matchIT SQL – finalist at the DBM Awards 2016

We were thrilled to be selected as finalists for this prestigious industry award, and to join our peers, which included some of the industry’s finest at the 2016 DBM awards. The event was hosted in an impressive and historic location in London, The Brewery.

Whilst helpIT systems offers a range of deployments for its class leading matchIT Data Quality Solutions, it was our deployment integrated into SQL Server, matchIT SQL, that was recognised as standing out from the crowd, in the fiercely competitive “Innovation in database marketing-related software” category.

matchIT SQL’s shortlisting was in part due to our innovative and seamless integration with Microsoft SQL Server, and it’s unique ability to bring together a comprehensive array of contact data quality functions, all available and accessed natively within Microsoft SQL Server. Whether it be highly accurate and intelligent data matching, UK or international address validation, suppression screening and integrated email validation, through to its Power BI reporting or blend of local or Microsoft Azure and/or web service deployment, matchIT SQL is obviously hitting the mark.

Perhaps it is because marketing agencies and data professionals alike have realised how matchIT SQL helps them build and maintain highly accurate single customer views and comply with the new GDPR. Or that it enables the seamless preparation of targeted and accurate marketing and campaign data, as well as intelligently manage and monitor data workflows and data feeds coming into a business.

Whatever it was that resulted in matchIT SQL being shortlisted, we are very proud of our team here at helpIT systems who are behind this innovative technology, and who have been providing such class leading software in the Contact Data Quality space for over 25 years.

On the night, the award went to Purple Agency, who were behind a bespoke solution created for the Financial Times, which involved a system to capture and hold every nugget of customer data to help achieve complex goals. While matchIT SQL may not have been chosen as the winner on this occasion, we’re very proud of the selection as finalists and the recognition that helpIT systems is still punching well above its weight and is a pioneer in developing innovative Database Marketing related solutions.

Thank you to the team at the DBM Awards, and in particular to our fantastic hosts Stuart Cal, Anthony Begley and the team, who made the evening the great success it was.

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Data cleansing – inside the database or on your desktop?

save-time-reduce-errors-increase-securityWe’ve been gathering feedback from some of our service provider clients recently about the impact on them of change: there’s a lot of things that they mentioned to us: organisational change and new demands due to new customers come up as often as they always have done, but what about enforced change from outside the organisation?

Two aspects that clients frequently mentioned are the new EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and the competitive need to keep up with advances in technology.  That’s why we were particularly pleased to get some great feedback from one of our clients who recently switched from a desktop data cleansing/mailing package to matchIT SQL.  They wanted to switch to matchIT SQL because they already use Microsoft SQL Server for all storage and manipulation of their customer data, and saw a lot of potential for increased automation with matchIT SQL – leveraging their familiarity with SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) and Stored Procedures to achieve this.  However, the benefits they gained were far more fundamental and far-reaching than they envisaged…

Reducing the potential for errors

Having to export data from one system and import it into another (perhaps multiple times) introduces opportunity for mistakes: keeping record layouts in line, splitting and combining files etc.  By processing data in one system instead of several, the potential for these kinds of mistakes is eliminated and the corresponding time taken for Q/A (and sometimes repetition of steps) is greatly reduced.  Automating regular jobs also had a major impact on reducing errors and reruns.

Reducing data processing time

By fully utilising the power of their hardware, automatically spreading processing over all the machine cores available, they increased throughput dramatically.  Automation also allowed them to introduce more performance tuning – set up once and then repeated easily as often as required, without any additional user effort.  All told, our client is now able to turn round large jobs involving millions of records 4 times faster than they were able to with the old desktop system.  As they are finding that the data they get from their customers tends to be less consistent and more fragmented these days, this saving on turnaround time allows them to stick to deadlines which used to be in great danger of slipping.

Protecting data by processing it within a secure database

The increasing concern these days around data security, and the increased burden of the EU GDPR regulations regarding data accuracy and the right of consumers to get a copy of their data, can cause many a sleepless night.  Two of the big benefits of processing all data within SQL Server are the access control that it provides and the auditability.  When you are exporting data from one system to another, perhaps via a flat file, it is very difficult to enforce such strict security while the data is in flight – and any security system is only as good as its weakest link.

