Swisscom, the Swiss telco, expects to halve the cost of its business intelligence operation by standardising six separate datawarehouses in a single Teradata datawarehouse and business analytics system. In process, it is changing the way it competes.
Daniel Neuhaus, the leader of Swisscom's business intelligence (BI) centre, told Computer Weekly that a traditional projected cost exercise had measured the net value of continuing to run the six datawarehouses now and into the future against consolidating them. "The business case was conclusive," he said.
Swisscom's plethora of systems was the result of having three separate companies, each with its own IT department, to service 5.6 million mobile customers, 3.5 million fixed-line customers, 1.8 million broadband customers, and 230,000 IPTV customers, as well clients of its outsourcing and consultancy services.
Things came to a head in 2007 when the three operating firms merged. But Swisscom's position as the dominant telco in Switzerland still made some managers pause over the decision to consolidate the datawarehouses.
"Getting people to give up control of what they see as their data is a huge issue. It definitely helped that the CFO wanted the system because he could not get the information he needed cheaply any other way," said Niehaus.
It also helped that Swisscom was starting to spend big money installing fibre connections to Swiss homes. One of the first projects the new consolidated BI system dealt with was an analysis of which customers would be early adopters and therefore most profitable for Swisscom to serve first. This subsequently guided the network roll-out plan.
Niehaus is still in the first phase of the project, so is reluctant to give financial details. Swisscom aims to have the consolidated BI infrastructure settled by 2011. "Then we will draw a new baseline," he said.
Getting user buy-in
"Ninety per cent of Swisscom doesn't know what we do," he said. To get buy-in from business unit managers Niehaus looked for hard, measurable results that people would trust. Hence he looked for cost savings rather than benefits.
"When you ask the marketing people how many more customers they will get if we do such and such a systems we say 'OK, let's make that your target'. They soon change their tune," he said.
Niehaus also developed a single Powerpoint slide to support a three-minute talk about what he was trying to do and how BI could help them do their jobs.
"This meant I could ask to be included in meetings and be out in three minutes so they could get on with their meeting. This made it easier for them to say yes. Now even the lawyers understand what we do," he said.
Niehaus spent a lot of time talking with business unit managers to understand in detail what information they would find useful. "You can't ask them to wait two years while we clean and standardise all the data, so you have find a find way to give them some quick results and earn their trust," he said.
This has led to some early projects. "We now have some 4Tbytes in user-owned datawarehouses," said Niehaus. "The difference is that we have spent two years cleaning, standardising and consolidating the data, as well as making it secure, especially the customer information. I report to the board every six months to discuss privacy issues."
This "organic" growth of BI systems is precisely what Niehaus was hoping for. The BI division is there to support business managers rather than serve them answers, he said.
Niehaus wants the IT department to make sure that the data comes in on time, is clean and secure before it goes into the datawarehouse, which now holds 10Tbytes of data. After that, the users can do what they like with it.
Niehaus is already adding more data, this time customer information gleaned from contacts with the call centre. "We have found that 50% of contacts with customers add no value to either the customer's experience or the company's," he said.
"For example, a customer phones in because he doesn't understand something on his bill. We can correlate this with the customer, the bill and promotional data to see if we didn't explain something properly, and try to stop it from happening again.
"In the long run, if we can reduce the number of non-value-adding calls, we can reduce the number of staff we need in the call centre."
Clearly, that is a hard, quantifiable and potentially big saving. Niehaus adds it has the happy side-effect of improving the customer's experience.
Telcos, especially those with Swisscom's market share, do not usually behave like this. Customers at Niehaus's former employer, a mobile network operator, seldom call in to complain about shoddy service because it doesn't change things. "That is not the case in Switzerland," he said. "We provide a premium service, and customers are very quick to complain if it is not as good as they think it should be."