Have you ever received a promotional subscription offer from a newspaper to which you already subscribe?
In addition to being a poor customer service strategy, sending an offer like this increases costs and lowers the success rate of your marketing campaigns. And while you might not realize it, this phenomenon is chiefly the result of an enterprise data issue. In this case, the newspaper likely didn’t match its existing subscriber list, which may reside in one database, and its marketing prospects list, which may reside in another. This challenge is one that Canada’s largest newspaper has solved with SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW).
Toronto-based The Globe and Mail has been in circulation for 167 years. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people across Canada and the world read the paper’s various print and online editions.
The scope of prospective customers that The Globe and Mail targets with its marketing campaigns is massive — basically, every Canadian household that doesn’t already subscribe is a prospect. Housing and managing the data on those prospects has long been a challenge for the newspaper.
Running a daily newspaper requires managing a ton of data: circulation data, advertising revenue data, marketing prospect and “do not contact list” data, and logistics and delivery area data. In addition, the newspaper collects and manages traditional business data such as finance and human resources information.
The Mainframe Solution
For many years, The Globe and Mail ran a mainframe system that housed much of its data. To access this information, users had to extract it from the mainframe and bring it into one of any number of databases for analysis — Microsoft Access, Excel, FoxPro, and more. This extraction resulted in pockets of data that resided in various databases around the company for specific purposes, but no central repository of updated data. Having data spread in disparate systems across the company made it very difficult to cross-reference current subscribers and prospects when developing a marketing campaign. It also raised concern about the security of the subscriber data. Because The Globe and Mail collects customer payment information, the newspaper must adhere to Payment Card Industry data security standards. Housing customer data in various places makes it more difficult to ensure that the proper security controls are in place.
In 2002, The Globe and Mail began its transition off of the mainframe system and implemented SAP ERP, choosing to use SAP NetWeaver BW as its enterprise data warehouse. The goal was to have all of its data sources feed into the data warehouse so business users could easily access and analyze the most updated and relevant data.
During the first phase of the project, The Globe and Mail began feeding advertising sales data into SAP NetWeaver BW. In the newspaper industry, advertising sales is a major revenue source, so that data is used to provide rough revenue reports and forecasts. (The Globe and Mail uses SAP Business Planning and Consolidation to perform some of its financial planning.)
Expanding the Warehouse
As part of a second-phase expansion of its SAP environment, in 2007, The Globe and Mail moved circulation data into the data warehouse, including data from a number of non-SAP sources. For example, to gather information on marketing prospects, The Globe and Mail uses data from third-party vendors. The newspaper essentially loads the Canadian white pages into its data warehouse because every household within its delivery area is considered a prospect. Delivery area data and subscription details, such as how much time is left on a customer’s subscription, is also vital to the company’s business, so all of that data was mapped to feed into SAP NetWeaver BW.
“We developed an ABAP program and were able to leverage the SAP NetWeaver technology to do the matching required for that data,” says Sandy Yang, SAP NetWeaver BW Functional Analyst at The Globe and Mail. “All of the matching is done during the loading process into SAP NetWeaver BW. We can perform matching between a potential customer and our existing customers. We also match it to the ‘do not contact list’ data and to the delivery area data so we know if we can, in fact, deliver a newspaper or if we should promote the digital product to that person instead.”
From a technology standpoint, The Globe and Mail had solved the problem of creating clean, unified marketing data. Circulation data and marketing prospect data all resided in one place. Users simply had to use the tools available in SAP NetWeaver BW to make sure only prospects were receiving marketing emails or mailings.
“Many people didn’t understand the concept of a data warehouse or were wary of the data in SAP NetWeaver BW. They were accustomed to the system they had used in the past to analyze data.”
— Sandy Yang, SAP NetWeaver BW Functional Analyst, The Globe and Mail
Old Habits Die Hard
Users who were long accustomed to extracting data from the mainframe system into local databases to manipulate the data continued to perform the same process, even after SAP NetWeaver BW went live. Specifically, marketers were still bringing data into Excel or FoxPro for their own purposes, except now they were extracting it from SAP ERP instead of the mainframe. “Many people didn’t understand the concept of a data warehouse or were wary of the data in SAP NetWeaver BW,” says Yang. “They were accustomed to the system they had used in the past to analyze data — some people preferred to use Excel, and others Access. So they were still running reports from the same database they had used all along because they didn’t understand the value of having all of the information that had already been matched in one data warehouse.”
What initially began as an IT challenge quickly became a user education and change management issue. The IT organization switched its focus to educating the business — especially the marketing organization — on the value of having all of its data in a single warehouse and the tools available to access and analyze the data.
After some investigation, Kevin Schlueter, Enterprise Architect at The Globe and Mail, found that part of the issue arose because some of the business-side users had initially compared the data from their own databases to that in SAP NetWeaver BW when it went live and saw discrepancies. That led those users to think the data wasn’t accurate.
“When you move information into a data warehouse, there’s often transformation that takes place within the data,” says Schlueter. “That transformation lets you more easily combine the data with other data, but it may change the data units when the information is pulled into a report. It’s not wrong, it just looks different.”
That’s not to say the data in SAP NetWeaver BW was perfect. There were some discrepancies between the data in SAP ERP applications and in the data warehouse. In those cases, Yang says that the IT organization worked iteratively to identify the root cause and fix the problem as soon as possible so business users would have more trust in the quality of the data warehouse.