Extensibility

Using Microsoft SQL Server together with all the off the shelf tools available means future enhancements can be made much more easily. Additionally as hardware performance and technology improves further in the future, SQL Server as a platform will keep up with those advances.

Bottom line

Working with a single solution inside a secure, high performance database system can have a huge impact on your business.  Whether it’s SQL Server or another database system that you use, you owe it to yourself to find out what the options are for switching to a data cleansing solution that lives inside your database.  Your IT staff will be happy to work with new server-based technology, they will get less out-of-hours calls, it will be easier for you to hire new staff with relevant skills – and you too will sleep more soundly!

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The doctor won’t see you now – NHS data needs a health check!

On BBC Radio 4 the other day, I heard that people who have not been to see their local GP in the last 5 years could face being ‘struck-off’ from the register and denied access until they re-register – the story is also covered in most of the national press, including The Guardian. It’s an effort to save money on NHS England’s £9bn annual expenditure on GP practices, but is it the most cost-effective and patient-friendly approach for updating NHS records?

nhs-logoUnder the contract, an NHS supplier (Capita) will write every year to all patients who have not been in to see their local doctor or practice nurse in the last five years. This is aimed at removing those who have moved away or died – every name on the register costs the NHS on average around £136 (as at 2013/14) in payments to the GP. After Capita receives the list of names from the GP practice, they’ll send out two letters, the first within ten working days and the next within six months. If they get no reply, the person will be removed from the list. Of course, as well as those who have moved away or died, this will end up removing healthy people who have not seen the GP and don’t respond to either letter. An investigation in 2013 by Pulse, the magazine for GP’s, revealed that “over half of patients removed from practice lists in trials in some areas have been forced to re-register with their practice, with GP’s often blamed for the administrative error. PCTs (Primary Care Trusts) are scrambling to hit the Government’s target of removing 2.5 million patients from practice lists, often targeting the most vulnerable patients, including those with learning disabilities, the very elderly and children.” According to Pulse, the average proportion that were forced to re-register was 9.8%.

This problem of so-called ‘ghost patients’ falsely inflating GP patient lists, and therefore practice incomes, has been an issue for NHS primary care management since at least the 1990′s, and probably long before that. What has almost certainly increased over the last twenty years is the number of temporary residents (e.g. from the rest of the EU) who are very difficult to track.

A spokesperson for the BMA on the radio was quite eloquent on why the NHS scheme was badly flawed, but had no effective answer when the interviewer asked what alternatives there were – that’s what I want to examine here, an analytical approach to a typical Data Quality challenge.

First, what do we know about the current systems? There is a single UK NHS number database, against which all GP practice database registers are automatically reconciled on a regular basis, so that transfers when people move and register with a new GP are well handled. Registered deaths, people imprisoned and those enlisting in the armed forces are also regularly reconciled. Extensive efforts are made to manage common issues such as naming conventions in different cultures, misspelling, etc. but it’s not clear how effective these are.

But if the GP databases are reconciled against the national NHS number database regularly, how is it that according to the Daily Mail “latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show there are 57.6 million patients registered with a GP in England compared to a population of 55.1 million”? There will be a small proportion of this excess due to inadequacies in matching algorithms or incorrect data being provided, but given that registering a death and registering at a new GP both require provision of the NHS number, any inadequacies here aren’t likely to cause many of the excess registrations. It seems likely that the two major causes are:

  • People who have moved out of the area and not yet registered with a new practice.
  • As mentioned above, temporary residents with NHS numbers that have left the country.

To Data Quality professionals, the obvious solution for the first cause is to use specialist list cleansing software and services to identify people who are known to have moved, using readily available data from Royal Mail, Equifax and other companies. This is how many commercial organisations keep their databases up to date and it is far more targeted than writing to every “ghost patient” at their registered address and relying on them to reply. New addresses can be provided for a large proportion of movers so their letters can be addressed accordingly – if they have moved within the local area, their address should be updated rather than the patient be removed. Using the same methods, Capita can also screen for deaths against third party deceased lists, which will probably pick up more deceased names than the NHS system – simple trials will establish what proportion of patients are tracked to a new address, have moved without the new address being known, or have died.

