have criminal interrogation qualities, not unlike in your run-of-the-mill crime show. Some folks just don’t want to talk, often because they have ulterior motives (protecting their legacy investment or process) or hiding skeletons in the closet (recent bad performance). In this case, find more amenable people to quiz or pry the information out of these tough nuts, if you can.
Lastly; if you find ROI numbers, which appear astronomical at first, remember that leverage is a key factor. If a technical capability touches one application (credit risk scoring engine), one process (quotation), one type of transaction (talent management self-service), a limited set of people (procurement), the ROI will be lower than a technology touching multiple of each of the aforementioned. If your business model drives thousands of high-value (thousands of dollars) transactions versus ten twenty-million dollar ones or twenty-million one-dollar ones, your ROI will be higher. After all, consider this; retail e-mail marketing campaigns average an ROI of 578% (softwareprojects.com) and this with really bad data. Imagine what improved data can do just on that front.
I found massive differences between what improved asset data can deliver in a petrochemical or utility company versus product data in a fashion retailer or customer (loyalty) data in a hospitality chain. The assertion of cum hoc ergo propter hoc is a key assumption how technology delivers financial value. As long as the business folks agree or can fence in the relationship, you are on the right path.
What’s your best and worst job to justify someone giving you money to invest? Share that story.
Sometimes, the choice of a name has unexpected consequences. Often these consequences aren’t fair. But they exist, nonetheless. For an example of this, consider the well-known study by the National Bureau of Economic Research study that compares the hiring prospects of candidates with identical resumes, but different names. During the study, titled a “Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” employers were found to be more likely to reply candidates with popular, traditionally Caucasian names than to candidates with either unique, eclectic names or with traditionally African-American names. Though these biases are clearly unfair to the candidates, they do illustrate a key point: One’s choice when naming something can come with perceptions that influence outcomes.
For an example from the IT world, consider my recent engagement at a regional retail bank. In this engagement, half of the meeting time was consumed by IT and business leaders debating how to label their Master Data Management (MDM) Initiative. Consider these excerpts:
- Should we even call it MDM? Answer: No. Why? Because nobody on the business side will understand what that means. Also, as we just implemented a Data Warehouse/Mart last year and we are in the middle of our new CRM roll-out, everybody in business and retail banking will assume their data is already mastered in both of these. On a side note; telcos understand MDM as Mobile Device Management.
- Should we call it “Enterprise Data Master’? Answer: No. Why? Because unless you roll out all data domains and all functionality (standardization, matching, governance, hierarchy management, etc.) to the whole enterprise, you cannot. And doing so is a bad idea as it is with every IT project. Boiling the ocean and going live with a big bang is high cost, high risk and given shifting organizational strategies and leadership, quick successes are needed to sustain the momentum.
- Should we call it “Data Warehouse – Release 2”? Answer: No. Why? Because it is neither a data warehouse, nor a version 2 of one. It is a backbone component required to manage a key organizational ingredient – data –in a way that it becomes useful to many use cases, processes, applications and people, not just analytics, although it is often the starting block. Data warehouses have neither been conceived nor designed to facilitate data quality (they assume it is there already) nor are they designed for real time interactions. Did anybody ask if ETL is “Pneumatic Tubes – Version 2”?
- Should we call it “CRM Plus”? Answer: No. Why? Because it has never intended or designed to handle the transactional volume and attribution breadth of high volume use cases, which are driven by complex business processes. Also, if it were a CRM system, it would have a more intricate UI capability beyond comparatively simple data governance workflows and UIs.
Consider this; any data quality solution like MDM, makes any existing workflow or application better at what it does best: manage customer interactions, create orders, generate correct invoices, etc. To quote a colleague “we are the BASF of software”. Few people understand what a chemical looks like or does but it makes a plastic container sturdy, transparent, flexible and light.
I also explained hierarchy management in a similar way. Consider it the LinkedIn network of your company, which you can attach every interaction and transaction to. I can see one view, people in my network see a different one and LinkedIn has probably the most comprehensive view but we are all looking at the same core data and structures ultimately.
So let’s call the “use” of your MDM “Mr. Clean”, aka Meister Proper, because it keeps everything clean.
