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Data quality improvement programmes could be seen as icing on the data management cake. If your growing and profitable business has good enough data, why fuss?
But Informa Markets is one business that found it needed to enhance its data quality efforts as it absorbed a major acquisition.
Informa acquired UBM for £4bn in 2018. Among other things, for the Informa Markets business division this meant its data management architecture – which was complicated before – became even more complex.
Louis Engelbrecht, vice-president of technology strategy and architecture at Informa Markets, explains how it created the division out of what had previously been Informa Exhibitions and the UBM events business.
Mounting exhibitions is, he says, a major part of the division’s business, but as it holds a lot of data about its customers, across many industries, it wants to harvest that data to really engage with its customers, both on the buying side and the supply side of the equation – exhibition attendees and exhibitors.
“We want to do that on a more constant basis, not just around events, and thinking more broadly about people who want to sell something, and people who want to buy something, not just exhibitors and attendees,” says Engelbrecht. “Also, we want to look at other ways we can monetise the data.”
Informa Markets works with thousands of customers across 40 countries. Its own growth and acquisitions in recent years means it has disparate and disconnected information – with different names for metrics, tools and systems across a now combined organisation.
Engelbrecht describes the data challenge it has as deriving from the fact that its knowledge and expertise sits across all of its business units. “It is a very fragmented landscape of knowledge we have, distributed among marketing and sales staff who know their specific industries inside out,” he says. “This means our role is to help the people who have the industry knowledge within the markets to make the best use of our technologies and the information we have about our customers.”
One of those technologies is provided by Collibra, a data quality and governance software supplier.
A complex web of data
Engelbrecht says the background to the eventual choice and use of Collibra was one where Informa had taken a hard look at how it was doing marketing as part of a concerted business growth initiative, some five years ago.
“Our marketers were doing traditional ‘batch and blast’, sending the same communications to as many people as possible, and it was not effective. We weren’t really understanding our customers and how they overlapped. We focused, then, on creating a single view of the customer,” he says.
“To understand our customers, we need to speak the same language, and because of the acquisitions we have made over the past 10 years, all of the information was in a very fragmented landscape.”
As Engelbrecht describes it, the company applied consolidation to its data at that stage, but then Informa acquired UBM, and suddenly the problem got even bigger, because the business had doubled in size.
“To understand our customers, we need to speak the same language, and because of the acquisitions we have made over the past 10 years, all of the information was very fragmented”
Louis Engelbrecht, Informa Markets
UBM had already investigated Collibra as a platform through which to manage reference data, which he describes as anything you might select in a picklist or a drop-down menu in a web form. “It could be a salutation, like Mr or Mrs, or it could be a payment statement in a CRM [customer relationship management] system. And it goes down, for us, to the answers to questions like, ‘What industry are you interested in?’, and so on.”
Informa Markets, as a division, sits within an environment where integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, at a group as well as in individual business division level, complicates the picture still further. “We need to manage holistically through our integration platform, which is MuleSoft, the validation of all our data as it is integrated between platforms. There are a lot of technical dependencies we need to understand to do that,” he says.
In terms of the data architecture, the IT function has a customer data hub, which is built on a Postgres database with Talend on top as a master data management layer, and Collibra as the technology that masters the reference data. It then uses Mulesoft to interface the information that is mastered in Collibra out to all the applications that need to consume it by way of the data hub.
“The main thing is mastering in Collibra, going through the approval workflow, and saying, ‘This is a value that needs to be updated in SAP or Oracle or Salesforce’,” says Engelbrecht.
Collibra, as Informa is using it, is a reference data authoring platform which also functions as a data catalogue for the data quality reports that are generated in Talend.
Agnostic to the ERP systems
UBM’s ERP was an Oracle system, while Informa was an SAP customer. Informa’s strategy there has been to make its ERPs agnostic to Salesforce, as its CRM system, and to the platforms that need to transact with the ERPs.
“Collibra has been important there, alongside Mulesoft, because all the validation is done through the information we store in Collibra, so that, for instance we don’t put an invoice into the ERP that gets rejected. So, we do the validation upfront, in real time, so that we get clean records through to the ERPs,” says Engelbrecht. “It’s an ever-evolving landscape”.
Stepping back from the specifics of the technology sets, he says his team has “used the intelligence we have built up around our fragmented estate, and used it operationally to bring up the quality of what we can do from an integration perspective”.
The in-house team is composed of data architects and engineers, with a “reasonably large” MuleSoft team of around 13 during the Collibra project.
From a more business intelligence, front-end perspective, Informa Markets selected Microsoft Power BI, but is “still building maturity” there.
“The big picture for us is that we are touching every piece of technology that is involved in what has been a big programme of change,” he says.
And, from an events business perspective, the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic means Informa Markets is necessarily planning to the second half of the year and beyond, concludes Engelbrecht.