Social Data: Selling the Vision and the Value

By Torrance Mayberry  |  Posted 04-18-2012

Harnessing Social Data: Understanding IT's Role

Westpac Life New Zealand's big data journey has much to do with open-minded exploration and everything to do with customer-centricity.

As a leading financial institution in the ANZAC region, a key tenet of our business strategy has been to build emotional connections with our customers, earn all their business and help them achieve their personal goals. Organizations can allow big data to derail such a strategy, or they can harness big data in creative ways to help drive true customer-centricity. Westpac is aggressively pursuing the latter course, most recently by capitalizing on today's ocean of social media data.

Every journey has a first step. Ours was to ensure that Westpac's business initiatives would not be derailed by the sheer immensity, complexity and disparity of the data building up in all corners of the enterprise in disconnected silos.

So, starting in 2010, we laid a big data foundation with an ambitious project to provide a single source of truth for business and insurance customer data across the company. The Insurance Project is expected to deliver a 240 percent ROI and increase revenues at least one percent over the life of a policy. But just as important, it enabled us to put in place a universal data integration environment that is underpinning adventuresome steps, including social media data integration, sentiment analysis and real-time customer engagement.

Social data: a lens into the future of the business

Westpac saw a huge opportunity to use social data as a lens into both the business' future and the relationship between brand and customer. But, selling this kind of "out there" vision to stakeholders can be more difficult than executing on it. We needed to expand peoples' thinking about social media; it needed to become more than just a technology play and one-directional marketing channel.

Instead of telling people how social data can make a difference, we opted to show them. A prototype was built (and deployed on an iPad) and we began to experiment with data captured from the social web. Eventually, we used analysis to tell our story: social data is unparalleled in its capacity for revealing customer and prospect sentiment and emotion.

Social Data: Selling the Vision and the Value

In selling our point, we leveraged MicroStrategy's visual capabilities so stakeholders could visually go beyond the conversations happening on the social web and view the sentiments they portrayed.

Leveraging Westpac as a global brand, we captured conversations spanning various languages and regions of the world. We embedded geospatial capabilities via Google Maps enabling stakeholders to see where conversations were happening so they could isolate and measure positive and negative sentiments around the world. This introduced a new "wow factor" into our argument.

The executive team began talking seriously about how we could capitalize on social media and our Social Media Project was launched. The next challenge was to avoid creating yet another data silo, and find a way to engage in social media data governance.

The universal data integration platform we'd already put in place, based on Informatica and Expert Systems, was capable of integrating nearly all data types and formats, and again proved its value here. In leveraging existing data integration assets, we are able to fully integrate data captured from social media with other enterprise data for comprehensive analysis.

Now, our existing data integration environment could bridge our next potential venture: Hadoop for real-time analysis across huge social data sets.

Ongoing big data journey

Westpac's big data journey is just starting. The Insurance Project provided a single view of customers for the business, and it provided the foundation for the Social Media Project.

Now, sentiment analysis can evolve to real-time engagement as we continue striving to create an emotional connection with customers. What we've learned thus far is that we can never think too big or too creatively about big data when it comes to fortifying brand experience and fashioning an agile, customer-centric enterprise.

About the Author

Torrance Mayberry is senior systems manager with financial institution Westpac Life New Zealand Ltd., based in Wellington, New Zealand.