While naming is definitely a critical point to consider given the expectations, fears and reservations that come with MDM and the underlying change management, it was hilarious to see how important it suddenly was. However, it was puzzling to me (maybe a naïve perspective) why mostly recent IT hires had to categorize everything into new, unique functional boxes, while business and legacy IT people wanted to re-purpose existing boxes. I guess, recent IT used their approach to showcase that they were familiar with new technologies and techniques, which was likely a reason for their employment. Business leaders, often with the exception of highly accomplished and well regarded ones, as well as legacy IT leaders, needed to reassure continuity and no threat of disruption or change. Moreover, they also needed to justify their prior software investments’ value proposition.
Aside from company financial performance and regulatory screw-ups, legions of careers will be decide if, how and how successful this initiative will be.
Naming a new car model for a 100,000 production run or a shampoo for worldwide sales could not face much more scrutiny. Software vendors give their future releases internal names of cities like Atlanta or famous people like Socrates instead of descriptive terms like “Gamification User Interface Release” or “Unstructured Content Miner”. This may be a good avenue for banks and retailers to explore. It would avoid the expectation pitfalls associated with names like “Customer Success Data Mart”, “Enterprise Data Factory”, “Data Aggregator” or “Central Property Repository”. In reality, there will be many applications, which can claim bits and pieces of the same data, data volume or functionality. Who will make the call on which one will be renamed or replaced to explain to the various consumers what happened to it and why.
You can surely name any customer facing app something more descriptive like “Payment Central” or “Customer Success Point” but the reason why you can do this is that the user will only have one or maybe two points to interface with the organization. Internal data consumers will interact many more repositories. Similarly, I guess this is all the reason why I call my kids by their first name and strangers label them by their full name, “Junior”, “Butter Fingers” or “The Fast Runner”.
I would love to hear some other good reasons why naming conventions should be more scrutinized. Maybe you have some guidance on what should and should not be done and the reasons for it?
A mid-sized insurer recently approached our team for help. They wanted to understand how they fell short in making their case to their executives. Specifically, they proposed that fixing their customer data was key to supporting the executive team’s highly aggressive 3-year growth plan. (This plan was 3x today’s revenue). Given this core organizational mission – aside from being a warm and fuzzy place to work supporting its local community – the slam dunk solution to help here is simple. Just reducing the data migration effort around the next acquisition or avoiding the ritual annual, one-off data clean-up project already pays for any tool set enhancing data acquisitions, integration and hygiene. Will it get you to 3x today’s revenue? It probably won’t. What will help are the following:
Hard cost avoidance via software maintenance or consulting elimination is the easy part of the exercise. That is why CFOs love it and focus so much on it. It is easy to grasp and immediate (aka next quarter).
Soft cost reduction, like staff redundancies are a bit harder. Despite them being viable, in my experience very few decision makers want work on a business case to lay off staff. My team had one so far. They look at these savings as freed up capacity, which can be re-deployed more productively. Productivity is also a bit harder to quantify as you typically have to understand how data travels and gets worked on between departments.
However, revenue effects are even harder and esoteric to many people as they include projections. They are often considered “soft” benefits, although they outweigh the other areas by 2-3 times in terms of impact. Ultimately, every organization runs their strategy based on projections (see the insurer in my first paragraph).
The hardest to quantify is risk. Not only is it based on projections – often from a third party (Moody’s, TransUnion, etc.) – but few people understand it. More often, clients don’t even accept you investigating this area if you don’t have an advanced degree in insurance math. Nevertheless, risk can generate extra “soft” cost avoidance (beefing up reserve account balance creating opportunity cost) but also revenue (realizing a risk premium previously ignored). Often risk profiles change due to relationships, which can be links to new “horizontal” information (transactional attributes) or vertical (hierarchical) from parent-child relationships of an entity and the parent’s or children’s transactions.
Given the above, my initial advice to the insurer would be to look at the heartache of their last acquisition, use a benchmark for IT productivity from improved data management capabilities (typically 20-26% – Yankee Group) and there you go. This is just the IT side so consider increasing the upper range by 1.4x (Harvard Business School) as every attribute change (last mobile view date) requires additional meetings on a manager, director and VP level. These people’s time gets increasingly more expensive. You could also use Aberdeen’s benchmark of 13hrs per average master data attribute fix instead.