Next, Capita could target the other category, the potential temporary residents from abroad, by writing to adults whose NHS number was issued in the last (say) 10 years.

The remainder of the list can be further segmented, using the targeted approach that the NHS already uses for screening or immunisation requests: for example, elderly people may have gone to live with other family members or moved into a care home, and young people may be registered at university or be sharing accommodation with friends – letters and other communications can be tailored accordingly to solicit the best response.

What remains after sending targeted letters in each category above probably represents people in a demographic that should still be registered with the practice. Further trials would establish the best approach (in terms of cost and accuracy) for this group: maybe it is cost-effective to write to them and remove non-responders, but if this resulted in only removing a small number, some of these wrongly, maybe it is not worth mailing them.

The bottom line is that well-established Data Quality practices of automatic suppression and change of address, allied with smart targeting, can reduce the costs of the exercise and will make sure that the NHS doesn’t penalise healthy people simply for… being healthy!

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Driving Business with a Real-Time Single Customer View

customer data unified in one place

Since we blogged about the challenges we overcame to deliver a Single Customer View for a major retailer a few years ago, we’ve found a lot of the same challenges repeated across other industry sectors such as non-profit, financial services and education, as well as marketing services providers managing marketing databases for companies in many different sectors. So if that’s more of the same, what’s different? In a word, time. It’s no longer good enough to have a Single Customer View that is only up to date every night, it should be up to date as quickly as your customer switches from one device to another – that is, in real time.

What are the benefits of a real time Single Customer View?

 

Let’s stick with the multi-channel retail example both for continuity and because increasingly any product can be viewed through the eyes of a shopper, whether it is a scarf, a phone, a take-out meal, an insurance policy or a credit card account. It is widely recognized that the key to success in retail is a positive customer experience, so let’s look at some research findings:

To illustrate, if a customer orders online using their home computer for collection in store, and then after leaving home they want to change the order (using the browser on their phone or by calling the central customer service line), they expect the vendor to have the latest information about the order immediately available – otherwise, the potential for customer disenchantment is spelt out in the JDA research quoted above. If the info is all up to date, the new visit/call from the customer is an opportunity for the vendor to pitch an additional purchase, based on a 360° view of the customer’s account.

So how can you deliver a real time Single Customer View?

 

To answer this question, we first need to review where the moving data that we discussed before is coming from: keeping with the multi-channel retail example, it’s from Point-of-Sale systems in store, customers entering orders on the web site and call center operatives entering and looking up orders. These may be feeding into multiple corporate databases (ERP, Accounts, different subsidiary businesses etc.)  The challenge is: how do we perform the standardization, verification and matching that is required, classify misleading data etc. all on the fly, given that there can be as many as a dozen different data flows to handle? And how do we do all this quickly enough to ensure that the operator always has a current and complete view of the customer?

The key to meeting the challenge posed by the need for a real time Single Customer View is to accept that traditional disk-based database technology is too slow – we can’t afford the time to write a dozen or more transactions to disk, standardize and link all these by writing more records to disk and then read it all back from various disks to give the information to the operator – we can’t expect them to have a coffee break between every transaction!

To us the answer was obvious – all the data needs to be kept in computer memory, updated in memory and read back from memory, so getting away from the limitations placed by conventional hard disks and even solid state disks. But, you may say, that’s fine for small volumes of data but what if we’re streaming thousands of transactions a minute into databases with tens (or even hundreds) of millions of customers? The good news is that computer memory is so cheap these days that it’s extremely cost-effective to provision enough memory to handle even a billion customer accounts, with failover to a mirror of the data in the event of a problem.

Now it’s all very well to say “just use a lot of memory”, but can you find software that will run on all the different varieties of hardware, server technology and database systems that make up the corporate data sets? And will this software allow for the different kinds of error and discrepancy that arise when people enter name, company name, mailing address, email and multiple phone numbers? Even more challenging, will it allow for misleading data such as in store purchases being entered using a store address as the customer address, or a customer giving their partner’s phone number along with their own name and email address?

