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Capitalizing on CDI

There's little doubt that customer data integration (CDI) has captured the attention of businesses, vendors and analysts alike. In fact, spending on CDI is expected to take off in 2005. Nimesh Mehta, group vice president of CDI for San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel Systems Inc., spoke with about CDI technology, processes and dirty data.

Describe Siebel's approach to the universal view of the customer and the number of people now deploying it.
CDI has multiple components with customer data repositories and integration. The various components are sold in modules. There's always some core component you have to buy, but you buy pieces a la carte. Overall, the product line has 120 customers. What do they buy?

 Customers think of CDI, or customer mastering, in a few different ways. Either they play the data where it lies, which means if they have multiple repositories and fragmented data they reach out and access it. That leads down a path of integration. Or else they tend to go down path of a central repository of customer records and feed that back to other systems as a subscriber of that data. Some, of course, will do both. What kinds of problems are Siebel's customers running into that demand CDI?
Most of our customers start off with the business problem or requirement of wanting to create a single view of the customer. This tends to be the driving factor. It means integrating data across different repositories with the intent of having a unified view in terms of details, contact information, purchasing preferences, purchasing history and the ancillary accounts or other customers that relate to them. One retail financial institution is faced with a challenge of privacy. As soon as they create a single view, they must then deal with legislation, like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which says you're restricted as to what you can do with that information.

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 Another customer, a large bank, has the requirement of creating a centralized repository that stores essential customer records. They have driven a number of transactional systems off of this, for example, the branch teller or Web teller. The central repository therefore serves to create a view the bank uses to create up-sell or cross-sell opportunities. In one other case, an insurance company has bought many small insurers. As they do that, they acquire different customer repositories. One of the synergies in an acquisition is the customers. Creating that synergy means they have to create a system that reads them all. That's more a play-the-data-where-it-lies scenario. Who is generally in charge of CDI projects?
In a broad brush it's the CIOs [chief information officers]. The CIO is being asked to share data, and is also forced to contend with the law. In some instances it's the marketing executives, because they want to create those up-sell, cross-sell opportunities. We tend to have a relationship with the sales and marketing departments because of our history with SFA (sales force automation) and marketing automation. What are some of the non-technical problems your customers face?
Some have to do with data quality. Creating a single view of the customers is good if the view is a good one. A good view means you have to be able to distinguish good customer records from bad and resolve inconsistencies. There's also a business process around data quality that our customers have to step up to the plate and take care of. What should you do if one system feeding the CDI has bad data? If it's the call center, that can mean the retraining of agents. A single view of the customer shines a spotlight on bad data. Resolving that isn't always technology. Frequently it's a business process and organizational process. Sometimes it results in changes in way a company treats its customers. Another issue is around the ownership of the data. When you create a single view? Who should own the single view? IT? The feeding system? There are political conflicts. Customers who do this sort of thinking ahead of time are far more likely to succeed than those who don't.

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