How Vodafone increased the value of its business intelligence

Chaos and fragmentation greeted Caroline Bellamy when she joined Vodafone UK to breathe new life into the mobile firm's business intelligence operation...

Chaos and fragmentation greeted Caroline Bellamy when she joined Vodafone UK to breathe new life into the mobile firm's business intelligence (BI) operation.

"The mission was to make BI and data analytics part of the Vodafone DNA," Bellamy told an audience at the Teradata Partners conference in San Diego this week. To do that she had to deliver a single version of the truth, and eliminate information silos.

Formerly with data warehousing specialist DunnHumby, Bellamy joined Vodafone UK in June 2008. "It was not a happy place," she says. The company had fallen from market leader to third in the UK market, within the global group it was rated among the worst for BI, she had plenty of unfilled vacancies in her department, and the operation lacked credibility with the business units.

"Speed, simplicity and trust are integral to the Vodafone way," she says. BI had none of it. So she set goals that would move the operation towards those attributes. These included cutting BI resources by 30%, cutting the number of reports generated by 50%, and cutting the BI systems estate by 50%.

"These were the hard numbers," Bellamy says. The soft targets included creating efficiency through having a single version of the truth, creating a centralised shared service that all business units had to use, accepting accountability for the data, and consolidating the BI team from 25 to 80 people.

"There were 200 people doing what I did, but spread throughout the organisation, " she says.

Bellamy attacked on several fronts. First was get control of the master product data set and its governance. Without that, all else failed, she says.

The very well-equipped and expensive Teradata system and other supplier relationships were reviewed to extract double the number of answers for the same money. This was to buy her credibility with her customers, the business units.

But the toughest battle was to consolidate the information, to prise it out of the hands of those who did not trust centrally-produced reports. Many were in her own finance division. "You know what people say - if the data's not right, we will make our own," she says.

She convinced the business units to take a chance on her by not selling them the BI system, but rather the outcomes, expressed in values that were important to them. BI had to bridge the language gap by translating information the businesses valued into terms the technologists could relate to, she says.

Part of her strategy was to recruit staff from within the business units. This cut down the learning curve, made it easier to get the applications right, and promoted the single vision of the data, she says.

Bellamy has made progress. The UK is no longer the worst BI practitioner in the Vodafone group, and in some cases leads the way. Hers is the "one throat to choke" in terms of responsibility for the data, and she has cut the total cost of ownership for the BI system "significantly".

What has she learned? That the support of the CEO and the board is crucial, the BI has to be part of the business rather than an "external service", that common language and the ability to communicate are essential, that "the answer is not 10,000 reports but the right number with the right information at the right time", that partners are a good source of ideas to "steal", and that BI is not a project, but a never-ending process.

How will she know she's won? "People will say we have the best network, that we are simple and easy to do business with, that we are good value and fair, and that we appreciate them and their needs," she says.

As to tips for others, she recommends finding a business unit with a big problem and solving it. "At least you will have one happy customer to defend you in the battles that lie ahead," she says. "And cut costs early. Everyone understands what that means."

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