Once you’ve successfully managed to process the data real-time, you can begin to organize, understand and make use of it in real-time. To use the retail example one final time, now you can take the call from the customer on their way to collect their order and (by finding the order linked to their mobile number) enable them easily to add an item they’ve forgotten plus another item prompted by their purchase history. If the branch near home doesn’t have all the items in stock, you can direct them to the branch which does have the stock near their office – based on an up to date work address linked to the customer. With a real time, 360° Single Customer View, it’s easy!

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2016 New Year’s Resolutions – The Stats

New Years ResolutionsThe New Year has arrived, and with January 1st comes the obligatory New Year’s Resolutions.  Almost 50 percent of adults consistently make these resolutions, according to Statistics Brain Research Institute.  Which is surprising considering that statistically we are more likely to fail than succeed.  Yet human perseverance prevails each year as people vow to change their lives in every way from getting into shape to falling in love.

Because we love data, we were especially interested in these numbers, as well as those found in the new study released by the University of Scranton stating that only 1 in 8 people achieve their New Year’s Resolutions.  It sounds much worse than it is.  Consider some other odds:

  • Odds of being audited by the IRS:  1 in 175
  • Odds of finding a pearl in an oyster:  1 in 12,000
  • Odds of dating a supermodel:  1 in 88,000
  • Odds of becoming a billionaire:  1 in 7,000,000
  • Odds of winning $1000 in the McDonald’s Monopoly game:  1 in 36,950,005 (that’s a lot of Big Macs!)

So all odds considered, keeping your New Year’s Resolutions seems very doable.  At least we think so.  And the study goes on to say that people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to change their lives than those who don’t.  Which means that succeed or fail, trying is half the battle.

To help you kick off the New Year, helpIT systems made a few resolutions of our own to inspire our colleagues and ourselves.  We want to prioritize database quality management in 2016 for a more profitable and productive New Year.  Statistically, 1 in 8 of you will take our challenge.  Will you be that one?

New Year’s Resolution #1:  Getting Organized

Getting Organized is the second most popular New Year’s Resolution, right after shaping back up to pre-holiday jeans size.  The average office employee spends 1.5 hours per day (6 hours a week) looking for things!  According to the authors of Book of Odds, From Lightning Strikes to Love at First Sight, men at home are constantly looking for clean socks, remote control, wedding album, car keys (guilty!), and driver’s license.  Women are always on the hunt for their favorite shoes, a child’s toy, wallet, lipstick, and the remote control.

Let contact data records be the one thing you are not looking for this year.  If we spend that many hours looking for the remote control, imagine how many hours of productivity are lost each year by employees sifting through CRMs for contact data.  “Dirty data” not only sucks hours of productivity out of your day, it will also affect the success of marketing efforts, the sales process, and the bottom line.

Getting organized in your contact database is the first step for a #CleanData2016.  Since we know database management can be a daunting task, like so many New Year’s Resolutions are, we at helpIT systems have 25 years experience and are here to help.

This month helpIT systems is offering a FREE analysis of your company’s contact database by one of our data quality experts.  The analysis will review the effectiveness of current data quality initiatives, pinpoint weaknesses, and run a free data deduplication and matching test on your own data.

Don’t miss out on your chance to kick the New Year off right, click here to claim your free analysis.

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Data, Hoverboards and Ashley Madison. 2015 Review

back-to-the-future-day1Imagine if Marty McFly had gone back to 1985 telling the world what he saw in the real 2015, they would have locked him up in a loony bin. That people of today walk around with electronic devices smarter than anything or everything in the world had back then, in their pockets. And these devices can do almost everything, from hailing a cab, buying 3D printed ornaments from Venezuela, check Chinese stock markets or watch television.

The irony is that people of today call these devices “phones”, which is one of the less popular functions of them. Yet the possibilities of phones grow every day, largely due to all the data they collect. Data being generated and recorded of every person, making their lives easier, less congested and more connected. While we churn this data and create it by the petabyte everyday, we’re realizing that making sense of it is the new challenge – and securely maintaining and storing accurate data is essential.

