Re-organizing Information Can Help Your Business–and Yield Rich Customer Insight


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The issue of how to organize information to support the business needs is, at least on the on the face of it, another "solve world hunger" issue for many, but with a little thought and work, a framework can often emerge that helps establish an appropriate focus and realize the objective.

Many of my colleagues have addressed information organization and rationalization through a framework of people, process, information and technology. More importantly, they have addressed the associated issues in this order of priority. That is because, through painful experience, they have learned and observed that technology—or the solution—is the last decision that should be made. So the rule of thumb should be: Understand the roles and functions and processes and the associated information, and then a relevant technology (or even non-technological) solution can be introduced.

For example, when our bank was first involved in developing and using "propensity" models (information), we were looking to use the models to improve our sales and service activities (people and processes) through the use of targeted contact lists (more information!). Our initial "model-based" list was one that represented a substantial improvement over the traditional contact list in many aspects, except for the fact that it was still paper!

Last, technology
Rather than a list of customers in alphabetical order, we sequenced the list based on existing customers’ modeled behavior to contribute to a savings plan. Then, based on both the statistical and anecdotal feedback from this program, and other similar programs, we began to develop requirements for how to present the information in an automated way for the sales force. We did this through a redesign of the sales interface: people and their sales roles, the processes for customer contact, the relevant information for both conversation and sales fulfillment. Only after looking at all that did we consider the technology solutions needed to share contact lists across sales teams. The rule of thumb in action!

Similarly, in developing an information management program, I leveraged my experience as both a business user of information and a financial services industry consultant for information. The approach for the new program for "organizing the information" was to understand and document the roles people performed and the processes the business used that both required and supported information that was created.

For example, only by understanding the inputs (i.e. the business information that identified groups used), the outputs (i.e. the reports or other management tools that were generated using the information) and the controls (i.e. the processes by which information was created and modified by business users) were we able to understand the sources and relationships for information. Those, in turn, informed how to organize the information for business users to access. In addition, the process we used to understand and document these inputs, outputs and controls helped identify a number of issues that had to be addressed as we evolved the information management program.

These issues ranged from being significant challenges to clear opportunities for information management. For example, we identified a significant challenge of "creating a common language for the business" when we recognized that different divisions were calling the same clients by different names or labels. Product Management called them "account-holders." Risk Management called them "borrowers." And Marketing and Customer Management called them simply "customers."

But out of that also came such clear opportunities as the chance to secure broad agreement that we had to approach everything from a customer perspective to be able to effectively organize the information and present a single, authoritative view of the business. And we had to supplement that view with account and then transactional details.

These were important milestones and decisions, as they, in turn, led us to consider things that the company had never previously addressed. For example, the ability to identify a customer was initially assumed to be straightforward. There was a customer information file (CIF) and each customer had an identifier. So far so good. However, in reality, there were inherent inconsistencies, and clients not only had multiple profiles because of batch interfaces with various applications, but also the CIF application generated an ID based on alpha-numeric information. That meant a "name change," and all profile history was lost.

We had to address all of these issues before we could effectively support the business need to manage customers coherently. And while we previously had recognized some of the issues, we had not addressed them when the organization was managing "households" and aligned from a sales and service and information reporting perspective.

I will save my opinion of householded data for another discussion. Suffice it to say, effective customer management requires an unadulterated and, ideally, comprehensive "customer view." The challenge in getting there is one that requires deliberate planning and thoughtful evaluations of the business from a "people and process and information" perspective. And it never hurts to get help. In this case, we also leveraged the experience of professionals from information planning at Teradata, and their methodologies helped significantly to uncover some of our challenges and opportunities.

Cathy Burrows
RBC Centura Bank
Cathy F. Burrows is director of Enterprise Information and Customer Management Support for RBC Centura Bank (a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada), based in North Carolina. She develops and implements enterprise information strategy to support business process standardization and customer relationship management programs.


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