If customer data is the lifeblood of modern business, Ice.net, a Stockholm provider of \n\nmobile access services, was strikingly anemic. The young company was adding customers across \n\nScandinavia at a brisk clip, but its IT infrastructure provided little insight into who \n\nthose customers were and how they could best be served.\nMore on CIO.com\nThe 360-Degree View for IT: Hype or Hope?\n\nCustomer Data Should Drive IT Decisions\n\nABC: An Introduction to Service-oriented Architecture (SOA)\n\nMaking the Business Case for Master Data Management (MDM)\n\n"The definition of a customer can differ quite significantly depending on what department of \n\na company you talk to. It may be something completely different to the logistics department \n\nthan it is for the sales department," says Thomas Norberg, CIO of Ice.net, formerly known as \n\nNordisk Mobiltelefon in Sweden. \n\nNorberg realized that building systems to enable a unified view of customer data was a \n\ncritical need. But not so long ago, he and his team would have been out of luck. Building \n\nwhat customer relationship management (CRM) vendors like to call the "360-degree view of the customer" used to be a painstaking process that generally revolved around monolithic \n\nproducts from a single vendor.\n\nWhat's changed? Ice.net's transformation relied on a number of widely applicable trends and \n\nbreakthroughs that include the rise of service-oriented architecture (SOA) and the use of \n\nshared-information data models. Companies are also learning that the keys to developing a \n\nflexible and unified CRM system include mapping IT to business processes and bringing IT and \n\nline-of-business organizations closer.\n\nIt's All About the Data\n\nIce.net had only been providing service for a few months when Norberg joined in early 2007, \n\nbut its IT infrastructure was already incapable of supporting the young company's growth. \n"Even companies with no legacy systems can wind up with data in silos," says Gartner analyst \n\nand Vice President Ted Friedman. As a result, "they get the opposite of the 360-degree \n\ncustomer view."\n\nSOA, when empowered with strong data management practices, can enable that 360-degree view \n\nsince it can breach the walls separating data with reusable services. But Friedman adds that \n\n"we see a lot of SOA projects and investments being made without a lot of thought about \n\ndata. Ask the average [IT] guy what SOA is about and he'll talk about business process and \n\ncomponentizing applications." \n\nNorberg would agree. "The key is to realize that [a modern IT architecture should be] all \n\nabout informationand how it relates to other information." \n\nStep one in developing a data-oriented approach to the customer is finding a common \n\nlanguage. In the last few years, various industries have developed shared information data \n\nmodels, or SIDs, that give exact definitions of categories such as customers or suppliers. \n\nIce.net drew on the work of the TM Forum, which represents companies in telecom, cable, \n\nmedia and the Internet.\n\nIce.net needed to build its systems architecture around that data model. Norberg choose two \n\nproducts from Progress Software, an enterprise service bus (ESB) called Progress Sonic, and \n\na data integration tool called Progress DataXtend Semantic Integrator.\n\nLooked at schematically, services such as credit control are plugged into the ESB like Lego \n\nblocks, says Norberg. When a new service is ready, the old one is pulled out and replaced. \n\nDataXtend is used to create exchange models or mediations between applications and services \n\nwith different structures and semantics, or definitions.\n\nThe first pilot project, integrating the company's online store with the customer and \n\nproduct databases, began in March 2007, and was rolled out in under four weeks. The company \n\nused an agile development methodology to add other segments quickly so that by April of this \n\nyear, nearly all of Ice.net's departments were able to access clean, consistent data, \n\nwhether it be related to the customer, order intakes or order fulfillments, in real time. \n\nAlign Business With IT\n\nFinancial services giant Capital One has approximately 50 million customer accounts, roughly \n\n100 times that of Ice.net, but it faced a similar challenge. Capital One had diversified \n\nfrom its core credit card business and, by the end of 2006, had made several acquisitions, \n\nincluding two banks.\n\n"We really need to know who the customer is across different products and what our \n\nrelationship is," says Capital One CIO Robert Alexander, who saw that storing data in \n\nisolated silos was a business obstacle. First on the list for transformation were online \n\nservices and e-mail. Customers with multiple Capital One products did not want to navigate \n\nmultiple websites to transact business, and the company needed control over the content, \n\nvolume and intensity of e-mails it sent to customers. \n\nAlexander's team created what he calls "a single point of truth" about customers by linking \n\nthe data warehouses in each line of business with a unified data warehouse that reflects \n\ninformation from them all. To limit data replication, Capital One selectively pulls the data \n\nfrom the lines of business and adds it to the central, or analytical, warehouse. (Capital \n\nOne chose not to disclose its technology partners.)\n\nSOA, and its use of standards and reusable services, is a "best practice" that the company \n\nhas implemented across its IT infrastructure, including the new enterprise customer \n\nmanagement team, says Alexander. The team focuses on using technology to enhance customer \n\nexperience through channels and activities that no single line of business owns, such as \n\nInternet marketing and sales, online servicing, customer e-mails, and mobile banking. \nWhat's striking about the transformation is Capital One's move to align business processes \n\nwith IT. Alexander created a team of representatives from marketing, IT and operations, all \n\nof whom ultimately report to him. Why marketing? Their closeness to customers means they are \n\nin a position to spell out IT requirements needed to improve customer-related issues, he \n\nsays. \n\nCreating the single point of truth took about seven months in 2007, as part of an ongoing \n\neffort to deliver a new enterprise online servicing platform.\n\nThe creation of that "360-degree customer view" is a big step forward for Capital One, as it \n\nwas for Ice.net. Five years ago, that leap would not have been feasible. It's still \n\ndifficult, but a new approach to architecture and business alignment are making what was \n\nonce a marketing slogan a reality.