At helpIT we’ll have been working with data for 25 years as of 2016, which makes us some of the few young adults in a world of newborn data companies. But before we turn 25, we thought it might be good to take a look back at 2015, our 24th year and reflect on how data has become rather newsworthy.

Headlines that worried us…

The most shocking of data scandals in 2015 was the breach of security at AshleyMadison.com, an online marketplace for married folk with a wandering eye.  The world watched in fascinated horror as the site’s 37 million members scrambled to save their marriages, careers, and reputations.  No one was exempt:  the compromised membership list even included members of the United Nations and the Vatican.  More worrisome to companies watching this event unfold was the suspicion that the leak came from a disgruntled employee.  Which is a good reminder to all of us that while protecting your database from outside threats is a priority, never overestimate the loyalties of those on the inside as well.

While the original cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment occurred in 2014, the aftershocks were still arriving in the new year.  Especially when Wikileaks made the decision to create a searchable data dump on more than 30,000 private documents from the breach.  Citing public interest, Wikileaks claimed that Sony’s influence on Washington made the inner workings of their company relevant to the general public.  Companies everywhere began beefing up their privacy settings.

Some good news…

As the data security attacks kept coming, businesses were forced to reanalyze the priority placed on data security as well as data’s importance to their organizations.  Quality database management not only keeps customers safe, but businesses now recognize that accurate contact data can be used to keep customers happy.  According to an Accenture poll, 89 percent of business leaders believe big data will revolutionize business operations in the same way the Internet did.

These same leaders are planning on pursuing big data projects in 2016 in order to seize a competitive edge.  To this effect, many businesses are recognizing that the first step is improving the quality of their contact databases in order to better serve their customers.  For consumers, this should bring a more personalized and effective e-commerce experience in the New Year.

What we were up to…

With database management taking center stage on the corporate agenda, we at helpIT systems have been hard at work to meet this rising demand.  While we have a wide range of unrivaled data quality software solutions, the year of 2015 began a shift away from individual products towards a more complete data quality solution providing customers with a one-stop shop for data quality, data matching, and data enrichment.  Our staff has been working diligently to ensure that we are ready to provide both our current and our new customers with stellar customer service and technical support that exceeds expectations.

To that end, helpIT systems rolled out a new website designed with the customer experience in mind.  Our goal was to provide more value through instructional tools and industry resources.  While data quality software and solutions are our primary focus, we strive to be a resource to those who visit www.helpit.com looking for answers about all aspects of data quality.

Expectations for 2016…

Perhaps the most pervasive change in the data industry during 2015 was the rapid growth in the “internet of things”.  While the technology has been around for years, we saw a large jump in the amount of devices created to monitor data in our personal lives.  Sales of everything from Fitbits, to monitor your health, to Nests, a home thermostat that adapts to your behaviors and the seasons, have boomed.  We expect to see more of this in 2016.

While this data will save electricity, ideally make us rethink our fitness goals, and improve home security, both companies and consumers are looking ahead to ensure this data is better protected than the troves that came before it.  Because while the concept of data has been around for a while, 90 percent of the world’s data was collected within the last two years.  Companies are learning how important it is to keep this information safe, and that is good news for everyone in 2016.
As all of this data is being collected, the feat of managing it looms before us like perfecting a true hover-board (which can actually just about hover over water).  A company can only hope to gain the competitive edge from data analysis if it possesses secure, accurate, and searchable contact data.  helpIT systems has been a partner to companies in this goal for the past 24 years and we will continue to grow and be there for 24 more.

Happy Holiday and a Prosperous New Year to all!

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12 Days of Data Quality

12 Days of Data Quality

12 Days of Data Quality

The holidays are finally here.  They always seem so far away and then, as the days grow short and temperatures fall, they tend to jump out at us in a surprise attack like a kid in a spooky costume on Halloween.  And once they are here, if you blink, they are over.  The anticipated smells of gingerbread baking in the oven, the joy of seeing a loved one open a carefully selected present, the glow of thousands of twinkling Christmas lights… all over before we were able to slow down and truly appreciate the holiday season.

