Virgin Media might only rent its name from the Virgin Group, but the cable services giant was forged from a jumble of companies every bit as chaotic and diverse as those that rest under the Branson moniker.
Following the merger of NTL with Telewest, and that group’s acquisition by Virgin Mobile in July 2006, Virgin Media became the first ‘quad-play’ player in the UK, offering cable TV, broadband, landline and mobile services.
But behind the celebrations, stock market announcements and press releases was an awe-inspiring collection of legacy systems that, rapidly, had to work together.
After a period of constant mergers and acquisitions, we had 24 different [core] databases,” says Virgin Media’s head of IT application support, Stephen Tidswell. These included everything from billing systems to financial and customer information systems. In the company’s call centre alone, agents had to wade through 24 different systems just to respond to callers’ enquiries.
That was undermining a primary goal. “The Virgin ethos is to put our employees first, figuring that a delighted employee will deliver a good customer experience,” Tidswell says.
Virgin Media decided to consolidate its databases around a primary structure – Telewest’s billing system – glued together by Informatica’s enterprise data integration tool Power Centre.
At the same time, the company cleaned, purged and de-duplicated the data. As Tidswell says, “The data integration became an opportunity to drive out inefficiencies.”
But it was still a massive job. “It took two and a half years for the billing migration to be completed,” he says, adding that the company is pursuing further integration of mobile and fixed-line billing systems, ultimately to give every customer a single bill.
Consolidating information and making it easily accessible has led to other ideas, such as running live applications on technicians’ PDAs by linking them to the organisation’s information hub.
“When somebody rings to say something like ‘the technician left a glove behind’, the operator can immediately see where the service took place and all the details,” Tidswell says. “They have instant knowledge about what’s happening.”
Efficient electronic access to customer information might also avoid situations such as when, on 29 May, the company lost a CD that held 3,000 customers’ unencrypted bank account details.
Tidswell predicts Virgin Media will in future make better use of the hub data by feeding it through BI and CRM customer intelligence tools. So far, though, he says the integration project has “been pretty smooth going”.
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