You can also look at productivity areas, which are typically overly measured. Let’s assume a call center rep spends 20% of the average call time of 12 minutes (depending on the call type – account or bill inquiry, dispute, etc.) understanding
- Who the customer is
- What he bought online and in-store
- If he tried to resolve his issue on the website or store
- How he uses equipment
- What he cares about
- If he prefers call backs, SMS or email confirmations
- His response rate to offers
- His/her value to the company
If he spends these 20% of every call stringing together insights from five applications and twelve screens instead of one frame in seconds, which is the same information in every application he touches, you just freed up 20% worth of his hourly compensation.
Then look at the software, hardware, maintenance and ongoing management of the likely customer record sources (pick the worst and best quality one based on your current understanding), which will end up in a centrally governed instance. Per DAMA, every duplicate record will cost you between $0.45 (party) and $0.85 (product) per transaction (edit touch). At the very least each record will be touched once a year (likely 3-5 times), so multiply your duplicated record count by that and you have your savings from just de-duplication. You can also use Aberdeen’s benchmark of 71 serious errors per 1,000 records, meaning the chance of transactional failure and required effort (% of one or more FTE’s daily workday) to fix is high. If this does not work for you, run a data profile with one of the many tools out there.
If standardization of records (zip codes, billing codes, currency, etc.) is the problem, ask your business partner how many customer contacts (calls, mailing, emails, orders, invoices or account statements) fail outright and/or require validation because of these attributes. Once again, if you apply the productivity gains mentioned earlier, there are you savings. If you look at the number of orders that get delayed in form of payment or revenue recognition and the average order amount by a week or a month, you were just able to quantify how much profit (multiply by operating margin) you would be able to pull into the current financial year from the next one.
The same is true for speeding up the introduction or a new product or a change to it generating profits earlier. Note that looking at the time value of funds realized earlier is too small in most instances especially in the current interest environment.
If emails bounce back or snail mail gets returned (no such address, no such name at this address, no such domain, no such user at this domain), e(mail) verification tools can help reduce the bounces. If every mail piece (forget email due to the miniscule cost) costs $1.25 – and this will vary by type of mailing (catalog, promotion post card, statement letter), incorrect or incomplete records are wasted cost. If you can, use fully loaded print cost incl. 3rd party data prep and returns handling. You will never capture all cost inputs but take a conservative stab.
If it was an offer, reduced bounces should also improve your response rate (also true for email now). Prospect mail response rates are typically around 1.2% (Direct Marketing Association), whereas phone response rates are around 8.2%. If you know that your current response rate is half that (for argument sake) and you send out 100,000 emails of which 1.3% (Silverpop) have customer data issues, then fixing 81-93% of them (our experience) will drop the bounce rate to under 0.3% meaning more emails will arrive/be relevant. This in turn multiplied by a standard conversion rate (MarketingSherpa) of 3% (industry and channel specific) and average order (your data) multiplied by operating margin gets you a benefit value for revenue.
If product data and inventory carrying cost or supplier spend are your issue, find out how many supplier shipments you receive every month, the average cost of a part (or cost range), apply the Aberdeen master data failure rate (71 in 1,000) to use cases around lack of or incorrect supersession or alternate part data, to assess the value of a single shipment’s overspend. You can also just use the ending inventory amount from the 10-k report and apply 3-10% improvement (Aberdeen) in a top-down approach. Alternatively, apply 3.2-4.9% to your annual supplier spend (KPMG).
You could also investigate the expediting or return cost of shipments in a period due to incorrectly aggregated customer forecasts, wrong or incomplete product information or wrong shipment instructions in a product or location profile. Apply Aberdeen’s 5% improvement rate and there you go.
Consider that a North American utility told us that just fixing their 200 Tier1 suppliers’ product information achieved an increase in discounts from $14 to $120 million. They also found that fixing one basic out of sixty attributes in one part category saves them over $200,000 annually.
So what ROI percentages would you find tolerable or justifiable for, say an EDW project, a CRM project, a new claims system, etc.? What would the annual savings or new revenue be that you were comfortable with? What was the craziest improvement you have seen coming to fruition, which nobody expected?
Next time, I will add some more “use cases” to the list and look at some philosophical implications of averages.
I recently wrapped up two overseas trips; one to Central America and another to South Africa. As such, I had the opportunity to meet with a national bank and a regional retailer. It prompted me to ask the question: Does location matter in emerging markets?
I wish I could tell you that there was a common theme on how firms in the same sector or country (even city) treat data on a philosophical or operational level but I cannot. It is such a unique experience every time as factors like ownership history, regulatory scrutiny, available/affordable skill set and past as well as current financial success create a unique grey pattern rather than a comfortable black and white separation. This is even more obvious when I mix in recent meetings I had with North American organizations in the same sectors.