So before December disappears under a pile of wrapping paper, we are inviting you to take the time to be merry, revel in the holidays, and perhaps still get a bit of work done.

Welcome to helpIT system’s 12 Days of Data Quality:

On the first Day of Data Quality, helpIT gave to me:

A Single Customer View (In a Pear Tree)

The first gift in this classic holiday carol is a Partridge in a Pear Tree.  The partridge sits alone high above the rest of the world.  Regally.  Eating pears (I imagine it eating pears) while looking down on all the lesser beings that have to see the world from ground level.

Your organization can be that partridge, sitting high above the rest.  Except in the world of database management, we are seeking a truly accurate Single Customer View, rather than a belly full of pears.  We all want the ability to look down on one contact record and obtain accurate, up-to-date information, each and every time.  Having one complete record for each customer ensures that they will receive the correct marketing materials at the correct address.  Salespeople will know a customer’s complete purchase history to analyze likely future purchases.  Customer service reps will be aware of address changes, name changes, as well as any other personal details in order to make the customer feel like they matter.  Which they do.  A lot.

Each customer in your contact database makes up a limb of your “pear tree”.  In the song, no matter how many gifts of drummers or pipers or ladies milking cows are given, it always comes back to the pear tree.  The tree is the center of everything, holding up even the partridge.  Just as your customers hold up your organization.  Make your customers feel this importance by respecting them as individuals, and as the base of your success, rather than lumping them in with the rest in your database.  The first step in doing this is by having a strong data quality solution and system in place.

On the second Day of Data Quality, helpIT gave to me:

2 Matched Records

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two turtle doves.  Which was great, in medieval times, when the doves symbolized true love’s endurance, mainly because they mated for life.  Everyone from the Bible to Shakespeare has made mention of them.

This December, give yourself another sort of true match.  Matching contact records in your database is the first step to cleaning up dirty data and obtaining a Single Customer View.  And there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The important thing to consider when matching and deduping your database is the methodology used in the process.  Some software only matches exact records, so ‘John Smith’ and ‘John Smith’ would show up as a duplicate.  However, ‘John Smith’ and ‘Jon Smith’ would not.  So if you want a truly accurate database, you have to employ a more sophisticated method.

helpIT system’s matching software compares all the datasets in one contact record against the rest of your database.  John Smith’s address, birthday, phone number, email, or whatever other datapoints you use are all taken into consideration when pinpointing matches.  This process often picks up 20-80 percent more matches than other software.  When you multiply that by 200 million records, that’s a lot of matches.

The biggest mistake organizations make when matching records is to view it as a “one and done” solution.  Data matching, like any long-term relationship, is something that must be constantly tweaked, adapted, and carried out on a regular basis.  Although as the turtle doves can attest, this type of devotion does come with big rewards.

On the third Day of Data Quality, helpIT gave to me:

3 Frenchmen

Rather than the French Hens in the traditional song, let us meet a Frenchman whose name is Dr. Mathieu Arment. He loves to purchase designer scarfs from your company, Parisian Scarves. During his first online purchase, he entered his information as follows:

Matheiu Arment
27 Rue Pasteur
14390 Cabourg
FRANCE

The Parisian Scarves marketing department then sends him a catalogue for the Spring Collection. He flips through it while sitting at a local café sipping a latte and finds a handsome purple plaid scarf that he absolutely must have, but he has forgotten his laptop. So he calls in the order. The Parisian Scarves customer service rep does not see an account under the name she types in, Mattheiu Armond, so she creates a new account record and places his order.

Later, a second customer service rep is handling an issue with his order and decides to send a coupon as a gift for all of his trouble. The coupon is sent to Mathis Amiot. And the rep slightly misspelled his address on Rue Pasteur. Upon receiving the misguided coupon as well as two of the same catalogue addressed to slight variations of his name, Dr. Arment realizes that he is not just one Frenchman, but rather 3 separate Frenchmen in the eyes of Parisian Scarves. Feeling annoyed and undervalued that his favorite scarf company cannot even spell his name correctly, not to mention they also forgot his birthday, Dr. Arment takes his scarf shopping to another business who appreciates him as an individual.

