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Companies have been collecting customer data for decades. Some have been projects explicitly designed to find out more about customers, others have collected data as a by-product of sales or complaints. The problem is that many of these projects are stand-alone and run by disparate departments. Few businesses have aligned to pull all their customer data together to offer a coherent and complete view. CIOs are increasingly taking on this challenge so businesses can talk to customers in a more personalised way.

A Forrester Research report found that although 92 per cent of companies surveyed said having this 360 degree view of customer data is important, only two per cent have got an integrated approach. They often have issues either collecting customer data or using it effectively, as they don’t integrate customer data into a single place; it remains siloed across a range of different databases, often run by each individual’s own personal filing system. This can make it difficult for an organisation to respond to customers’ needs in a more focus, personalised way.

CMOs are aware of the problem, as survey after survey shows. They consider the explosion in data as the biggest challenge they expect to face, with many claiming that lack of integration is the main barrier to using technology that would help with data management and personalisation.

However, for integration projects to work, businesses not only need the right technology in place, they need to get a good handle over data. Different applications and departments will define a customer interaction in different ways. An angry customer might be a complaint in one system, feedback in another and a reason for return of goods in another. It is up to the business to help IT bring all these definitions together into a coherent view of customer interaction.

CIOs need to be brave enough to stand up to business leaders and say, “It is your data, take responsibility for it.“ Only the people who use the collected information on a day-to-day basis to make decisions know the relevance and nuisances of customer data and they are the ones who will benefit from customised communications.

For the CIO, it’s not enough to introduce the processes and let the business know they exist. The only way to truly encourage the proper use of big data is to demonstrate its very big and very real potential to transform the way they do business for the better.