Ensuring fit for purpose data is on the cards

In a demanding business with hundreds of partners and millions of customers, getting the right data into the right place at the right standard is a challenge. Charles Blyth explains how he has put master data at the heart of the financial services business.

If you have been researching the subject of data governance online recently, there is a good chance you will have come across Charles Blyth, head of business intelligence at CPP Group. His blog, “MDM from the front line”, is a frank, occasionally funny insight into how to get a master data management project up and running in a business, with all the associated frustrations and triumphs.

If it comes across as wry, then that is a good reflection of the ex-pat South African who says of his leisure interests that, “I try to play golf – when it isn’t snowing”. A clubbable and eminently likeable man, Blyth also has the steely core necessary to progress something as complicated as a master data management deployment.

After all, he did work as an auditor for the Internal Revenue Services in SA while also qualifying as an accountant. A spell of military service also makes that “front line” less of a metaphor than a genuine experience.

Professionally, Blyth has worked on most of the technology solutions that today make up the landscape of both BI and MDM.

His latest challenge is at international marketing services provider CPP – probably best known as a supplier of white label credit card insurance services. Three years ago, Blyth started work there as a consultant, bringing together the BI function as a centre of excellence, built on disparate management information and data teams. He clearly made an impression as the company hired him permanently after three months.

Reporting to the group IT and business services director, his role as head of BI covers management information, MDM, data warehousing and data management, business performance and customer analytics – no small brief. As he says: “My skills drive the strategy and day-to-day information provision to the entire group. There are not many divisions that aren’t supported by the BI services department.”

A core component of the programme has been the introduction of a MDM hub, provided by DataFlux. This has created a single master data repository for information held on over 10 million customers and across more than 200 partners by CPP. The first phase alone delivered annual cost savings of £500,000 against outsourced data management solutions.

As the scale of that project makes clear, the data Blyth is responsible is very diverse, as is the spread of human resources he manages. “My team currently has 24 people in the UK and six in Southern Europe – a very varied team, as you can imagine, with talented, business-focused BI analysts and analytics gurus, through to technical MDM data architects and data warehouse designers and developers,” he says.

Automation is a key aspect of ensuring information is delivered where the business needs it, and also to keep costs down and to meet lean thinking criteria. Blyth has to meet key performance indicators for data assurance that give real meaning to being in the front line.

As he notes about CPP, “we live and die by our data and data quality. The understanding that data is a strategic asset to us runs right through senior management teams.”

The company’s core business functions all rely on data that is fit for purpose in order to carry out their operations. This means data is in use across prospect creation, revenue driving, customer retention, customer service and revenue collection. It also runs through the whole pipeline of sales and across all business partners and channels.

Not that this means the BI function gets any special treatment. Blyth notes that, “all business priorities are measured against each other,” and functions have to compete for budget. His team has service level agreements with downstream “customers” based on providing information in a timely way that is accurate and fit for pupose.

Having introduced the MDM hub, Blyth’s objective is to take it to the next level, driving master data back into the business and through the whole data architecture. He is also building a data governance culture that will push understanding of the issue through to the front line of the company. Best practice developed in the UK will also be shared and propagated internationally.

For Blyth, while the content may be data, its delivery is very human. “People are key to our success and, with a team the size of mine, I try and spend as much time with my teams as possible.” With continued cold weather keeping him off the golf course, that is probably more time than he would like.

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