Not all data matching software is created equal. While some compares only exact matches, helpIT system’s unique phonetics matching system will pull out similar sounding pieces of data as well as similar spellings. This will create a higher match rate, allowing for less duplicates to slip through into your database.

In this instance, the Parisian Scarves customer service rep would have typed in Mattheiu Armond, only to have the record Matheiu Arment show up as a possible match. She would have noted the similar addresses and concurred, correctly, that these were the same customer.

Accurate data matching creates a data quality firewall, preventing bad data from entering the system at point-of-entry, as well as filtering it out on a regularly scheduled check-up. So Dr. Arment can stay one Frenchman, and more importantly, he will stay a customer of Parisian Scarves.

Stay tuned as we unwrap the next 9 Days of Data Quality in the run up to Christmas to get you started in the right direction!

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Weighing up the Cost of Bad Data

Cost of bad data

In a recent survey conducted by helpIT systems, almost 25 percent of respondents cited finances as the biggest hindrance to maintaining superior contact databases.  We get it.  Data quality solutions can carry what may seem to be a hefty pricetag, and they won’t show up two days later in a nicely wrapped package like an Amazon Prime purchase.  As such, like any other expensive and complicated decision, data quality may well get pushed to the bottom of the pile.

Then again, just like going to the gym or eating salad instead of steak, the toughest behaviors to adapt are usually the most beneficial.  Because even though database management may be something we’d rather forget about, 40 percent of those same respondents stated that their companies were losing tens of thousands of dollars each year due to poor contact data quality.  So while the solution may not be cheap and easy, the cost of living without it does not appear to be either.  Data Warehousing Institute found that the cost of bad data to US businesses is more than $600 billion each year.  Is that a number your company can afford to ignore?

Many businesses do notice these dollars disappearing and choose to do something about it.  Unfortunately however, this is often simply a “quick fix”.  They look at their messy databases, pay someone to “clean them up”, and then everyone gets a pat on the back for a job well done.  And it is.  Until someone enters a new record in the CRM, a customer moves, or perhaps even dares to get a new phone number.  And I will shock everyone by reporting that this happens all the time.  Studies indicate up to a 2 percent degradation each month…even in a perfect database.

Right now you’re probably picking up on the fact that maintaining good data is going to cost money.  You’re right.  But the fact is, avoiding that cost is only going to cost more in the long run.  Just like having a well-trained sales team, a finely-targeted marketing plan, or a boss with years of experience…great results are an investment of time and resources rather than a happy accident.

Companies that choose to invest in good data quality, as well as to view it as an ongoing process rather than a simple one-time fix, are finding that the benefits by far outweigh the initial costs.  Advertising dollars are reaching their intended audiences and sales calls are reaching the right recipient, with customer satisfaction going through the roof.  Today’s consumer expects the personal touches that can only come from having an accurate and up-to-date Single Customer View, and it is good data quality solutions that will achieve them.

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How Ashley Madison Can Inspire Your Business

How-Ashley-Madison-Can-Inspire-Your-BusinessAs each new name and every illicit detail is revealed, the 37 million members of Ashley Madison, a website promoting extramarital affairs, are scrambling to save their marriages, careers, and reputations.  This list, which is now available to anyone aware of the existence of Google, reportedly includes the names and sexual fantasies of members of the armed services, United Nations, and even the Vatican.  Looks like someone’s prayers weren’t heard this week.

As the extent of the contact information becomes more easily accessible, a new breed of data analyst is emerging.  Creative thinkers are using the information to win custody battles, deduce which cities have the most cheaters, and even get a leg up over another candidate for a job promotion.

If everyone from neglected housewives to tawdry tabloid writers is capable of using data to form opinions and make well-informed decisions, the question is… why aren’t you?

Now I’m not talking about crawling through Ashley Madison’s troves of cheaters, I’m talking about your company.  Your data.  Demographics, geographic locations, purchasing behavior… your contact records say a million things about your customers.  A million patterns are lying in wait, holding the key to better marketing, better operations, and better business decisions.  Whereas for Ashley Madison data spelled disaster, for you it should spell potential.

