Fix data clutter, urges Meta

The use of customer data integration tools just may be the cure for return on investment-challenged enterprise software deployments, according to one industry observer.

Elizabeth Roche, enterprise applications strategies vice-president for Stamford, Conn.-based researchers Meta Group Inc., said the migration to managing customer information assets using such a strategy has begun. Customer data integration (CDI) technology responds to the traditionally poor job companies have done of managing the mountain of customer data that they gather. CDI consolidates and manages customer data from a variety of enterprise sources, including contact information, data on customer habits and information collected via direct marketing, Roche explained last month during a “CDI without Mistakes” customer seminar in Toronto.

Experts note that too often customer relationship management (CRM) software bought by enterprises ends up as “shelfware” – software that’s been bought but never implemented. A recent study by Stamford, Conn., research firm Gartner Inc. noted that in 2002, 42 per cent of CRM software licences purchased went unused. Gartner calculates the value at approximately US$1 billion to US$1.27 billion.

Not only is the CDI market growing, but both small and large vendors are moving into this space.

A wealth of customer data is important, but isn’t good enough on its own, particularly in a heterogeneous IT environment, Roche said. A strong business case and processes need to be employed as well. The dot-com boom meant enterprises often adopted a “buy now, worry about deployment later” strategy.

“Stop buying…a strategic pause is often needed,” Roche noted, adding that organizations currently mired in an improper CRM deployment should “retrofit” a business case to achieve ROI.

According to Justin LaFayette, chairman and founder of Toronto-based enterprise software provider DWL Inc., the fact that the larger vendors are entering the space confirms CDI’s usefulness to the enterprise. LaFayette said early adopters of CDI technology include the financial services and telecommunications sectors, which are using the technology to improve their CRM, data warehousing and enterprise resource management products.

Peter Chan, a senior technical consultant (telecom sector) at Toronto-based IT services firm CGI Group Inc., noted that the biggest challenges, in an era of consolidations and mergers, include dealing with disparate and duplicated data inventories.

A lot of this information tends to overlap, Chan said, adding that CDI helps to match this data effectively.

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