“When you move information into a data warehouse, transformation often takes place within the data. That transformation lets you more easily combine the data with other data, but it may change the data units when the information is pulled into a report. It’s not wrong, it just looks different.”
— Kevin Schlueter, Enterprise Architect, The Globe and Mail
Even with squeaky clean data, users have to be sold on the benefits of using a new technology such as the SAP NetWeaver BW application. For The Globe and Mail, that challenge was solved mainly through personal interaction, not technology. For example, early in the education process, users who preferred Excel were educated about how SAP NetWeaver BW can interface with Excel to give them a familiar user interface to work with while leveraging the data warehouse.
During this process, in an effort to better understand how the marketing department created campaigns, Yang spent a lot of time in person with the marketers — who were located on the same floor as the IT organization in The Globe and Mail’s offices — learning their processes. She learned that they used a third-party provider’s engine to create the marketing campaigns. So most of the necessary data had to be brought out of SAP NetWeaver BW into a separate file for cleansing and then loaded into the third-party tool. That process typically took a week to complete and decreased the accuracy of matching.
The IT organization instead suggested moving that marketing engine into SAP NetWeaver BW and completing the business process in house. “When we first suggested that to them, I had my doubts because it required changing a business process,” says Yang. “I was confident that it was the right move to better leverage our data warehouse, but I wasn’t sure we could get the necessary business support for the project. We had good high-level support from executives for the project, but that’s not the same as having the support of the people on the ground. They had been using this third-party tool for 20 years.”
Yang led a seven-month effort to bring the marketing engine into SAP NetWeaver BW, a process that included weekly requirements meetings to ensure the marketing team drove the direction and goals of the project. Meanwhile, Yang continued her in-person visits down the hall to the marketing department to ask specific questions and get updates.
“Gradually, the marketers started to see her as part of their team,” says Schlueter. “And once that happened, everything changed. She was then viewed as an ally who could help them — not as someone who would make their life complicated. Marketing began to come to Sandy for help in gaining new features, which was a sign that they viewed the system as theirs too, not IT’s new system.”
After close to a year of collaboration, the IT organization finalized an ABAP program to develop the marketing campaigns inside of SAP NetWeaver BW and export them automatically. “Exporting from this tool is very easy, so the users were happy with that aspect,” says Yang. “It has improved the usability of SAP NetWeaver BW for our business.”
Using the campaign engine is simple: Users first select their campaign targets by filtering and then choosing an output layout and format. They can also choose to update the campaign table to avoid selecting the same batch of records for similar campaigns in the future, or they can save their settings and simply tweak them for the next run if the filters are very complicated.
The IT organization also taught business users how to access queries and query views through a web interface. Reporting tools like SAP Business Explorer are used for dashboards and by super users when the web interface can’t provide the functionality they seek. For example, users in the circulation department were given access to web-based reports and could customize their views.
Startling ROI Revelations
The results of the user education process exceeded what the IT organization expected. When a new system for creating marketing campaigns inside of SAP NetWeaver BW was put into use, it was significantly faster and less expensive than using the outsourced third-party tool. Marketing campaigns that previously would take two weeks to complete now take only one day. “That was a startling revelation to most of us involved,” says Schlueter.
From a strict ROI perspective, the project paid for itself in about a year. But the intangible returns on the investment in the project may be even greater. The company’s IT department spends less time working on marketing campaigns, and has a much better relationship with the marketing department as a result of the project. “We have fewer complaints from our subscribers and potential subscribers about being contacted if they don’t want to be, which is a huge plus for our business,” says Yang.
The improved data analysis capabilities brought about by a single data warehouse improve marketing returns as well. Using ABAP reports or queries within SAP NetWeaver BW, The Globe and Mail can determine its saturation rates in a given area, which can guide marketing plans. For example, users could execute a wider variety of email marketing campaigns using the marketing engine, which have been more successful and cost effective than telemarketing campaigns.
SAP HANA on the Horizon
In the future, The Globe and Mail plans to gain even more value from its data warehouse by expanding the breadth of data being put into it and by speeding the analysis processes. Specifically, the company plans to collect more data about its digital audience and build more targeted marketing campaigns for those folks.
“Newspapers are becoming increasingly digital and although we have wonderful information about our subscribers, we have less information about our digital audience,” Schlueter says. “We need to bring our subscribers and digital readers together so both audiences are treated similarly and so we know when they overlap so we can better serve them. SAP NetWeaver BW will be at the center of that effort.”
Not surprisingly, The Globe and Mail is currently analyzing several use cases and the ROI for SAP HANA. Both Yang and Schlueter agree that in-memory computing could further the work that they’ve done with SAP NetWeaver BW — but not replace it.
“If you completely abandon a prior system and move to another one, all of the users have to spend time trying to get familiar with the new system,” says Yang. “But building on top of a system is a much better idea. For example, if SAP HANA works well on top of SAP NetWeaver BW, it’s a better idea to go that route than to replace the data warehouse with SAP HANA.”
According to Schlueter, SAP HANA looks promising for The Globe and Mail, and the business is interested in evaluating it. “As more people realize the benefits of data warehousing, we can look at the benefits of achieving a broader swath of results faster with SAP HANA,” he says. “But we have to work with the business to identify how much it might save or what additional revenue it can drive.”