There are many different kinds of batch data cleansing processes that can be performed against large databases of existing customer information. Standardizing inconsistent data, removing duplicate records, validating columns against up-to-date reference data, filling in missing data, and appending new data to existing data are all examples of customer data processing that can help improve the value of internal data assets.
When data assets undergo these kinds of processes their value increases and they enable business intelligence applications to be more useful, operations to be more efficient, and customer communication efforts to be more effective. These are worthwhile endeavors indeed.
However, it can often be a considerable effort to do large, after-the-fact database cleanup jobs - not to mention the considerable costs and complexity associated with offline data processing. Also, batch jobs are rarely a one-time effort, as the same problems begin to appear soon after a mass cleansing, and then begin to build to troublesome levels again, putting the data stewards of the organization back to square one.
An alternative can be to leverage real-time data quality mechanisms at the point of data collection
. This means validating data, filling in missing data, appending data, standardizing data, and comparing it to existing data for duplicates in real-time, before
it ever gets into the database. This can eliminate or dramatically reduce the cost and effort associated with downstream batch cleanup processes, enabling the benefits of clean, complete, accurate data to appear immediately across the organization. It also prevents the build up of these kinds of data quality issues over time.
Real-time data quality can be achieved by integrating calls to data quality functions
within business processes, Website data collection forms, customer-facing applications, call center applications where representatives speak with customers, and anywhere else that data is collected in real-time. Typically these programmatic calls are to Cloud-based APIs that are leveraging constantly refreshed reference data to ensure the highest possible data accuracy.
Here more than ever, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
As you think about improving the quality of data within your organization, here are four quick and simple yet key tips that will assist in your approach and strategy on your way to success:- Think of data as a strategic asset.
Collecting and storing data alone is not enough. There must be a proactive plan in place to ensure that the data serving as the basis of decision-making, operations, and customer communication is treated as a strategic valuable asset. Effectively managing the quality, accuracy, and usability of this data on an ongoing, every day basis can translate into dramatic revenue opportunities and significant cost-saving efficiencies. - Consistency is as important as accuracy.
Accurate data is important, but so is consistency. Inconsistent representations of the same data content (such as variations of a company name, a lead source appearing six different ways, etc.) throughout data tables can make data very hard to analyze, and can even throw off analytics and business intelligence processes. This can result in decision-making (such as where to deploy marketing assets) based on faulty data points. A focus on data consistency can reduce the incidence of this substantially.- Data quality is far cheaper transactionally.
Improving the quality of data at the point of data collection (A Web form or via a call center representative) is much more inexpensive than waiting for broad data quality issues to appear downstream that must be addressed en masse. The cost difference can sometimes even be a factor of ten. Also, in the downstream case, considerable use of inaccurate and incomplete data might already have occurred. Validating the accuracy of data before
it ever gets into core customer databases is very important.- Data quality is about more than technology
Tools can only do so much. Incentive programs for capturing complete and accurate data (such as bonuses for 98% or greater accurate customer data point collection) can go a long way in better, more valuable organizational data, as well as education in the importance of data as a key strategic asset across business units, not just IT. Any comprehensive data quality plan built for success will involve the entire organization.
Have we gotten to the point where almost everything delivered over the Internet is considered "Cloud"? In fact, now it doesn't even have to be delivered over the Internet, as "Private Clouds" are quickly becoming a catch-all phrase to market older software and hardware products while simultaneously jumping on the Cloud bandwagon. After all, almost every IT management survey these days is indicating the "Cloud" as the key computing platform for quite some time to come. Many vendors, even deceptively at times, are rewriting collateral to match the trend.
While some will say that there is no true definition of Cloud and they can therefore "Cloud-promote" as they please, there are things an astute buyer should look for when determine if a product or service is actually "Cloud-like", especially since Cloudwashing might very well reach its crescendo this year.
For example, there should be a multi-tenant architecture allowing the underlying software resources to be shared transparently. There should also be a usage-based metering and billing business model, so costs of resource utilization matches actual use across a community of users.
There should also be linear scalability, a virtualized infrastructure, and an abstraction away from any underlying hardware and software complexity. In other words, reduced complexity is generally proportional to how "Cloud" a given software service is likely to be. As an example, our IronCloud
platform that delivers commercial data-as-a-service products
is a usage-based billed service that adheres to all of these principles.