Banking in Latin vs North America
While a national bank in Latin America may seem lethargic, unimaginative and unpolished at first, you can feel the excitement when they can conceive, touch and play with the potential of new paradigms, like becoming data-driven. Decades of public ownership did not seem to have stifled their willingness to learn and improve. On the other side, there is a stock market-listed, regional US bank and half the organization appears to believe in meddling along without expert IT knowledge, which reduced adoption and financial success in past projects. Back office leadership also firmly believes in “relationship management” over data-driven “value management”.
To quote a leader in their finance department, “we don’t believe that knowing a few more characteristics about a client creates more profit….the account rep already knows everything about them and what they have and need”. Then he said, “Not sure why the other departments told you there are issues. We have all this information but it may not be rolled out to them yet or they have no license to view it to date.” This reminded me of the “All Quiet on the Western Front” mentality. If it is all good over here, why are most people saying it is not? Granted; one more attribute may not tip the scale to higher profits but a few more and their historical interrelationship typically does.
As an example; think about the correlation of average account balance fluctuations, property sale, bill pay account payee set ups, credit card late charges and call center interactions over the course of a year.
The Latin American bankers just said, “We have no idea what we know and don’t know…but we know that even long standing relationships with corporate clients are lacking upsell execution”. In this case, upsell potential centered on wire transfer SWIFT message transformation to their local standard they report of and back. Understanding the SWIFT message parameters in full creates an opportunity to approach originating entities and cutting out the middleman bank.
Retailing in Africa vs Europe
The African retailer’s IT architects indicated that customer information is centralized and complete and that integration is not an issue as they have done it forever. Also, consumer householding information is not a viable concept due to different regional interpretations, vendor information is brand specific and therefore not centrally managed and event based actions are easily handled in BizTalk. Home delivery and pickup is in its infancy.
The only apparent improvement area is product information enrichment for an omnichannel strategy. This would involve enhancing attribution for merchandise demand planning, inventory and logistics management and marketing. Attributes could include not only full and standardized capture of style, packaging, shipping instructions, logical groupings, WIP vs finished goods identifiers, units of measure, images and lead times but also regional cultural and climate implications.
However, data-driven retailers are increasingly becoming service and logistics companies to improve wallet share, even in emerging markets. Look at the successful Russian eTailer Ozon, which is handling 3rd party merchandise for shipping and cash management via a combination of agency-style mom & pop shops and online capabilities. Having good products at the lowest price alone is not cutting it anymore and it has not for a while. Only luxury chains may be able to avoid this realization for now. Store size and location come at a premium these days. Hypermarkets are ill-equipped to deal with high-profit specialty items. Commercial real estate vacancies on British high streets are at a high (Economist, July 13, 2014) and footfall is at a seven-year low. The Centre for Retail Research predicts that 20% of store locations will close over the next five years.
If specialized, high-end products are the most profitable, I can (test) sell most of them online or at least through fewer, smaller stores saving on carrying cost. If my customers can then pick them up and return them however they want (store, home) and I can reduce returns from normally 30% (per the Economist) to fewer than 10% by educating and servicing them as unbureaucratically as possible, I just won the semifinals. If I can then personalize recommendations based on my customers’ preferences, life style events, relationships, real-time location and reward them in a meaningful way, I just won the cup.
Emerging markets may seem a few years behind but companies like Amazon or Ozon have shown that first movers enjoy tremendous long-term advantages.
So what does this mean for IT? Putting your apps into the cloud (maybe even outside your country) may seem like an easy fix. However, it may not only create performance and legal issues but also unexpected cost to support decent SLA terms. Does your data support transactions for higher profits today to absorb this additional cost of going into the cloud? Focus on transactional applications and their management obfuscates the need for a strong backbone for data management, just like the one you built for your messaging and workflows ten years ago. Then you can tether all the fancy apps to it you want.
Have any emerging markets’ war stories or trends to share? I would love to hear them. Stay tuned for future editions of this series.
Recently, my US-based job led me to a South African hotel room, where I watched Germany play Brazil in the World Cup. The global nature of the event was familiar to me. My work covers countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, South Africa and Costa Rica. And as I pondered the stunning score (Germany won, 7 to 1), my mind was drawn to emerging markets. What defines an emerging market? In particular, what are the data-related themes common to emerging markets? Because I work with global clients in the banking, oil and gas, telecommunications, and retail industries, I have learned a great deal about this. As a result, I wanted to share my top 5 observations about data in Emerging Markets.
