Aug 07, 2001
SUMMARY: After finding out what the "best practices" are for an integration project from one of the top consultants, we thought it might be nice to hear about the real world. You know, the day-to-day place actual marketers inhabit. So, we found a real-life Sherpa reader who was willing to reveal what going through a data integration project is really like. (Tip: no vacation for a year.) || |
Tom Kraemer, Director Customer Relationship Marketing for CMP Media Business Technology Group, was happy to share some of the behind-the-scenes details of his group's project, plus his advice for other marketers in similar situations.
The marketers at CMP Media Business Technology Group used to have a fairly simple job -- find great IT postal mail lists, send out direct mail campaigns to get IT pros to subscribe to print magazines, and repeat as necessary. But, by the late 1990s, things were getting complicated.
CMP had more products, such as events, targeting the same marketplace; they were using more marketing tactics such as email; and, the IT marketplace had evolved into a large, but finite one of between 800,000 and 1.2 million professionals. Typical of many large companies, there were multiple databases and marketers involved. Nobody knew exactly how many campaigns each client or prospect had received; or how campaign results were affected by multiple campaigns going out in the same time period; or what each client's lifetime value was. Some names were being over-marketed, and others under-marketed. Simple things, like changing customer addresses across systems, were very difficult.
Beginning the Initiative & Choosing Leadership:
By January 2000, it was clear CMP needed to integrate its customer, marketing and prospect information into one useful database. Kraemer eagerly volunteered to start an internal committee to look into CRM/eCRM solutions.
The team's first critical decision was to make this a marketing-lead project, rather than an IT-lead one. Kraemer describes IT's role as akin to a technical advisor on a movie set, where marketing is the director. "We really positioned it as marketing initiative, but we couldn't have done it without them. Tech and IT people have been invaluable to help us avoid pitfalls."
Therefore, the committee carefully kept CMP's CIO informed throughout the entire process, and invited internal tech people to sit in on key vendor meetings, "to ask them probing tech questions and give us tech input."
By mid-2000 it became clear that CMP needed a full time executive leading and managing the project. Kraemer says, "It really needs someone dedicated to it who understands the company's direct marketing initiatives. Look for a person who you really can't afford to take out of the position they're in. They must know what's going on. It's a very challenging staffing problem." Kraemer who'd always found databases "intriguing" eagerly volunteered to take the position. He says, "Management said, 'We were hoping you'd say that!'"
Kraemer notes that whomever you choose for this job had better be ready to forgo vacation for a while. He hasn't had one in almost a year.
1. Vendor Evaluation Process:
IT set the ground rule for technology selection. Kraemer says, "IT folks said 'Base it on Oracle because it's one of our corporate standards,' even though everything was outsourced."
The committee started their selection process by contacting about a dozen vendors listed in an article in Information Week magazine (coincidentally published by CMP.) At least two committee members sat in every initial vendor meeting, so they could compare notes.
Although they met with vendors who had ready-made solutions as well as those who would "build it from scratch," the committee rapidly decided they wanted a pre-built system. Kraemer says, "We didn't want to be guinea pigs. We wanted products that had been on the market and were completely integrated solutions that had been tested by other people. Why would you have someone design an operating system for you when you could buy Windows 2000? Plus you get the benefit of all of their clients' experience."
With input from CMP's CFO and CIO, the committee also decided to go with a completely outsourced system that would be housed and managed on outside servers. Kraemer explains, "That decision made a project that could have had an infinite timeline and accomplished it in a reasonable amount of time. If we'd had to get capital expenditure approval for equipment, software and the people to run it, it would have taken much longer." So, they looked for a systems integrator, with experienced staff, who could manage and house the new system for CMP.
Ultimately the committee settled on E.piphany for their software and Wheelhouse for their systems integration and data hosting provider.
2. Data Discovery Process:
After choosing vendors, the next eight months were devoted to the data discovery process to detail all the types of data the various CMP databases were currently collecting; and to decide what data would end up in the final solution. Kraemer says, "It's amazing. You find so many differences in procedure as you start going through stuff. Everyone has their own way of doing promotions, asking opt-in questions, etc."
Assisted by Wheelhouse consultants, Kraemer initially spent about two weeks interviewing all of the marketing staff. He says, "Each one gave us a slightly different perspective. It was very useful."
3. Pilot Test Run:
By January 2001, the initial system was set up and ready for a test. Some companies go directly into a company-wide deployment, but CMP decided to invest in an initial, limited test. Kraemer explains, "We wanted to be absolutely sure on a small scale that this would do everything it was advertised to do. We have a very complex structure and a lot of source data."
Kraemer selected the Information Week family of products for this test because the product range, including magazines, newsletters, events and email, was similar to other groups.
By the end of January, Kraemer was very glad they'd insisted on a pilot test. He says, "It gave us some major changes that we made to the data architecture that were definitely worth it. It was tremendously helpful."
3. Initial Full Integration:
The team spent the next 60 days making those changes, as well as coordinating with the rest of CMP's outside data providers that hadn't been involved in the pilot. Kraemer says, "We talked to fulfillment houses, event registration companies, our email service FloNetworks, and Netcreations about how we would set up transmittals on a regular basis, what the formats would look like, and the protocols for the automated handling of the files." The goal was for all data to be "untouched by human hands, unless there's a glitch. If they say 'We sent 5,000 names' and we get 4,999 then a flag goes up."
Wheelhouse set the start date to receive files from CMP's seven key outside vendors for March first 2001.
Both systems -- all of the old CMP databases and the new integrated system -- were run side-by-side from mid-2001 on. Kraemer explains, "It's very much like switching from one fulfillment house to another. We do reconciliations and compare base line data." So far the counts look good, and Kraemer anticipates going live with the new system by fall 2001.
4. Implementation Training:
Next Kraemer's team developed a training program for all staff who would be affected by the new system. This program begins this month. Kraemer says, "They're all very psyched."
Each individual spends one day in a generic orientation class. Then over the following two weeks, each staffer will go through four full days of training at the company's tech training center, using their own login and focusing on their own job. Kraemer says, "They'll be learning in an environment exactly like what they'll see on their own desktops. Each exercise during those four days will become the templates for going forward. So, they're not just taking notes. They'll have the actual templates for campaigns and list generation as the building blocks for the future."
5. Next Steps:
Kraemer expects to spend the rest of 2001 focusing on managing the internal challenge -- making sure the marketers, systems integrators and various data feeds are all working well together.
He's already excited about 2002 when he plans to expand the data integration project to help CMP's customers as much as it already helps marketers. He says, "Next year my focus will be much more on customers themselves -- how to consolidate permission, make address changes easier, things like that."
He's also eager to start examining the patterns in marketing vs. results that the new system will reveal. He says, "We'll be able to see all of the promotions done to any individual at any time frame. For example our Director of New Media saw we had 20 people opt-out this week and wondered, 'What else did we do in the last 30 days? Can we detect any pattern about how often we should promote by email?'"
We'll check back in with Kraemer next year to bring you more of his insights on the integration process. In the meantime, good luck with your own integration project!