Even though it is true that there are scenarios where a "Private Cloud" makes sense, it should still adhere to the above characteristics of a Cloud, even if it is limited to a single organization and resources are being shared across that organization in a true multi-tenant sense. But if you start to hear terms like "upgrade path", "required hardware", "required OS", "appliance", and so forth, very likely the use of the word "Cloud" has been liberally applied to describe the product or service.
So the next time someone says "to the Cloud!", make sure that is where you are really headed.
Master Data Management, also known as MDM, often comes up in conversation as a key information technology initiative for an enterprise, including considerations for leveraging the Cloud as an ideal environment for MDM. We can save Cloud considerations for a later post, so for now, a very basic MDM primer might be a good idea for those who scratch their head at the mere mention of the term. It's actually a much simpler concept than descriptions of it often entail.
MDM is simply about keeping non-transactional data, such as customer data, in a single place (logically or physically) to be shared across many different systems. When each system that uses this customer data, whether it is a CRM system, an accounting system, a support system, or a business intelligence system, updates or adds to data about a customer, all connected systems gain the benefit of that change.
This "master data" approach also eliminates inconsistencies of things like contact information and customer notes across different systems where customer data may be captured, and does a far better job of keeping customer data current. To use a few timeworn adages, with MDM we are keeping all of our customer data eggs in one basket, with the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The other key benefit to maintaining and managing customer data in one place for use across multiple line-of-business systems is that customer data-specific activities can be performed with that data, benefitting each connected system that makes use of the data. This includes customer data quality initiatives, not only validating and correcting customer data to keep it as current as possible, but also using external third party data sources to create a more vivid, detailed view of an organization's customers. Other activities include customer data consolidation (matching and eliminating redundancy), data governance, easing the distribution of customer data (the Cloud), better customer communication, and a foundation for richer analytics that utilize customer data.
At the end of the day, customer data is one of a company's most important assets. The MDM approach helps maximize the value of that data for use.
eBay held its X.commerce launch event this week, describing its new platform as an "operating system for commerce" where e-commerce blends with traditional brick and mortar retail. The idea is that "e"-commerce has now been replaced by "x"-commerce. What used to be two separate worlds, Web and physical store retail, are now driving each other and the line between the two is definitely being blurred.
For example, Smartphones such as the iPhone and Android are enabling people to shop in a retail store, price check online simply by scanning a barcode, and either travel to another local store for a better price or alternatively order on the spot from an online retailer.
Discounts on Twitter and Groupon deals are now driving foot traffic to physical retail locations. Traditional retail is investing more and more in online presence such as Facebook pages. PayPal, now processing $4.7B annually in payments (3x what they were doing five years ago), is expanding from email-based payments to mobile payments and even supporting payments in the physical world, with much here still to come.
eBay is investing heavily in this concept of physical and Web commerce blending. If you look at their acquisitions, you can see that they have been laying the groundwork for this for quite some time. They purchased Magento, an open-source Web application development environment fine-tuned for e-commerce sites, over the Summer. They acquired GSI Commerce in a major investment for $2.4B a few months back as well, a company that helps build online shopping sites for brick-and-mortar retailers. In the past year they have also acquired RedLaser (smartphone-driven barcode price comparison), Milo (a database of traditional retail locations' products and their prices), and Where.com (location-based advertising).
Piece by piece, they are pulling together components of an entire commerce supply chain, or a "full commerce stack" so to speak, and are delivering it in a one-stop retail shop now known as X.commerce. The idea is to develop one's site using the Magento platform, use PayPal as the payment mechanism, and then automate the entire process of delivering inventory to all of the various marketplaces eBay drives. This includes its own commerce sites, the RedLaser database, Where.com, Milo, and within what other acquisitions or partnerships that will come in the future.
For StrikeIron, e-commerce and point-of-sale have always been some of our more prevalent use cases. Our customers integrate and use Cloud-based solutions from us such as real-time sales tax calculation services, customer data quality solutions for better data at the point of capture, shipping address verification, email address validation, phone number validation, foreign currency rates for price localization, and even mobile messaging for shipment notifications and ongoing opt-in marketing campaigns.
