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November 1998


Reporting That Helps Companies Hold Customers

BY NICO NIERENBERG, ACTUATE SOFTWARE CORPORATION

The growing need for a unified view of customers and improved operational effectiveness is driving companies to adopt secure, flexible information-access infrastructures. Enterprise reporting and the World Wide Web play pivotal roles in these infrastructures.

Five years from now, any company that deals with the public in a large way will have a customer-management solution in place if it wants to uncover business opportunities and keep customers smiling - and spending.

Yet, despite the rush toward integrating sales, contact management, quality, marketing and field support into a comprehensive customer-centric environment, some companies have built the digital equivalent of the Tower of Babel. They still can't get a clear view of their customers because of current report practices. Many report writers that are embedded into applications are too difficult for many call center professionals to use, slow down applications by relying too heavily on the client for data extraction and report development, fail to provide the kinds of information people in different divisions need and are rarely powerful enough for the IS organization to embrace.

A new concept called enterprise reporting removes these obstacles by providing a cost-effective common view of customers that matches the way a company wants to think about its business. When it also capitalizes on the strength of Web-based distribution, enterprise reporting can significantly benefit an organization's productivity as well as competitiveness.

Building A Common View
To achieve a common view of the customer, organizations need a reporting system powerful enough to extract data from multiple application modules, produce hundreds of necessary reports, store them in a secure repository and distribute them to users all over the organization via client/server or Web-based applications.

Because basic report writers can't do this, reporting is a problem even for vendors that combine all customer interaction software - pipeline management, sales, support, follow-up marketing, perhaps even finance - into a single package. Reporting is equally problematic for larger companies that seek best-of-breed solutions for various business processes and depend on multiple vendors for finance, shipping, support, manufacturing, sales forecasting and other tasks.

To create a common reporting architecture that can bring together information from multiple systems, vendors have a choice: create their own reporting system (and draw resources away from core competencies), or embed a third-party enterprise reporting system into their applications. PeopleSoft and Siebel Systems, Inc. have solved their reporting problems by embedding a third-party reporting system into their applications, and other major software vendors aren't far behind in adopting a similar reporting strategy.

Both PeopleSoft and Siebel have found that an enterprise-based approach delivers a uniform view of information about a company's customers on a global scale - from the macro level of questions such as, What is our response time? Are we meeting our metrics? How is our forecast? - to the details of specific customer interactions. This way, anybody in the company, from a sales rep to executive management, can see all the interactions with a customer in an integrated way. Executive management can reach into the financial system and move across to the customer support or manufacturing system to see what's going on.

This enterprise reporting model takes advantage of powerful new technologies, including object-oriented software and the World Wide Web, to supply end users, partners and customers with management-blessed information from key data sources, including data warehouses, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, customer interaction software (CIS) and client/server applications.

At the same time, an enterprise reporting infrastructure allows managers to control, secure and guarantee the quality of information that is distributed throughout the enterprise and extended enterprise.

Unlocking Customer Information
Rockwell Automation, manufacturer of industrial automation products, is a good example of a company that has taken advantage of a common reporting architecture to get a clearer view of its customers - who represent multiple industries from transportation and mining to entertainment.

Each day, Rockwell Automation logs more than 900 new customer-support cases and some 1,400 customer call-back events daily at 12 call centers located throughout the U.S. When it began global implementation of a new customer call management system, Rockwell Automation's goal was clear: improve customer service and lower the total cost of ownership (TCO) by managing customer calls more effectively and providing more accurate customer and product information throughout the enterprise.

The call management system used by Rockwell Automation resides on a 5-gigabyte Oracle database, serves up to 200 concurrent users primarily over the Web and allows customer service reps to log and route cases, set priorities, verify contracts, review case histories and track case-related costs. The products comprising the enterprise reporting system provide an enterprise architecture that accommodates multiple reporting needs on a global basis. Developers use the reporting system's 3-tier structure, object-oriented reuse, and distributed architecture to balance tasks among client, application and server.

Now, rather than depending on systems administrators to create special reports, customer support representatives and managers produce ad-hoc reports from a foundation of 300 enterprise reports that contain accurate customer information as well as such support center management statistics as time to close, call load and response times.

Rockwell Automation's Asia-Pacific Region, for example - which previously relied on faxes, e-mail and telephone calls to resolve a support problem - can now access the customer service database through the Web to create new cases and update open calls. U.S. support engineers have access to the same information and can help solve customer problems half way around the world, with none of the time difference delays. Call center supervisors and managers use the enterprise reports to provide high-level product and customer statistics such as calls processed per hour and specific product issues. This way, Rockwell Automation learned that its call center was improperly staffed, and increased the number of support engineers to provide better customer service.

