Maryellen Abreu, director of global technical support at vacuum maker iRobot, agrees. "Certainly you don't have to reinvent a whole infrastructure, but rather take relevant data you want to analyze," she says. In the case of customer data, individuals' privacy is also a serious concern, she adds. IRobot's recently completed voice of the customer platform provides a wealth of information about each vacuum cleaner unit, but not the customer's name, email address or any other personal information.
Fitting the pieces together
BI vendors have been fielding self-service BI tools that enable end users to create their own reports and views of data, once it's collected from various information silos. However, they've been slower to work with unstructured data, particularly social media data, which typically needs to be structured and scored for sentiment before it is useful, says Forrester's Kisker.
This leaves IT staffs with the job of cobbling together various vendors' tools and platforms. Take General Mills' VOC platform, for example.
Social media data-service provider Collective Intellect pulls relevant customer feedback data from some 13.5 million Web sites and sends it to Clarabridge's Enterprise text analytics service, which adds structure such as sentiment scoring and brand categorization, and delivers it to General Mills' BusinessObjects-based "reporting universe for social media," says Hagen. Clarabridge also processes unstructured consumer verbatims collected by General Mills' contact centers.
Hagen's team is now working with BusinessObjects to fill in some of the gaps in the VOC platform, particularly when it comes to integration. For example, end users can view customer feedback from social media and contact centers side by side on different BusinessObjects dashboards, but "the two can't be combined at detailed levels," he notes. This is mainly because of the nature of social media: Contact center people can draw out specific information from the customer through questions," but the same process cannot happen with a Twitter or blog post, "so the data can't be as well defined or parsed."
The group is also wrestling with how to consolidate and share information across groups. "BusinessObjects has very robust reporting capabilities, but if you want to create a report about, say, six verbatim conversations that illustrate a particular point, you pretty much have to cut and paste into PowerPoint."
Consumer Services will shortly deploy a BusinessObjects upgrade that allows end users to pull data and generate quick reports on a variety of devices, including smartphones and tablets, Hagen notes. They'll also be able to email the results in a form that a colleague can not only view but manipulate.
Meanwhile, the technical team is "whittling down the range of data" so categorizing and merging it is easier to do, says Bell. For example, "we pull only a small subset of product data out of the SAP system" to refresh the Consumer Services database on a monthly basis. "We don't need to know about raw materials involved in plants, just packaged products for consumer use."
"Voice of the customer means putting information in the ears of people that want to hear it," says Hagen. "But everybody wants to hear something different, so you need a lot of different tools and reporting mechanisms to make it happen."
Help in the cloud
Like General Mills, companies of all sizes have been turning to SaaS and cloud providers to integrate information silos, particularly on the social media front.