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CDI pays off for early adopter MetLife

One of the earliest adopters of customer data integration (CDI) technology, MetLife has learned that cultural change can facilitate a unified view of the customer.

Steve Kessler is no stranger to customer data integration (CDI) projects.

The assistant vice president at MetLife Inc. has been working with CDI technology since 2000, before many even heard of CDI. Since then, he has seen the New York-based insurance giant gobble up multiple businesses and slowly progress toward a "single view of the customer" -- an accomplishment that seems to be eluding many companies today.

In 2000, MetLife demutualized and went public. The firm set a goal of building its customer base to 100 million by 2010 while simultaneously becoming less product-centric and more customer-oriented.

"We knew we weren't going to do that purely by organic growth," Kessler said. "We asked, 'How do we make sure we have a platform that will grow with us?'"

Kessler and a project team of MetLife executives explored the possibility of building their own system. They considered constructing a back-end customer data warehouse, but were concerned that it would have required frequent updates and might not have been able to provide timely data. They also considered establishing a front-end system, but realized it might have faced problems keeping up with changes and data quality.

After speaking with several vendors and eventually elected to team up with Atlanta-based DWL Inc., which had come out with its enterprise hub, DWL Customer. The project worked out well for both parties: It gave MetLife a technology that could accomplish critical corporate objectives and it also gave DWL a premier customer to help share its story.

"It was a good decision to bring in DWL and work closely with them early on," Kessler said. "It would have been easier had they been where they are today. We spent a lot of time with them helping to define what CDI is."

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Since then, the market for CDI technology has grown quickly, with CDI spending growing 135% last year, from $85 million in 2003 to $220 million in 2004. Additionally, IBM has jumped into the game. It purchased DWL earlier this month. That acquisition helped to validate DWL and MetLife's direction, Kessler said.

"This [project] changed the model for us," Kessler said. "We decided to manage data and the relationship of that information from a customer perspective from beginning to end and to do it with a real-time administrative process."

MetLife spent much of its time grappling with issues related to the business culture. Financial services is an industry fraught with data quality challenges -- single customers have multiple contacts and contracts.

"We started with the administrative process as the only place where you could update customer information," Kessler said. "This allowed us to achieve holistic data quality across the process."

Individual business units within MetLife had to learn to follow a single process and could only make changes within one system. Eventually, after some resistance, each of the business units became less proprietary about the data they managed and more willing to share it across the company.

What emerged was the Customer Information File (CIF), a system that integrated MetLife business units' customer information. The company began integrating its life insurance business unit and now has 100% of its retail life insurance business integrated, Kessler said. Currently, Kessler and his team are working on the home and auto insurance business.

Data integration priorities are established by a steering committee made up of senior executives from each of MetLife's line of businesses, including the individual chief information officers. To this point, integration has focused on the retail side of the business.

"The reason we started where we did was that's where you have these relationships where you're working directly with the end customers," Kessler said. "In our other lines, the customers are 88 out of the Fortune 100, and we're providing the benefits. That can be 37 million participants on the institutional side."

MetLife's CIF program has succeeded because the company has stayed committed to the strategy and focused early on the quick wins, Kessler said.

"Because of the nature of financial services -- the multiple holdings, the multiple contracts in insurance, auto, home, annuities -- this allows us to do a change once and be done in real time for one customer."

Additional benefits come from mining the data for business trends and insight and streamlined business processes with the promise of better returns. On top of that, the system has facilitated integrating MetLife's acquisitions. The recent purchase of The Travelers Life & Annuity is "not overly huge with what we deal with on a day-to-day basis," Kessler said.

Already the system has provided cross-sell and up-sell opportunities and promises a better return from MetLife's CRM systems.

"CRM hasn't really achieved its promise, but down the road [we think] having CDI fully integrated is going to allow us to reap the benefits of CRM," Kessler said.

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