An article by Tim Franklin – who has more than 25 years’ experience working in and for complex organisations to help them deliver single views.
All organisations need to comply with regulations and legislation. All organisations need to offer top-notch customer service.
All organisations need to manage their products and services as efficiently as possible and all organisations want to stand out from the crowd. While these goals may not appear to be directly linked, there’s one thing that makes all of them – and more – possible: a single view.
IPL has produced a best practice guide on creating a single view, which is available as a free download.
What is a single view?
A single view is a consolidated, up-to-date view of all the data you hold about the things that are important to the working of your organisation.
These ‘things’ could include customers, citizens, patients, products, suppliers, locations or assets – your single view is an organisation-wide single source of the truth about each one.
Information about each of these ‘things’ is typically kept in lists: a list of customers, a list of product parts, a list of suppliers and so on.
And so long as there’s only one list of each key thing, everything works fine, because everyone in your organisation knows where the information is. In reality, however, operational needs result in multiple versions of the same list popping up; each department has different requirements when it comes to key information.
For example, an accounts function’s ‘customer’ list will likely contain the billing address, while the order fulfilment department will want their ‘customer’ list to contain the delivery address (but may have no interest in the billing address).
Both are valid pieces of ‘address’ information about the ‘customer’, but there’s now no longer a single view of each individual.
Similarly, what happens if a customer gets married and changes their name? This alteration may happen in one list, but not filter through to the other.
These two simplistic examples show how having multiple lists creates a problem, given that it is incredibly difficult to synchronise information across departments and lists, especially if they’re stored in different formats, and use different terms to label the same thing.
Failing to keep a single view of these key things can lead to all sorts of problems, particularly as organisations grow and become more complex.
These consequences could be anything from minor irks that slow down business-as-usual processes and damage staff morale, right through to disasters that have big financial implications. Let’s consider a few real-life examples.
What could go wrong?
Take the oil well drilling contractor whose insurance company had to pay out $42m (in today’s prices) after a blowout during drilling sent oil gushing to the surface for three weeks before it was contained.
It was later found that the contractor had not compiled a single view of all available information on the local surroundings, which would have shown it was a volatile area where there had been numerous recent blowouts from wells being drilled. Knowing this would have enabled the drilling firm to take necessary precautions to avoid disaster and the significant payout.
Firms entering into joint ventures or other collaborative partnerships – where sharing of information is key to making the engagement a success – will need a clear single view of what information can be shared.
Because while the two organisations may be working together in one area, they could be competitors in another, much like Apple and Samsung, for example: certain components in Apple devices are still made by Samsung, despite, at the time of writing, the firms being locked in an ongoing legal dispute over patents. If the wrong information is shared by accident, this could significantly damage one of the organisations.
Then there’s the example of the multinational company that was paying its suppliers multiple times for the same invoice – again as a result of not having a single view of each supplier, which would have shown that the invoice in question had been paid.
In the public sector, Croydon Council was in the press for the wrong reasons when it sent council tax bills and court summonses to 20 deceased people.
The reason, it said, was an out-of-date database – in other words, it had no single view of its past and present citizens, so even if the deaths had been recorded in one place, it appears they were not in the database being used by the individual or department sending out the letters.
And any organisation that collects and stores people’s data may face the issue where a customer speaks to one department and asks to opt out of future correspondence from that organisation.
In the customer’s mind, they should now no longer receive anything, but at the organisation’s end, if that customer’s details are stored in another list as well, the opt-out may not get reflected across the board, leading to that individual’s preferences not being honoured – and the organisation potentially getting hauled before the courts under section 11 of the Data Protection Act.
The compelling driver
If these examples resonate with your organisation, are you going to wait to become the next horror story before you start building your single view?
Consider the potential financial or reputational risk that you face: why risk a multi-million-pound payout and significant brand and goodwill damage down the line, when you could spend a small fraction of that now to help avert disaster?
In fact, there may be an even more pressing need for your organisation to compile a single view, such as new regulation or legislation governing your sector.
Taking a more positive stance, you can use a single view to make your organisation stand out. It can help you offer improved customer care, products and services that are tailored to individuals, and better marketing messaging, because you’re able to draw on a higher-quality and more comprehensive body of knowledge. We look at some of the benefits in ‘Making the most of your single view of the truth’.
Whatever your reason for building a single view, now is the time to get started. And importantly, remember that creating your single view doesn’t necessarily require major investment.