Demystifying Digital – Reference Architecture for Single View of Customer / Customer 360..(3/3)

The first post in this three part series on Digital Foundations @ introduced the concept of Customer 360 or Single View of Customer (SVC).  This second post in the series discussed the concept of Customer Journey Mapping (CJM) – . We discussed specific benefits from both a business & operational standpoint that are enabled by SVC & CJM. The third & final post will focus on a technical design & architecture needed to achieve both these capabilities.

Business Requirements for Single View of Customer & Customer Journey Mapping…

The following key business requirements need to be supported for three key personas- Customer, Marketing & Customer Service – from a SVC and CJM standpoint.

  1. Provide an Integrated Experience: A fully integrated omnichannel experience for both the customer and internal stakeholder (marketing, customer service, regulatory, managerial etc) roles. This means a few important elements – consistent information across all touchpoints, the right information to the right user at the right time, an ability to view the CJM graph with realtime metrics on Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) etc.
  2. Continuously Learning Customer Facing System: An ability for the customer facing portion of the architecture to learn constantly to fine-tune it’s understanding of the customers real time picture. This includes an ability to understand the customer’s journey.
  3. Contextual yet Seamless Movement across Channels: The ability for customers to transition seamlessly from one channel to the other while conducting business transactions.
  4. Ability to introduce Marketing Programs for existing Customers: An ability to introduce marketing and customer retention and other loyalty programs in a dynamic manner. These include and ability to combine historical data with real time data about customer interactions and other responses like clickstreams – to provide product recommendations and real time offers.
  5. Customer Acquisition: An ability to perform low cost customer acquisition and to be able to run customized offers for segments of customers from a back-office standpoint.

Key Gaps in existing Single View (SVC) Architectures ..

It needs to be kept in mind that every organization is different from an IT legacy investment and operational standpoint. As such, a “one-size-fits-all” architecture is impossible to create. However, highlighted below are some common key data and application architecture gaps that I have observed from a data standpoint while driving to a SVC (Single View of Customer) with multiple leading enterprises.

  1. The lack of a single, unique & global customer identifier – The need to create a single universal customer identifier (based on various departmental or line of business identifiers) and to use it as a primary key in the customer master list
  2. Once the identifier is created in either the source system or in the datalake, organizations need to figure out a way to cascade that identifier into the Book of Record systems (CRM systems, webapps and ERP systems) so that the architecture can begin knitting together a single view of the customer. This may also involve periodically go out across the BOR systems, link all the customers data and pull the data into the lake;
  3. Many companies deal with multiple customer on-boarding systems. At some point, these  on-boarding processes need  to be centralized. For instance in Banking esp In Capital markets, customer on-boarding done in six or seven different areas; all of these ideally need to be consolidated into one.
  4. Graph Data Semantics – Once created, the Master Customer identifier should be mapped to all the other identifiers lines of business use to uniquely identify their customer; the ability to use simple or more complex matching techniques (Rule based matching, machine learning based matching & search based matching) is highly called for.
  5. MDM (Master Data Management) systems have traditionally automated some of this process by creating & owning that unique customer identifier. However Big Data capabilities help by linking that unique customer identifier to all the other ways the customer may be mapped across the organization. To this end,  data may be exported into an MDM system backed by a traditional RDBMS; or; the computation of the unique identifier can be done in a data lake and then exported into an MDM system.

Let us discuss the generic design of the architecture (depicted above) with a focus on the following subsystems –

A Reference Architecture for Single View of Customer/ Customer 360
  1. At the very top, different channels depict with different touch points In today’s connected world, the customer experience spans multiple different touch points throughout the customer lifecycle. A customer should be able to move through multiple different touch points during the buying process. Customers should be able to start, pause transactions (e.g. An Auto Loan application) from one channel and restart/complete them from another.
  2. A Big Data enabled application architecture is chosen. This needs to account for two different data processing paradigms. The first is a realtime component. The architecture must be capable of handling events within a few milliseconds. The second is an ability to handle massive scale data analysis in a retrospective manner. Both these components are provided by a Hadoop stack. The real time component leverages – Apache NiFi, Apache HBase, HDFS, Kafka, Storm and Spark. The batch component leverages  HBase, Apache Titan, Apache Hive, Spark and MapReduce.
  3. The range of Book of Record and external systems send data into the central datalake. Both realtime and batch components highlighted above send the data into the lake. The design of the lake itself will be covered in more detail in the below section.
  4. Starting from the upper-left side, we have the Book of Record Systems sending across transactions. These are ingested into the lake using any of the different ingestion frameworks provided in Hadoop. E.g. Flume, Kafka, Sqoop, HDFS API for batch transfers etc.  The ingestion layer depicted is based on Apache NiFi and is used to load data into the data lake.  Functionally, it is made up of real time data loaders and end of day data loaders. The real time loaders load the data as it is created in the feeder systems, the EOD data loaders will adjust the data end of the day based on the P&L sign off and the end of day close processes.  The main data feeds for the system will be from the book of record transaction systems (BORTS) but there may also be multiple data feeds from transaction data providers and customer information systems.
  5. The UI Framework is standardized across all kinds of clients. For instance this could be an HTML 5 GUI Framework that contains reusable widgets that can be used for mobile and browser based applications.  The framework also need to deal with common mobile issues such as bandwidth and be able to automatically throttle the data back where bandwidth is limited.It also needs to facilitate the construction of large user defined pivot tables for ad hoc reporting. It utilizes UI framework components for its GUI construction and communicates with the application server via the web services layer.
  6. API access is also provided by Web Services for partner applications to leverage: This is the application layer that that provides a set of RESTful web services that control the GUI behavior and that control access to the persistent data and the data that is cached on the data fabric.
  7. The transactions are taken through the pipeline of enrichment and the profiles of customers are stored in HBase. .
  8. The core data processing platform is then based on a datalake pattern which has been covered in this blog before. It includes the following pattern of processing.
    1. Data is ingested real time into a HBase database (which uses HDFS as the underlying storage layer). Tables are designed in HBase to store the profile of a trade and it’s lifecycle.
    2. Producers are authenticated at the point of ingest.
    3. Once the data has been ingested into HDFS, it is taken through a pipeline of processing (L0 to L3) as depicted in the below blogpost.

