Co-Operators, BMO, bank on Big Blue software

At IBM’s Information on Demand Conference this week, a couple of Canadian customers presented their stories of dealing with data governance and integration, an issue faced by customers south of the border, too.

Vivien Fong, senior vice-president and CIO of Guelph, Ontario-based insurance company The Co-operators Group Ltd., spoke at the keynote address about the organization’s push several years ago to become a customer-centric operation. The company engaged IBM consultants to help craft a strategy. “But the challenge was that we didn’t have good customer data. We had many different applications built over time, so the information was siloed, with duplicated records,” she said.

Fong had the goal of building a consolidated network of client data, with one record per customer. “To get quality data, you need de-duplicating and cleansing—it’s not a one-time job; it has to be ongoing,” she said.

Fong went with WebSphere Customer Data Centre (which is forming the basis of the newly announced IBM MDM Server), for the cleansing and de-duplicating capabilities, along with the analytics. Now, Fong said, “We have a 360-degree view of our customer holdings.”

This type of integration is something that Tom Phipps is in the market for. A staff architect for Qwest Communications, he, too, is struggling with nailing down a single customer information file per client. Due to the company’s recent financial troubles, he said, there are limited funds with which to launch a large-scale customer data integration (CDI) project. But, he said, IBM’s newly announced MDM Server product, with its CDI capabilities, might be a good fit for the issue. “That would be key. We have to get to where we’re not so hooked on a telephone number and change to another qualifier,” said Phipps.

Getting a handle on clean, consistent data was what Wayne Harrison, an information manager with BMO Financial Group’s Technology and Operations group, wanted. BMO joined IBM’s Data Governance Council, and then used that experience to hash out a plan to institute a data governance plan, said Harrison during an Information on Demand session.

Brett Gow, lead for IBM’s data governance centre of excellence, laid out the model followed by BMO during the session. Four to eight weeks should be spent on a health check of the organization that entails determining how data works within the different areas and levels of the business. Two to six months should be spent on the “vision and commitment” phase. “This part can be highly contentious,” said Gow. “People are very protective of their data.”

Another six to 24 months encompasses the planning, aligning, and mobilization stage. The last stage is the “enhance and evolve” stage, which, he said, is where BMO is now.

To get to this stage, said Harrison, they’ve instituted several different practices. They have a schedule for the retention of data, as, said Harrison, “If you get rid of the data too early, that’s bad, but if you keep it too long, that’s bad, too. You get hammered either way.”

Policies have also been implemented to ensure that employees adhere to the data governance rules (they are built into the job acceptance letter and yearly signed updates), and information stewards help manage the program. “Policies put teeth in what people think is just a good idea,” Harrison said. This helps to create awareness of the issues, and a culture of data governance savvy (e-mail monitoring and on-the-job training is also used).

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