Integration to these Web services in the Cloud help our customers optimize their commerce transactions with very little complexity. So it was very refreshing to hear eBay CEO John Donahoe mention that data, in many different forms, was the most important asset a retailer had and needed to apply to remain competitive in the new world of X.commerce. The idea of reducing the Wild West of commerce components into a standard, full-stack platform will significantly make things easier for our customers, as will a focus on high quality and complete data as part of the process.
StrikeIron's partner ActivePrime will be leading a data quality discussion during a session at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco on Thursday, October 6th, at 1:30 pm PDT at the Intercontinental Hotel San Francisco, Grand Ballroom A.
One of the primary themes of the session are the differences in data quality for SAAS CRM solutions versus on-premise solutions, and how real-time data quality can be leveraged at the point of data collection. It will also focus on how to manage data quality in hybrid SAAS and on-premise environments. ActivePrime's Clint Bidlack and Rosaline Gulati will lead the presentation.
In collaboration with StrikeIron, ActivePrime's CleanVerify offering utilizes StrikeIron's Contact Record Validation Suite to provide a seamless real-time data quality solution within Oracle CRM On Demand. The SAAS solution leverages StrikeIron's Cloud-based data delivery capabilities to validate, correct, and enhance physical address data, email address data, and telephone data directly within the Oracle system.
Because all of the reference data is stored out on the Cloud, there is no need to ever perform reference data updates. Oracle CRM On Demand users can always rest assured that their data validation processes are always using the latest, most current data available as the basis for the ongoing validation checks.
Also in this session, ActivePrime will discuss case studies where they have delivered a much better data foundation to customers utilizing Oracle CRM On Demand in hybrid environments so they can maximize ROI and get the most out of their CRM and marketing processes. Customers Insperity (formerly Administaff) and Komori will be presenting about their experiences at the session. I will be in attendance and answering questions at the session as well.
StrikeIron delivers real-time data services that provide specialized business functionality from the "Cloud". These include many different solutions such as using constantly updated reference data to validate, verify, and enhance customer data, provide communication services such as text message notification solutions, ecommerce related services such as sales tax rates, foreign currency rates, and several other data-oriented services.
These solutions are put to use by our customers in the form of XML-based Web services. These are actually application programming interfaces (APIs) that give our customer access to this functionality over the Web, out in the Cloud, and without the requirement of having to manage any of the supporting back-end data sources (we take care of that). Because of the flexibility provided by offering SOAP and REST protocol Web services, these solutions are platform independent and work with just about every development environment in existence.
Many of our Web services-savvy customers take our APIs and build them into their custom Websites, applications, and business processes utilizing the development environment of their choice. This enables them to customize and optimize the access to our Web services and their functionality as they see fit, including usage levels that fit their requirements.
However, many of our customers often make use of system integrators who have been given the task to solve a certain problem, acquire any necessary technology and execute on that technology to deliver a desired result. Very often, these system integrators' search ends with StrikeIron as the solution. They "try out" our services and solutions with their current environment on behalf of their customer, and then as they determine that it fits their requirements, the actual production usage begins.
Most of our system integrator relationships have come to us this way, and then as they have success and enjoy our capabilities and reliability, they begin to utilize StrikeIron on many different projects and with many different companies. We provide a significant level of support to system integrator partners to help them meet the needs of their customers.
To demonstrate this ongoing commitment to system integrators, today we are announcing a partnership with Astadia, a cloud computing systems integrator and top partner with Salesforce.com, Eloqua, and Informatica. They will use their expertise in a wide variety of SAAS and Cloud applications to bring StrikeIron's data quality solutions seamlessly into their customer base. We are very excited about this partnership and look forward to working more closely with the Astadia team.
Having the best possible data about customers and prospects provides a lot of benefits. Customer service is better, CRM ROI is higher, business processes run more smoothly and efficiently, marketing communications are more effective, and businesses just generally run better if they have high quality, complete, and accurate data at the core of their systems.
While traditionally achieving this has been a complex exercise, the Cloud makes it a simpler reality at a reasonable cost. Plaform-independent APIs built for this purpose can be integrated into just about any Website, application, or business process with a line of code or two. Leveraging these APIs can have a tremendous impact on customer data accuracy and all of the business processes that depend upon it.