  9. Speed Layer: The computational grid that makes up the Speed layer can be a distributed in memory data fabric like Infinispan or GemFire, or a computation process can be overlaid directly onto a stateful data fabric technology like Spark or GemFire. The choice is dependent of the language choices that have been made in building the other key analytic libraries. If multiple language bindings are required (e.g. C# & Java) then the data fabric will typically be a different product than the Grid.

Data Science for Customer 360

 Consider the following usecases that are all covered under Customer 360 –

  1. The ability to segment customers into categories based on granular data attributes
  2. Improve customer targeting for new promotions & increasing acquisition rate
  3. Increasing cross sell and upsell rates
  4. Understanding influencers among customer segments & helping these net promoters recommend products to other customers
  5. Performing market basket analysis of what products/services are typically purchased together
  6. Understanding customer risk profiles
  7. Creating realtime views of customer lifetime value (CLV)
  8. Reducing customer attrition

The obvious capability that underlies all of these is Data Science. Thus, Predictive Analytics is the key compelling paradigm that enables the buildout of the dynamic Customer 360.

The Predictive Analytics workflow always starts with a business problem in mind. Examples of these would be “A marketing project to detect which customers are likely to buy new products or services in the next six months based on their historical & real time product usage patterns – which are denoted by x,y or z characteristics” or “Detect realtime fraud in credit card transactions.” or “Perform certain algorithms based on the predictions”. In usecases like these, the goal of the data science process is to be able to segment & filter customers by corralling them into categories that enable easy ranking. Once this is done, the business is involved to setup easy and intuitive visualization to present the results. In the machine learning process, an entire spectrum of algorithms can be tried to solve such business problems.

A lot of times, business groups working on Customer 360 projects have a hard time explaining what they would like to see – both data and the visualization. In such cases, a prototype makes things way more easy from a requirements gathering standpoint.  Once the problem is defined, the data scientist/modeler identifies the raw data sources (both internal and external) which comprise the execution of the business challenge.  They spend a lot of time in the process of collating the data (from Oracle, DB2, Mainframe, Greenplum, Excel sheets, External datasets etc). The cleanup process involves fixing a lot of missing values, corrupted data elements, formatting fields that indicate time and date etc.

The Data Scientist working with the business needs to determine how much of this raw data is useful and how much of it needs to be massaged to create a Customer 360 view. Some of this data needs to be extrapolated to form the features using formulas – so that a model can be created. The models created often involve using languages such as R and Python.

Feature engineering takes in business features in the form of feature vectors and creates predictive features from them. The Data Scientist takes the raw features and creates a model using a mix of various algorithms. Once the model has been repeatedly tested for accuracy and performance, it is typically deployed as a service.

The transformation phase involves writing code to be able to to join up like elements so that a single client’s complete dataset is gathered in the Data Lake from a raw features standpoint.  If more data is obtained as the development cycle is underway,  the Data Science team has no option but to go back & redo the whole process.

Models as a Service (MaaS) is the Data Science counterpart to Software as a Service.The MaaS takes in business variables (often hundreds of them as inputs) and provides as output business decisions/intelligence, measurements, visualizations that augment decision support systems.

Once these models are deployed and updated nightly based on their performance – the serving layer takes advantage of them to drive real time 360 decisioning.

To Sum Up…

In this short series we have discussed that customers and data about their history, preferences, patterns of behavior, aspirations etc are the most important corporate asset. Big Data technology and advances made in data storage, processing and analytics can help architect a dynamic Single View that can help maximize competitive advantage across every industry vertical.

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