1) Communication Infrastructure Matters
Many of the emerging markets, particularly in Africa, jumped from one or two generations of telco infrastructure directly into 3G and fiber within a decade. However, this truth only applies to large, cosmopolitan areas. International diversification of fiber connectivity is only starting to take shape. (For example, in Southern Africa, BRICS terrestrial fiber is coming online soon.) What does this mean for data management? First, global connectivity influences domestic last mile fiber deployment to households and businesses. This, in turn, will create additional adoption of new devices. This adoption will create critical mass for higher productivity services, such as eCommerce. As web based transactions take off, better data management practices will follow. Secondly, European and South American data centers become viable legal and performance options for African organizations. This could be a game changer for software vendors dealing in cloud services for BI, CRM, HCM, BPM and ETL.
2) Competition in Telecommunication Matters
If you compare basic wireless and broadband bundle prices between the US, the UK and South Africa, for example, the lack of true competition makes further coverage upgrades, like 4G and higher broadband bandwidths, easy to digest for operators. These upgrades make telecommuting, constant social media engagement possible. Keeping prices low, like in the UK, is the flipside achieving the same result. The worst case is high prices and low bandwidth from the last mile to global nodes. This also creates low infrastructure investment and thus, fewer consumers online for fewer hours. This is often the case in geographically vast countries (Africa, Latin America) with vast rural areas. Here, data management is an afterthought for the most part. Data is intentionally kept in application silos as these are the value creators. Hand coding is pervasive to string data together to make small moves to enhance the view of a product, location, consumer or supplier.
3) A Nation’s Judicial System Matters
If you do business in nations with a long, often British judicial tradition, chances are investment will happen. If you have such a history but it is undermined by a parallel history of graft from the highest to the lowest levels because of the importance of tribal traditions, only natural resources will save your economy. Why does it matter if one of my regional markets is “linked up” but shipping logistics are burdened by this excess cost and delay? The impact on data management is a lack of use cases supporting an enterprise-wide strategy across all territories. Why invest if profits are unpredictable or too meager? This is why small Zambia or Botswana are ahead of the largest African economy, Nigeria.
4) Expertise Location Matters
Anybody can have the most advanced vision on a data-driven, event-based architecture supporting the fanciest data movement and persistence standards. Without the skill to make the case to the business it is a lost cause unless your local culture still has IT in charge of specifying requirements, running the evaluation, selecting and implementing a new technology. It is also done for if there are no leaders who have experienced how other leading firms in the same or different sector went about it (un)successfully. Lastly, if you don’t pay for skill, your project failure risk just tripled. Duh!
5) Denial is Universal
No matter if you are an Asian oil company, a regional North American bank, a Central American National Bank or an African retail conglomerate. If finance or IT invested in any technologies prior and they saw a lack of adoption, for whatever reason, they will deny data management challenges despite other departments complaining. Moreover, if system integrators or internal client staff (mis)understand data management as fixing processes (which it is not) instead of supporting transactional integrity (which it is), clients are on the wrong track. Here, data management undeservedly becomes a philosophical battleground.
This is definitely not a complete list or super-thorough analysis but I think it covers the most crucial observations from my engagements. I would love to hear about your findings in emerging markets.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series where I will talk about the denial and embrace of corporate data challenges as it pertains to an organization’s location.
A few weeks ago, a regional US bank asked me to perform some compliance and use case analysis around fixing their data management situation. This bank prides itself on customer service and SMB focus, while using large-bank product offerings. However, they were about a decade behind the rest of most banks in modernizing their IT infrastructure to stay operationally on top of things.
This included technologies like ESB, BPM, CRM, etc. They also were a sub-optimal user of EDW and analytics capabilities. Having said all this; there was a commitment to change things up, which is always a needed first step to any recovery program.
As I conducted my interviews across various departments (list below) it became very apparent that they were not suffering from data poverty (see prior post) but from lack of accessibility and use of data.
- Vendor Management & Risk
- Commercial and Consumer Depository products
- Credit Risk
- HR & Compensation
- Private Banking
- Customer Solutions
This lack of use occurred across the board. The natural reaction was to throw more bodies and more Band-Aid marts at the problem. Users also started to operate under the assumption that it will never get better. They just resigned themselves to mediocrity. When some new players came into the organization from various systemically critical banks, they shook things up.