This is just one way a common reporting foundation has been used to strengthen relationships with customers and improve competitiveness.

Reporting Over The Web
Another organization that implemented a common reporting infrastructure as a fundamental business strategy is Charlotte-based Glenayre Technologies. A leading provider of paging systems, including infrastructure and advanced messaging pagers, Glenayre also offers enhanced service platforms to mobile and fixed network telecommunication providers. Glenayre distributed more than $451 million in products in more than 100 countries from China to the United Kingdom in 1997.

Like many organizations with a global reach, Glenayre faces increasing costs to maintain its competitive edge. The company recognized that a common reporting infrastructure would strengthen its customer service capabilities and reduce customer demand response time.

Beginning with its call center, Glenayre implemented the enterprise reporting system into its call center system, which resides on a 2+-gigabyte Oracle database. The call center system allows Glenayre's technical support staff to capture several hundred calls from internal and external customers daily, put each call on an escalation path and capture information that can be queued to a technician.

The enterprise reporting system provides the flexible reporting structure needed to gather crucial information for self-policing, monitoring and decision making. For instance: staffing is better managed by segregating customer calls by region or country; repeat product issues are tracked to improve allocation of R&D resources; and training schedules become more efficient through analysis of response times and escalation routes. Additionally, as each case is closed, a questionnaire is automatically delivered electronically via the Web to the customer and their response is used to measure customer satisfaction.

Under the new system, instead of preparing thousands of similar reports with minor variations, Glenayre's IS department delivers 11 core reports: four twenty-page customer support reports and seven four-page IS reports. The reports are available to over 800 internal and external users by e-mail, fax or over the Web in HTML or PDF formats. Using standard browsers or live clients, users can intuitively navigate from summary to detailed information, link to related pages or reports, and run ad-hoc reports without having to pore through hundreds of pages of data - and without assistance from IS.

With their enterprise reporting system, users also can easily define a search query that is accessible to anyone in the organization. The query results can be linked directly to other environments, such as exporting data directly into Excel.

Glenayre's ability to provide autonomous access to more timely and more accurate information dramatically improves response time, makes the entire operation much more efficient, lowers the cost of supplying information to individual users, and reduces the work load on call center sessions. Ultimately, the enterprise reporting system will help Glenayre increase customer satisfaction, as well as lower its total cost of ownership (TCO).

Laying The Foundation
Organizations that want to bridge the chasm between users and authorized enterprise data sources - while protecting information assets - need a powerful reporting architecture that can:

  • Meet the reporting needs of each application; a reporting environment that can't handle an individual application will not be able to meet the needs of the enterprise.
  • Seamlessly integrate with applications so users can't tell when they leave the application and enter the reporting system; to do this, a reporting system must contain powerful programming capabilities and APIs.
  • Generate reports of any size or level of complexity, from two to thousands of report pages.
  • Gather data from any current or emerging data source - multidimensional data marts, data warehouses, client/server and Web applications-without regard for the complexity of its data stream or structure.
  • Implement reports to make complex information useful to internal and external end users with radically different skills and job requirements.
  • Give users a natural, training-free way to navigate through reports as well as filter, sort, group and compare relevant information in order to gain a clear view of complex information.
  • Distribute business-to-business and business-to-customer reports via the Web, client/server and e-mail applications.
  • Leverage the Web to enable users to pull as well as "push" report pages to users, broadcast to broad populations and navigate via hyperlinks through complex reports or Web pages.
  • Provide administrators with functions and security mechanisms that protect sensitive corporate data and are consistent with mission-critical applications.

The building blocks for a true enterprise reporting environment include a server-based architecture that shifts the focus from the client back to a host-based model; a powerful, object-oriented development environment to permit complex formatting and customization at the client and server level; and tight Web integration.

Conclusion
In the drive to manage customers throughout the entire company's process and maximize the relationship with that customer, many organizations are coming full circle - back to a host/client universe vastly more sophisticated than earlier systems.

With the ability to provide a reliable and secure foundation to distribute approved information throughout the enterprise, integrate with the Web as a cost-effective vehicle for distributing content to users throughout the enterprise, and support for the evolving trend of self-service information access, enterprise reporting is, for many organizations, the key to improving effectiveness and productivity.

Nico Nierenberg is president and CEO of Actuate Software Corporation. The enterprise reporting system used in the cases discussed in this article was the Actuate Reporting System, which includes the Report Server, Developer Workbench, End-user Desktop and ReportCast products. The call management system used by Rockwell Automation was Clarify's ClearSupport; that used by Glenayre Technologies was Mextrix's OpenUPTIME.

 







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