Cincinnati Bell Cleans Data to Help it Compete in Deregulated World

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Cincinnati Bell Telephone, the Cincinnati Bell business unit that offers local exchange services in that area, is reaping impressive results from a data warehouse project that helped it focus on its customers.


The project, which began in 1996 and finished this summer, was designed to help CBT organize its data so it can strive in a deregulated market in which it faces competition from national companies. Before deregulation, which began in Cincinnati in 1996, CBT didn't see its customers as customers.


"Accounts were looked at as places to send bills, not as customers," said Andre Pekarik a consultant at Origin Technologies, an information technology consulting company that implemented CBT's data warehouse program and is a subsidiary of Phillips Electronics.


Moreover, data was being collected inefficiently. Every time a customer signed up for a new service or bought a new product, customer service representatives would set up a new account instead of adding the information to the customer's existing file. Sometimes one customer was recognized in five different ways because of a misspelled name or address that was slightly different. The data, which was collected in a large mainframe-style database in the billing department, also wasn't cleaned or up to date.


The company realized it needed a more customer-focused system. First, it had to organize the data so customers received just one bill and direct mail solicitation. It also had to be able to use the data so it could learn which customers were buying which products.


Enter Pekarik. He was brought on in 1996 to set up a data warehouse that included standardized names and addresses. He turned to Firstlogic Inc., La Crosse, WI, and its i.d.Centric data quality products to clean misspelled or abbreviated addresses and to verify and parse customer information in the data warehouse. He also used Firstlogic's PostalSoft database product, which let CBT update its names and addresses based on U.S. Postal Service guidelines.


By mid-1998, the system was completed. Currently, it's running on an Oracle database that was implemented in 1997. The billing information has been kept housed on the mainframe, and names and addresses are sent to the data warehouse nightly.


Since the data is cleaned and organized automatically, call center employees can "either identify the customer as a new customer when they purchase new services or market offerings or add the information to their existing account," Pekarik said. "It doesn't matter because the information is being merged at the back end."


In addition, sales and marketing employees can analyze and track revenue to each customer for a given market offering, thanks to a sales and marketing automation system from Onyx Software, Bellevue, WA, that lets CBT salespeople "recognize customers [more easily], enabling them to send out less fliers and make less calls," he said.


On average, Pekarik said, there was one true customer for every three CBT accounts. The company is looking at a variety of data mining products so "we can monitor what kinds so products we are selling today and what customers are purchasing which products."


For now, the system is on its way to helping CBT thrive in a deregulated environment.


"The company is facing the challenges of being in a monopoly for 100 years and now going into a true market space," Pekarik said. "When you are in a true free enterprise market, you need to meet your customers' needs -- and to meet your customers' needs, you have to know your customers. This system lets us know the customers and collect information about them and their needs."
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