Business Side Guide: See Your Customers in a Global Light

April 22, 2009
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It used to be that only the very large enterprises had to think and act globally. Not today. Consider that even a Mom and Pop operation with a store front on Ebay can be sourcing from China, have their e-store hosted in India, and they are selling and shipping to customers all over the world.

The current pressure to see accounts and customer experience as a whole is creating technical, logistical, and operational strain on business applications and reporting. Where companies have typically standardized their financial and product data in their local language, marketing and sales data take on a local flavor. How do you reconcile a 360º view of the customer when information is not standardized?

PTC, Inc. faced this challenge as it expanded its product life cycle management solution business into Asia, and specifically China. Sales, Marketing, and Order Management all ran localized systems and database to manage accounts and transactions. At headquarters in North America, Finance and Maintenance managed information solely in English. When it came time to understand how resources were allocated to accounts or the effectiveness of activities at these accounts, it was impossible.


It used to be that only the very large enterprises had to think and act globally. Not today. Consider that even a Mom and Pop operation with a store front on Ebay can be sourcing from China, have their e-store hosted in India, and they are selling and shipping to customers all over the world.

The current pressure to see accounts and customer experience as a whole is creating technical, logistical, and operational strain on business applications and reporting. Where companies have typically standardized their financial and product data in their local language, marketing and sales data take on a local flavor. How do you reconcile a 360º view of the customer when information is not standardized?

PTC, Inc. faced this challenge as it expanded its product life cycle management solution business into Asia, and specifically China. Sales, Marketing, and Order Management all ran localized systems and database to manage accounts and transactions. At headquarters in North America, Finance and Maintenance managed information solely in English. When it came time to understand how resources were allocated to accounts or the effectiveness of activities at these accounts, it was impossible. A simple question of, “How many customers do we have?” could be answered differently depending on what department you talked to. And they would all be right.

To tackle this issue, we took a look at how data came in, was managed, and then utilized within local offices as well as at headquarters.

Assessing Global Data Requirements
● Who provides the information?
● Who collects the information?
● Who uses the information?

Who provides the information?
Companies in the past have established a standard of maintaining information in their own language, ie. North American maintains information in English. However, what happens if you customer is in Japan and is not fluent in English? Sales and Marketing, to build a relationship with the customer will communicate in Japanese.

As a first step in assessing global data requirements, companies need to consider why information is provided in a local language. PTC found that there were internal and external reason that required native language capture. Customers were not fluent in English. Sales people were not fluent in English. Systems had been built in branch locations without thought of using the corporate standard language.

Who collects the information?
Collection of information is facilitated across multiple systems and departments. While one employee, partner, or customer may input data, this information may be dispersed across multiple systems. Even if marketing collects information on a customer through a product demo request, this information may feed into the sales system to establish a new prospect account and even into a tech support system for install or use support.

Identifying the paths that information takes across the organization is critical. If processes and systems are disparate, a lack of standardized information can prevent use of information. What PTC found, was that the CRM and Finance systems both collected local language information, but the way that each system housed this information was different, causing an inability to pass along useful and critical information. Many times, information was duplicated to accommodate a new process and system.

Who uses the information?
Different for providing data and collecting, users may be completely disconnected from these processes. In many cases, it doesn’t even matter what the input and collection processes are, the critical point is what the information tell the business.

PTC was particularly challenged at this point as how information was input and collected dictated how information could and could not be used. In order to provide standard performance reports, analysts had to be well versed on input and collection processes not only to consolidate information, but to report on it properly. Marketing and sales were particularly challenged in creating alignment and passing leads as disparate languages inhibited the ability to assess effectiveness and account performance. A simple report showing the amount of interest and leads driven by marketing failed to provide an account view because customer account information was in English and did not coincide with data that was provided in local language. Sales may get a report for ACME Inc. but was lacking 75% of the activity because marketing had the account information in Chinese. Analysts could not reconcile this disconnect without manual work around and external analysis from the business intelligence systems. See “Business Side Guide: Why Does Business Intelligence Fail?”

Building Your Global Intelligence
Probably one of the single most difficult discussions and projects will be the management of global data. As you begin to involve IT in the process, it is important to provide concise business requirements that are backed up by answers you get from: who provides? who collects? who uses?

Checklist:
Building Business Requirements:
1. Document as-is data collection and usage process
2. Call out where and what languages are used within collection and usage process
3. Call out pain points within the as-is process
4. Develop a to-be process
5. Call out where and how languages will be incorporated

Translation:
Once you have an understanding of your requirements and how multiple languages will be supported in your system, it is time to get to work on translation. There are a number of sources for account and postal translation.
1. Not all geos will have complete and consistent postal and corporate information
2. Build in quality benchmarks into proposals with vendors
3. Build in a verification process with local offices to validate purchased translation of data

Data Quality
1. Cleanse records
2. Standardize records
3. Unify

Unification is a process that you should work on closely with IT. Ensure your business requirements specifically state the relationship between information in various systems and how a unique record will be determined. One area that may be overlooked or de-emphasized is record hierarchy. In your ability to understand and utilize information, establishing ancillary relationships between records may be as critical as establishing uniqueness. For example, the issue of understanding how many customers PTC had was inherent in the fact that ACME, Inc. may have multiple unique locations, but you could not relate those locations into a single corporate entity.

Implementing Your Global System
There are a variety of methodologies for a global data management system that IT can implement for your business. The implementation will depend on the current IT infrastructure, forward strategy, and business requirements, not to mention investment available.

Regardless of the technology, the business is responsible for ensuring that requirements are appropriately provided and prioritized. It is also important that the business stays involved, providing input at various stages of design and testing to ensure roll-out success.

A Word on Data Governance
If your company does not currently have a data governance board, you should establish one now. Growth, further integration with customers and partners, and changes in business needs and processes will create greater need for managing information and flexibility.

This board is responsible for addressing issues as they arise in the utilization of information as well as managing the controls processes for data. IT should be included, but the business is responsible for enforcing data governance and driving improvements in the system.

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