Business Intelligence Meets the Real World

Sprint had a problem ubiquitous to all retailers: a percentage of customers unhappy with its products and services. However, for Sprint — one of the nation’s largest wireless telecom providers with a complex supply chain that touches upon numerous and overlapping related customer service processes — the original problem quickly mushroomed to affect other parts of its organization.

In a nutshell, what was happening was that customers dissatisfied with a phone that didn’t work — or that they weren’t able to make work — were coming into retail stores for resolution. Sometimes they left dissatisfied — for any number of reasons. Perhaps the on-site sales team didn’t have the right information about that customer, or perhaps the phone turned out to be too complicated for the customers’ needs.

The bottom line for Sprint — aside from the not inconsequential issue of the number of unhappy customers — was that its reverse logistics process was not being effectively managed. An unexpected number of phones were being returned, according to Patrick Morrissey, senior vice president of marketing and business development forSavvion.

An Ah Ha Moment

Sprint eventually figured out how to manage the problem — by leveraging Savvion’s business intelligence and process management system, Morrissey told CRM Buyer.

“It was an ah ha moment for them,” he said — not because it was the first time Sprint had ever been introduced to such functionality, but rather because the pilot project had moved typical BI functionality away from mere reporting and alerting to action mode.

“It is a big ‘ah ha’ moment for a lot of people when they realize there is a way to make all of that data that they are sitting on actionable, and on an automatic basis,” Morrissey said.

Early Generation BI

The concept behind business intelligence — analyzing data and other information and then doing something about it — has always been tantalizing, albeit difficult to achieve. Ever since their first incarnations, business intelligence applications developed a reputation for being worthwhile only if a user’s core competency depended on the data. In any other scenario, the cost of maintaining such applications — in the early days, companies would literally have to hire PhDs to run them — was considered too high.

Over the years, BI applications have steadily improved. Later generations, which targeted the line of business user, were far easier to use. Also, suite applications began incorporating BI into their feature sets, making the functionality even more straightforward than that provided by best-of-breed vendors.

However the applications rarely closed the loop, so to speak, by prompting users to take certain courses of action in response to the data.

Another limitation that still exists, to some degree, is the fact that most BI implementations have targeted one division of a company — or one project or one particular issue. Rarely have they been incorporated into a business process on an ongoing basis.

Another Step Forward

Technology advances that allow applications to be more open and facilitate the incorporation of third-party data allow users to take — or at least consider — specific actions.

“Vendors in this space have learned to better integrate different information sources,” Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone told CRM Buyer. “They have upgraded applications so they can open to external sources. It really is a key differentiator in terms of what companies can do with these applications, even compared to a few years ago.”

For example,Aprimo is planning to leverage one customer’s use of its business intelligence functionality and third-party data in the next generation of its product, according to Michael Emerson, chief marketing officer.

“This will be one of our core investments in technology,” Emerson told CRM Buyer. The client is a Hollywood studio that is using Aprimo and Nielsen rating data on movie performance to tweak its marketing campaigns for the movies on a weekly basis.

It is, Emerson says, “a very interesting illustration of Aprimo leveraging data in business intelligence and then filtering it back into an actionable process.”

Pushing the Envelope

Users themselves are also remaking BI implementations. Companies such as Sprint are pushing the envelope in the deployment process, eager to explore the latest generation of BI technology.

Back to Sprint’s problem of inaccurate data in its reverse logistics process: The company used Savvion to model more than 30 variations of return processes and store environments, Morrissey said. It then used the experience from the pilot deployment to change the return management process.

“Not only were they able to save millions of dollars by collaborating and controlling business processes, they were able to improve customer service, cross sell and upsell opportunities,” Morrissey said.

“Sprint also used process to drive innovation by recognizing an opportunity to launch a new business to do minor customer repairs on site at the store level. This improved customer care and provided new revenue while avoiding the process of returns all together,” he concluded.

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