Customer data, when compromised, can be a company’s worst nightmare.  When used intelligently, customer data can increase profits and reduce the guessing game so many businesses play on a day-to-day basis.

In order to use your data intelligently, you must be confident that it is accurate and up-to-date.  If your records indicate you have 14 Jeremiah Whittinglys living in Chicago, you can either double your production of Jeremiah Whittingly personalized baseball caps, or perhaps take a closer look at how clean your data is.  I’m personally leaning towards the second option.

However, beefing up marketing efforts in Juneau, where your database says 10 percent of your client base is located, is a smart idea.  Unless your data entry employee didn’t realize ‘AK’ was the postal code abbreviation for Alaska rather than Arkansas.  In which case, polar bears stand a better chance of appreciating your new billboard than your target market.

Ridding your database of duplicate, incorrect, or incomplete records is the first step in recognizing the power of customer data.  The next step is figuring out what this data means for you and your company, and if every talk show host and dark web hacker can do it with the right tools, so can you.

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Why Customers Must Be More Than Numbers

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I read with some amazement a story in the London Daily Telegraph this week about a customer of NatWest Bank who sent £11,200 last month via online banking to an unknown company instead of his wife. Although Paul Sampson had correctly entered his wife’s name, sort code and account number when he first made an online payment to her HSBC account, he wasn’t aware that she had subsequently closed the account.

Mr Sampson thought he was transferring £11,200 to his wife: he clicked Margaret’s name among a list of payees saved in his NatWest banking profile and confirmed the transaction, but the payment went to a business in Leeds. Mr Sampson believes that HSBC had reissued his wife’s old account number to someone else, a company whose name they refused to tell him. NatWest told Mr Sampson it was powerless to claw the money back.

HSBC said it had contacted its customer, but it had no obligation regarding the money. HSBC insisted that the account number in question was not “recycled”, saying Mr Sampson must have made a typing error when he first saved the details, which he disputes. Although the money was in fact returned after the newspaper contacted HSBC, a very large issue has not been resolved.

Although news to most of us, it is apparently a common practice among banks in the UK to recycle account numbers, presumably because banking systems are so entrenched around 8 or 9 digit account numbers that they are concerned about running out of numbers. Apparently a recent code of practice suggests that banks should warn the customer making the payment if they haven’t sent money to this payee for 13 months, but according to the Daily Telegraph “No major high street bank could confirm that it followed this part of the code”.

The Daily Telegraph goes on to state that the recipients of electronic payments are identified by account numbers only. The names are not checked in the process, so even if they do not match, the transaction can proceed. “This is now a major issue when you can use something as basic as a mobile phone number to transfer money,” said Mike Pemberton, of solicitors Stephensons. “If you get one digit wrong there’s no other backup check, like a person’s name – once it’s gone it’s gone.” If you misdirect an online payment, your bank should contact the other bank within two working days of your having informed them of the error, but they have no legal obligation to help.

Mr Sampson obviously expected that the bank’s software would check that the account number belonged to the account name he had stored in his online payee list, but apparently UK banking software doesn’t do this. Why on earth not? Surely it’s not unreasonable for banks with all the money they spend on computer systems to perform this safety check? It’s not good enough to point to the problems that can arise when a name is entered in different ways such as Sheila Jones, Mrs S Jones, Sheila M Jones, SM Jones, Mrs S M Jones, Mrs Sheila Mary Jones etc.

These are all elementary examples for intelligent name matching software.  More challenging are typos, nicknames and other inconsistencies such as those caused by poor handwriting, which would all occur regularly should banks check the name belonging to the account number. But software such as matchIT Hub is easily available to cope with these challenges too, as well as the even more challenging job of matching joint names and business names.

There are also issues in the USA with banking software matching names – I remember when I first wanted to transfer money from my Chase account to my Citibank account, I could only do so if the two accounts had exactly the same name – these were joint accounts and the names had to match exactly letter for letter, so I had to either change the name on one of the accounts or open a new one! Having been an enthusiastic user of the system in the USA for sending money to someone electronically using just their email address, I’m now starting to worry about the wisdom of this… Surely

We banking customers should perhaps question our banks more closely about the checks that they employ when we make online payments!

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