Panning for gold

Panning for gold

Telecom's IS team rolls out a strategic weapon to get a 'greater share of the wallet' in a competitive marketplace.

Corporate data is no different from iron ore, says Mike Evertzen of Telecom.The latter is just rock in the ground and becomes of value only if extracted. "It is the same thing with data," he says. "It is meaningless if it sits in its raw form."

Processing raw data and making it useful is something Evertzen and his team at Telecom are fully involved with.

As IS delivery manager sales and marketing for one of the largest corporate operations in New Zealand, Evertzen is tasked with managing the development and enhancement of the databases holding the enterprise’s customer data.

"Maintaining a perspective of customers and their telephone habits is a challenge in an organisation as large and complex as a vertically integrated telecommunications company," he explains.

"A heterogeneous mix of business applications and platforms made it difficult for Telecom to understand the entirety of its relationship with any given customer – or their value. The goal was to get a consolidated view of all customer data," he adds.

"The means to do that is using a data warehouse to create a system of record and provide the trusted single source of truth by collecting all relevant data from different sources. Then, by evaluating that data makes the single version of truth possible."

Consider the extent of the company’s operations. Telecom New Zealand is the second largest IT user organisation in the country, based on the latest MIS100 report. Telecom’s network reaches over 260 countries, with around 3.1 million connections in New Zealand. In Australia, it has 700,000 connections through AAPT, the country’s third largest telecommunications company. This year, Telecom purchased systems integrator Gen-i and Computerland.

Because of the company’s evolution and changes in technology platform, customer data from its myriad operations was “traditionally siloed” in many areas of the business. Telecom has embarked on a number of projects to consolidate its core operational data into a single system – the enterprise database (EDB).

It is part of building the foundation for a new application stack that would enable Telecom to move to the next generation IP network. "In order for us to move forward into that new network, we have to start changing a lot of our business systems and our operating systems."

Grunt work

The first stage of these projects to enable what Evertzen calls a "360-degree view of the customer" involved consolidating the customer data into the Oracle customer data hub. The hub consolidates customer data from different sources into a single customer repository, into which transactional applications are integrated. This enables customer data and related transactions to be immediately accessible and actionable throughout all business systems.

"When you start looking at the data it is not necessarily what it represents. The data in the main customer care system has been around for 10 or more years, and some data fields are used for purposes that were never intended," says Evertzen.

"We had to do a lot of work around defining the rules around what data would come across to the enterprise database, because this was going to be the future view of our customers. Therefore, we had to clean and scrub a lot of the data.

"You can’t emphasise enough the need to understand your data, because you go through different stretches, different methodologies and ways in which you work over time so you create a lot of data that may or may not be of use."

"You have to spend a lot of time analysing the data, understanding what you want from it, and then setting up the rules and engines to be able to manage that on your behalf. That effort cannot be underestimated."

The enterprise database (EDB) has data cleaning and integration capabilities, and provides near real-time information on customer data. "The EDB environment provides a complete operational data store infrastructure to support new business applications and enable phased migration from legacy systems," says Evertzen.

"The EDB is able to provide near real-time information to the data warehouse and reduces the lag you get in data warehouses."

Growing user base

Evertzen says there are now approximately 1600 users who have access to the data warehouse – nearly one-third of Telecom’s work force – and this number is expected to increase to 2000 by year-end.

The data warehouse has four terabytes of information made up of customer, product, billing and network data populated by over 20 data feeds coming from both internal and external sources.

Evertzen says the warehouse is a fully integrated Oracle and SAS environment. "We created a very good mix between the two companies and the application solution they provide. They both complement each other and we are very happy about the robustness of their operation."

The groundwork for the enterprise database actually began eight years ago when Telecom worked with Oracle for a data warehouse intended for use by marketing.

Evertzen was first introduced to the data warehouse in 2000, when it only had a limited number of users. "The first thing that came to mind was – how to get a return on investment if we have 85 people using it?" He talked to some of the people in the business units who confirmed their usage of the database was hampered by accessibility issues and realised the tools available were too hard for people to use.

He met with Oracle staff who introduced him to the Portal and Discoverer, a web publishing tool that enables users from different levels to view data easily. Within six to eight months, he says, his team started getting calls from other parts of the business wanting access to the system. "That caused me a bit of a dilemma. Because of the volume of users, we had to do re-architecting and moving to larger boxes to be able to cope with the volume."

He says having access to development teams at Oracle was vital to the project’s success. Evertzen attends a telecommunications advisory board hosted by Oracle in the United States twice a year.

During these meetings, he confers with his peers from other overseas telecommunications firms and development teams from Oracle are observers. "It is an opportunity for us telcos to sit down, and talk about things causing us pain," he says of these sessions.

"The development teams are there listening... and you can see them talking. What you notice is they actually take on board our needs, and you see the software is actually evolving as we change so it is meeting our needs."

Strategic weapon

Today, the data warehouse represents Telecom’s major strategy to remain competitive and get a bigger "share of wallet" from its customer base, he states.

"Our data warehouse really gives us insights into customer behaviour well beyond what we can imagine so we continue to put more data in. We are in this data age, the volumes of data are going to increase by huge proportions and we are going to continue to evaluate that data."

These types of projects, he says, are ongoing. "If you think of warehouses, it is a project that never ends. It goes through alteration after alteration, so as the business changes so does your warehouse."

Telecom is now reaping the benefits of the migration. Evertzen credits the data warehouse’s role with increasing revenue through sales it would not normally be able to make. "It allowed us the ability to set optimum prices. We now get the ability to win back more customers then otherwise would have been the case, and we get improved response rates to our marketing campaigns."

In terms of revenue retention, he says Telecom now has a better way to identify customers "at risk" which is vital for the competitive New Zealand market.

"We need to build churn models so we can understand why customers are churning and employ preventative actions to ensure we don’t lose our customers to the opposition. We also have a greater understanding of how to make customers stay with us."

Cost reduction, he says, is one benefit the finance department wants to hear more about. This was achieved, he says, through efficient targeting of customers, and reduced communication and channel costs and "unnecessary discounting".

Telecom serves as a reference site for Oracle's data warehousing products and Evertzen says he receives a lot of inquiries from companies within New Zealand and overseas.

"They are quite keen to see what we are doing and our deployment of the enterprise database has also stirred up a lot of interest. It would be fair to say some of the things we are doing are bleeding edge."

"We are obviously doing a lot of things right" says Evertzen as he points out Telecom New Zealand received the equivalent of the movie world’s Oscar for the telecommunications industry. It was chosen as the Best Asian Carrier in this year’s Telecom Asia Awards, winning over other carriers like Telstra and SingTel.

One-stop info shop

The long-term plan is to develop the data warehouse portal further as a sort of one-stop information shop, while providing data tailored to the needs of different business units. "We are going to create business specific portals so they can see information they want to see rather than everything."

He says with real-time data coming through the warehouse from the enterprise database, Telecom is in a much better position to move to a next generation IP network and all its related product offerings. "Telecom believes data is probably one of its greatest assets in the organisation and we treat it like gold. We have tightly integrated our data warehouse into our enterprise database. We have seen some immense benefits from having our data warehouse – productivity gains, reduced costs, a much better experience for customers. It has proved to be a well worthwhile exercise."

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