For example, the three major points of customer communication are the phone number, physical address, and email address. The challenge here has always been acquiring, managing, and maintaining the reference data that these points of communication are compared against for validity, accuracy and filling in any blanks. In the past, obtaining, storing, and keeping this comparison reference data current meant people, planning, hardware, software, and all of the corresponding costs, especially since these databases can come from so many different sources.
Now, thanks to the Cloud, having all of these reference data sources maintained and updated by one organization (such as StrikeIron) and available in a time-shared manner makes a lot of sense. Rather than having it done redundantly by companies everywhere and absorbing the total cost of the exercise, this shared approach dramatically reduces the complexity and cost for those who choose to leverage the capability. Just like people share units in an apartment building, chefs at a restaurant, or timeshare seats on an airplane, the same ought to be true for those who wish for shared access to better customer data quality engines. The Cloud makes it a possibility, and StrikeIron delivers it.
A lead, as we all know, is an individual or company that has indicated some level of interest in potentially buying a product or service. This is an important first stage categorization of any sales process.
Technically, a lead is represented by data, and the potential value of that lead is dependent on the level of accuracy, how current the contact information is, and the comprehensiveness of the data that constitutes the lead. In other words, a lead is only as valuable as the data that comprises it within a CRM application or other sales-driving system.
Fortunately, lead value ROI is generally pretty easily obtained as a function of the sales line. It is very measurable, and one can see over time that the more accurate, complete, and timely leads are likely to drive the most revenue and have the greatest value to the sales organization. Therefore, investing in the quality of lead data can have a measurable and rewarding payoff.
This is one of the primary reasons many organizations come to StrikeIron - to enhance the value of their lead data. Our real-time customer data quality offerings can validate email addresses, physical addresses, and phone numbers to ensure a lead is accurate, and it can even correct missing or inaccurate contact lead data where possible.
We can also add a sizable list of additional data points, including company demographic data points, residential information (from sources such as the Census Bureau), latitude and longitude coordinates, and other data points that add some additional value to the lead and optimize it for the purposes of a sales organization.
Best of all, our easy-to-integrate APIs are available out in the Cloud (meaning no reference data maintenance and a flexible subscription model), making it easy to plug into just about any CRM, marketing automation, or other lead management system via the Internet.
So as we are in the sweet spot of need for a large number of attending organizations at LeadsCon, we have found much success in the past with this conference. As a result, we will have a pretty sizable contingent of folks at the event in New York City this week.
Drop by and say hello (booth 202) and learn more about how to rev up the value of leads. Oh and by the way, we will be giving away some iPad2's. Hope to see you there!
As Point of Sale (POS) systems move to the Cloud and ecommerce transactions continue to grow at double digit rates, utilizing external APIs to optimize and essentially outsource functionality that isn't a core part of your business makes a lot of sense.
Leveraging Cloud-based business functionality not only provides short-term and long-term cost-savings, but also helps getting systems and new capabilities into production sooner rather than later. Using external resources also frees up internal resources to focus on those requirements and activities that are core to the business.
For example, when a product is sold over the Web, the automated ecommerce transaction can kick off a series of calls to external APIs that swiftly and accurately:
- obtain the required tax rate of the buyer based on geographic location
- verify the shipping address against constantly-updated postal data to ensure proper order fulfillment
- validate a customer provided a correct phone number and valid email address for communication purposes
- obtain other demographics for customer profiling purposes
In addition, prices can be shown in local currencies using live currency rates for greater accuracy, and shipment notifications can be sent via an SMS text message for enhanced customer service.
In each case, the functionality can be achieved either with an in-house system and all of the software, hardware, and ongoing data management ($$$$) that goes along with it, or an external API can be called, typically with a single line of code, as part of the automated business process triggered by the transaction. Hopefully, it is fairly obvious which would be easier, less costly, and more quickly achieved in most cases.
All of these capabilities, accessible in the form of SOAP and REST APIs, are available from StrikeIron for easy integration to many different ecommerce systems and development environments. This is why ecommerce and POS systems represent many of our top use-cases, as the real-time and "Cloud ready" nature of our offerings represent a better ecommerce experience for many of our customers and their customers.