Here is a list of use cases they want to tackle:
- The proposition of real-time offers based on customer events as simple as investment banking products for unusually high inflow of cash into a deposit account.
- The use of all mortgage application information to understand debt/equity ratio to make relevant offers.
- The capture of true product and customer profitability across all lines of commercial and consumer products including trust, treasury management, deposits, private banking, loans, etc.
- The agile evaluation, creation, testing and deployment of new terms on existing and products under development by shortening the product development life cycle.
- The reduction of wealth management advisors’ time to research clients and prospects.
- The reduction of unclaimed use tax, insurance premiums and leases being paid on consumables, real estate and requisitions due to the incorrect status and location of the equipment. This originated from assets no longer owned, scrapped or moved to different department, etc.
- The more efficient reconciliation between transactional systems and finance, which often uses multiple party IDs per contract change in accounts receivable, while the operating division uses one based on a contract and its addendums. An example would be vendor payment consolidation, to create a true supplier-spend; and thus, taking advantage of volume discounts.
- The proactive creation of central compliance footprint (AML, 314, Suspicious Activity, CTR, etc.) allowing for quicker turnaround and fewer audit instances from MRAs (matter requiring attention).
MONEY TO BE MADE – PEOPLE TO SEE
Adding these up came to about $31 to $49 million annually in cost savings, new revenue or increased productivity for this bank with $24 billion total assets.
So now that we know there is money to be made by fixing the data of this organization, how can we realistically roll this out in an organization with many competing IT needs?
The best way to go about this is to attach any kind of data management project to a larger, business-oriented project, like CRM or EDW. Rather than wait for these to go live without good seed data, why not feed them with better data as a key work stream within their respective project plans?
To summarize my findings I want to quote three people I interviewed. A lady, who recently had to struggle through an OCC audit told me she believes that the banks, which can remain compliant at the lowest cost will ultimately win the end game. Here she meant particularly tier 2 and 3 size organizations. A gentleman from commercial banking left this statement with me, “Knowing what I know now, I would not bank with us”. The lady from earlier also said, “We engage in spreadsheet Kung Fu”, to bring data together.
Given all this, what would you suggest? Have you worked with an organization like this? Did you encounter any similar or different use cases in financial services institutions?
About 15 or so years ago, some friends of mine called me to share great news. Their dating relationship had become serious and they were headed toward marriage. After a romantic proposal and a beautiful ring, it was time to plan the wedding and invite the guests.
This exciting time was confounded by a significant challenge. Though they were very much in love, one of them had an incredibly tough time making wise financial choices. During the wedding planning process, the financially astute fiancée grew concerned about the problems the challenged partner could bring. Even though the financially illiterate fiancée had every other admirable quality, the finance issue nearly created enough doubt to end the engagement. Fortunately, my friends moved forward with the ceremony, were married and immediately went to work on learning new healthy financial habits as a couple.
Let’s segue into how this relates to telecommunications and data, specifically to your average communications operator. Just like a concerned fiancée, you’d think twice about making a commitment to an organization that didn’t have a strong foundation.
Like the financially challenged fiancée, the average operator has a number of excellent qualities: functioning business model, great branding, international roaming, creative ads, long-term prospects, smart people at the helm and all the data and IT assets you can imagine. Unfortunately, despite the externally visible bells and whistles, over time they tend to lose operational soundness around the basics. Specifically, their lack of data quality causes them to forfeit an ever increasing amount of billing revenue. Their poor data costs them millions each year.
A recent set of engagements highlighted this phenomenon. The small carrier (3-6 million subscribers) who implements a more consistent, unique way to manage core subscriber profile and product data could recover underbilling of $6.9 million annually. A larger carrier (10-20 million subscribers) could recover $28.1 million every year from fixing billing errors. (This doesn’t even cover the large Indian and Chinese carriers who have over 100 million customers!)
Typically, a billing error starts with an incorrect set up of a service line item base price and related 30+ discount line variances. Next, the wrong service discount item is applied at contract start. If that did not happen (or on top of those), it will occur when the customer calls in during or right before the end of the first contract period (12-24 months) to complain about the service quality, bill shock, etc. Here, the call center rep will break an existing triple play bundle by deleting an item and setting up a separate non-bundle service line item at a lower price (higher discount). The head of billing actually told us, “our reps just give a residential subscriber a discount of $2 for calling us”. It’s even higher for commercial clients.
