“One view of the customer” enabled by a data warehouse appliance

General Manager, Distribution Sector (Retail, CPG, Travel & Transportation), IBM Netezza & Big Data Platforms

According to several research firms, 70% of traditional data warehousing/Business Intelligence projects were considered failures. Fundamental to every data warehousing project is a basic and simple concept – “data integration.” Data integration technology became fundamental as data complexity, storage and applications became diverse and disconnected. In the thirst for getting a correlated, integrated and unified view of data, the concept of a “single view” was coined: “one view of your business,” “unified view of sales,” and perhaps most important for consumer-oriented businesses, “one view of your customer.”

Retailers continuously talk about being “customer driven,” the key to being customer driven is to truly be able to gather every aspect of information linked to each consumer in a way that allows the retailer a unified view of each shopper, which can help the retailer analytically suggest and recommend personalized offers.

So what is different about getting this one view of the customer in 2012 versus what we heard back in 2000 when CRM technologies touted the same “one view of the customer” message? The difference today is that the consumer is much more informed than in 2000. Today, customers access information through smartphones, tablets and through social media platforms as they experience and try products in stores. They are looking for the best option in terms of price, convenience and feature-set – the store is as much a demo and trial area as it is a place of commerce, and so facing this well-informed, savvy and analytical consumer becomes a different challenge than what we saw at the turn of this century.

Retail IT environments are dealing with consumers who are involved in bilateral information exchange. Not only are they searching, but they are “recommending,” “liking,” “disliking,” “commenting” and “tweeting” in a constant virtual dialogue with their friends, peer groups and others.

So how does one get this single, unified view? How does the retailer, large or small, take advantage of this interaction and not get over-run by this well-informed and gizmo-savvy generation? Taking advantage of what you know is probably the first step – nothing different here from what people tried to do in the late nineties. However, what is different is that there are systems that are able to analytically access terabytes of transactional information for each consumer, in a way that the older legacy database platforms could not. The data warehouse appliance analyzes enormous volumes of customer purchase history much faster than what was possible in the past. Purpose-built data warehouse platforms focused on analytic performance and simplicity have made this task much easier and practical. Leveraging these analytics, a retailer has access to information that can be game changing!

While some retailers have made this a core focus, it is not clear whether retailers are really taking advantage of the power of this technology. A lot of retailers are still living in the world of disconnected CRM systems and are unable to truly utilize customer information in an actionable manner.

As retailers attempt to gain a unified view of their customer-base, new data sources and applications keep adding to the information that the retailer needs to capture. Scalable platforms, built to automatically scale with the data, are critical – platforms that require little management and administration and that offer the flexibility to add or change the data inputs seamlessly. Getting a unified view of the customer may never be completely achieved as consumers continue to add or enhance to their interaction with the retailer. IT departments may always lag the consumer, but having a platform that easily snaps on a new data source provides the best chance for a retailer to keep up with the shopper. The platform needs to change and adopt new data sets without extensive services engagements. An appliance – that once plugged in automatically scales itself – is what is needed by the omni-channel retailer, and in fact is a core component of achieving “one view of the customer.”

Learn about IBM Netezza data warehouse appliance


Photo by Michael Ocampo