Data virtualisation: the next step to a single customer view?

by | 17 March 2011

It's certainly not as well known as its storage and server cousins, but it could help solve one of IT's biggest challenges

As part of our look into data governance at organisations earlier this year we examined the realities of a single customer view and why it was still just a dream for so many organisations.

All those we spoke to at the time agreed that the proliferation of data was causing one of the biggest challenges, as information was being created from a variety of sources such as social media sites, blogs, emails and phone calls. Companies often end up using information that is incomplete and inaccurate, resulting in poor and slow service for customers.

Pulling all this information together into a coherent single view of the customer is the challenge. "While systems and data continue to proliferate it's like trying to hit a moving target. The common challenge with multiple systems is pulling information from them, deciding what the single customer looks like and then making the right data available, usually in real-time," Colin Rickard, EMEA MD data management services firm DataFlux, told us.

Many CRM firms are pushing the idea of social CRM heavily at the moment, hoping that by pulling information from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on, a company will be a step closer to achieving a single customer view. But, as John Kembel, VP social solutions at RightNow, told us: "It's one thing to find the noise out there about you, it's another thing altogether to find the message."

The key to finding the message is in gathering together all the relevant information on a customer, wherever it is stored. Although not as well known or as widely used as its server and storage cousins, data virtualisation is one method companies are using to help achieve this.

One company pushing the data virtualisation theme is Denodo. The privately-held firm was founded in 1999 and has offices in Palo Alto, California, London and Madrid, Spain.

Data virtualisation pulls together information from a variety of sources, whether they are structured, unstructured or semi-structured (which includes information taken from external websites). This helps to create a federated data access point - a unified resource for all data held on a customer, without the need to move the physical data itself.

The information is pulled together and presented to the end user via a single portal, application, website, dashboard or something similar. This is where the 'virtual' element comes in; the platform creates a virtual database which presents the relevant data to the user, irrespective of where the data resides.

"It's a form of data integration," Gary Baverstock, regional director, UK & Ireland, told CBR. "It's not new in terms of the technology but in the UK in particular we're seeing increasing adoption."

The way the technology works - be leaving the data where it resides - means that rollouts can be cheaper, quicker and more cost-effective, according to Baverstock. The company is seeing lots of interest from call centres, as companies look to improve their single customer view prospects.

"Often you find with CRM at a business that they have many different products and employees have lots of different screens open with all the required information. These companies have the data, it's just not presented in the right way," claims Baverstock.

Mobile giant Vodafone used Denodo to extract data from multiple internal information systems - CRM, billing, support incidents, provisioning, data warehouse - to give their customer service agents a real-time view of its clients through a single access point. Median call time was reduced from six to two minutes as a result, the firm said.

Keep an eye on CBR for an upcoming Q&A and podcast with Denodo's founder and CEO, Angel Viña.

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