To make matters worse, this change will trigger misaligned (incorrect) activation dates or even bill duplication, all of which will have to be fixed later by multiple staff on the BSS and OSS side or may even trigger an investigation project by the revenue assurance department. Worst case, the deletion of the item from the bundle (especially for B2B clients) will not terminate the wholesale cost the carrier still owes a national carrier for a broadband line, which often is 1/3 of the retail price for a business customer.
To come full circle to my initial “accounting challenged” example; would you marry (invest in) this organization? Do you think this can or should be solved in a big bang approach or incrementally? Where would you start: product management, the service center, residential or commercial customers?
Observations and illustrations contained in this post are estimates only and are based entirely upon information provided by the prospective customer and on our observations and benchmarks. While we believe our recommendations and estimates to be sound, the degree of success achieved by the prospective customer is dependent upon a variety of factors, many of which are not under Informatica’s control and nothing in this post shall be relied upon as representative of the degree of success that may, in fact, be realized and no warranty or representation of success, either express or implied, is made.
As I browsed my BBC app a few weeks ago, I ran into this article about environmental contamination of oil wells in the UK, which were left to their own devices. The article explains that a lack of data and proper data management is causing major issues for gas and oil companies. In fact, researchers found no data for more than 2,000 inactive wells, many of which have been abandoned or “orphaned”(sealed and covered up). I started to scratch my head imagining what this problem looks like in places like Brazil, Nigeria, Malaysia, Angola and the Middle East. In these countries and regions, regulatory oversight is, on average, a bit less regulated.
On top of that, please excuse my cynicism here, but an “Orphan” well is just as ridiculous a concept as a “Dry” well. A hole without liquid inside is not a well but – you guessed it – a hole. Also, every well has a “Parent”, meaning
- The person or company who drilled it
- A land owner who will get paid from its production and allowed the operation (otherwise it would be illegal)
- A financier who fronted the equipment and research cost
- A regulator, who is charged with overseeing the reservoir’s exploration
Let the “hydrocarbon family court judge” decide whose problem this orphan is with well founded information- no pun intended. After all, this “domestic disturbance” is typically just as well documented as any police “house call”, when you hear screams from next door. Similarly, one would expect that when (exploratory) wells are abandoned and improperly capped or completed, there is a long track record about financial or operational troubles at the involved parties. Apparently I was wrong. Nobody seems to have a record of where the well actually was on the surface, let alone subsurface, to determine perforation risks in itself or from an actively managed bore nearby.
This reminds me of a meeting with an Asian NOC’s PMU IT staff, who vigorously disagreed with every other department on the reality on the ground versus at group level. The PMU folks insisted on having fixed all wells’ key attributes:
- Knowing how many wells and bores they had across the globe and all types of commercial models including joint ventures
- Where they were and are today
- What their technical characteristics were and currently are
The other departments, from finance to strategy, clearly indicated that 10,000 wells across the globe currently being “mastered” with (at least initially) cheap internal band aid fixes has a margin of error of up to 10%. So much for long term TCO. After reading this BBC article, this internal disagreement made even more sense.
If this chasm does not make a case for proper mastering of key operational entities, like wells, I don’t know what does. It also begs the question how any operation with potentially very negative long term effects can have no legally culpable party being capture in some sort of, dare I say, master register. Isn’t this the sign of “rule of law” governing an advanced nation, e.g. having a land register, building permits, wills, etc.?
I rest my case, your honor. May the garden ferries forgive us for spoiling their perfectly manicured lawn. With more fracking and public scrutiny on the horizon, maybe regulators need to establish their own “trusted” well master file, rather than rely on oil firms’ data dumps. After all, the next downhole location may be just a foot away from perforating one of these “orphans” setting your kitchen sink faucet on fire.
Do you think another push for local government to establish “well registries” like they did ten years ago for national IDs, is in order?
Disclaimer: Recommendations and illustrations contained in this post are estimates only and are based entirely upon information provided by the prospective customer and on our observations and benchmarks. While we believe our recommendations and estimates to be sound, the degree of success achieved by the prospective customer is dependent upon a variety of factors, many of which are not under Informatica’s control and nothing in this post shall be relied upon as representative of the degree of success that may, in fact, be realized and no warranty or representation of success, either express or implied, is made.