Governing the Corporate Jewels

By Tony Kontzer Print this article Print

Interest in governance is peaking as firms such as Sony Mobile and Avis Budget work to improve oversight of assets such as software code and customer data.

Responding to Internal Triggers

Unlike Sony Mobile, which was reacting to an external stimulus, the IT leadership at rental car company Avis Budget Group found itself having to respond in part to two internal triggers: an ambitious customer data project and a major acquisition.

Avis Budget embarked on a customer data consolidation effort in 2007, when it started building an IBM-powered customer data hub that would power a new CRM initiative. The company began pulling customer data from wherever it resided, much of it coming from a legacy mainframe database.

One of the discoveries during the years-long effort was that too many cooks were spoiling the customer data broth.

"Too many constituencies in the company had a say in customer data," says John Turato, vice president of technology. "We probably didn't treat it like as big of an asset as we should have."

That was in direct contrast to Avis Budget's customer service goals, and the resulting unreliable data presented what Turato considered an unacceptable risk to the business.

"When there's too much of a possibility for lots of different entities to be able to input and manipulate data, if data isn't cleansed properly, it can create a customer service problem," Turato explains, citing issues ranging from presenting customers with ill-fitting promotional offers to building ineffective marketing campaigns.

Whereas Sony Mobile looked for a tool to help its software license compliance efforts, Avis Budget's wake-up call caused it to look inward, with the company taking a number of steps to establish the control processes it needed to govern customer data.

It started by forming a customer governance board consisting of business and IT leaders. The board oversees all aspects of the management of customer data, ensuring compliance with data governance practices. Along with that, it introduced a data steward role that establishes gatekeepers who are responsible for any changes or updates to customer records, thus reducing the likelihood that erroneous information will find its way into employees' hands.

Avis also created a marketing science department to concentrate specifically on analyzing customer data and turning it into accurate, actionable insights. That, along with an increased focus on data modeling and services that allow users to access that data from any device, has tightened the relationship between IT and the business, thus encouraging more governance adherence.

"It's all starting to come together," says Turato.

The value of Avis Budget's customer data integration and governance efforts was highlighted during 2011, as the company began integrating Avis Europe, which it was in the process of acquiring for $1 billion. Avis Europe's customer name and address data, which would have conflicted with Avis Budget's legacy database, was easily integrated into the new customer data hub, smoothing the efforts to provide customer service across both sets of customers.

"The earlier you fix something, the better off you are," says Turato. "You don't have to deal with customer service issues later on."

The real proof is in the pudding: J.D. Power and Associates' annual study of the rental car industry, released in November, showed that the Avis brand's customer satisfaction index had risen to 766 from 742 a year earlier, helping it jump from eighth to fifth in the rankings in a year when its big acquisition certainly would have explained a dropoff.

"We're making a full-out effort to live up to our 'We Try Harder' credo," says Turato.

Avis Budget can point to a newfound focus on data governance as playing a critical role in the improvement it's seen thus far.

This article was originally published on 2012-12-28

Tony has been writing about technology and business for nearly 20 years and currently freelances from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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