New Driver in Mainframe: Customer Experience? You Bet.

What’s the primary goal for IT and business executives as they pursue Big Data initiatives?

Improving customer experience.

That was the top response from IT and business leaders worldwide in a recently released Gartner survey. Customer experience is on the radar of the 64 percent of Gartner respondents investing or planning to invest in Big Data technology this year (less than 8 percent said they have deployed already, but I digress). According to Gartner, this trend around utilizing Big Data to enable better customer experience was first spotted last year:

In Gartner's 2012 and 2013 studies, business cases that improve process efficiency and business cases around customer experience dominate big data wish lists. In the 2013 survey, 55 percent of organizations said that they are currently addressing enhanced customer experience using big data, while 49 percent are using big data to address process efficiency.

Industries leading in customer experience are retail, insurance, media and communications, and banking, according to the report (thirty-nine percent of media and communications organizations said that they have already invested in Big Data, followed by 34% of banking organizations and 32% of services firms). Note that three out of four of those industries are ones where mainframes still dominate.

Gartner found that IT folks can sometimes get caught up in the logistics of Big Data – how to get it, how to manage it, what to do with it. But in the end, customer experience trumps all.

How customers interact with an enterprise’s systems can have a huge effect on their loyalty, and ultimately their lifetime value to the organization.

Take a customer going online to do a little holiday shopping. They go to a retailer’s site to purchase items for their family, only to find the site is loading slowly as they search for each item. The customer gets frustrated and decides to open a new browser tab to see if a competitor’s site is running faster. Not only is it faster, it’s presenting them with suggestions for other items they may want to purchase.

The choice, then, is easy. The customer abandons the shopping cart of the first retailer and starts filling the cart of the second. That’s bad for retailer #1, but what’s worse is that as a result of the two customer experiences, the shopper’s loyalty (and wallet) has now shifted to the second retailer.

Or take a bank customer who wants to conduct transactions online. If the interface is intuitive and easy to use, the customer will be inclined to continue using it, building loyalty while helping the bank lower its costs. If, however, the interface is built based on the way the bank wants customers to interact rather than the preferences of the customers themselves, they will likely become frustrated quickly and either abandon the online option or (more likely) look for a bank that understands their online banking needs.

What it comes down to is understanding what customers want from their interactions with the organization so you can deliver it. Questions business leaders are (or should be) asking themselves today are:

  • How can Big Data aid in fulfilling the needs of our customers? What exactly is the customer experience, if not providing what they want when they want it?
  • Does the customer need to accomplish something in the most efficient way possible? Are they confident in their system’s performance and security?

Part of that equation leads, not ironically, back to IT.

Because it’s the underlying systems that provide the type of experience customers expect as they increasingly interact with the brands, service providers and institutions that they purchase from, do business with and support. In other words, customers expect access anytime and anywhere, regardless of how much data a backend system has to deal with.

This is in fact where the mainframe excels. Why is that? Because it’s designed to handle a massive influx of Big Data from all sorts of sources, crunch the numbers, and provide answers. It also has unprecedented reliability that ensures systems are available. And that data is safe.

Those things matter in the world of customer experience.

Here’s another statistic from BMC Software, as reported in IT Business Edge:

Ninety three percent of global IT execs cited mainframe as a robust, long-term solution in their enterprise IT strategy and 70 percent said the mainframe will have a key role in their big data plans (the survey results include 1184 BMC and non-BMC mainframe customers). The breakdown of reasons mainframe technology was cited for continued investment, according to the article:

  • Platform availability (mainframes are seen as vastly more reliable)
  • Superior security
  • Superior data serving
  • Transaction handling

IBM has done a lot to keep the mainframe current in the era of Big Data, social, mobile and analytics – the customer experience sweet spots, if you will. Earlier this year the company announced a new product in the zEnterprise lineup, zBC12, designed to handle the latest in analytics, cloud and mobile computing. Hear what IBM has to say about APM:

These innovations are designed to allow banks to deliver new mobile banking services, insurance companies can prevent payment of fraudulent claims, and government agencies to interact and serve citizens using new applications in the cloud.  

In terms of real-world specs, the zBC12 has a faster processor (4.2 GHz) and two times the available memory than its predecessor. When it’s integrated with IBM DB2 Analytics Accelerator, it can (in the words of IBM) perform business analytics workloads with response times up to nine times faster, 10 times better price performance, and 14 percent lower total cost of acquisition than the closest competitor.

This focus on the customer experience and how it relates to the mainframe can be seen in this week’s announcement from Compuware that 3 Banken EDV, a shared service IT provider for three Austrian banks, has adopted its Application Performance Management (APM) technology (APM User Experience Management and APM for Mainframe). The technology is designed to manage the complexities of web, cloud, mobile, enterprise and Big Data applications.  APM enables the banks to provide an enhanced customer experience by proactively spotting and solving application performance issues before they impact users. With end-to-end monitoring across the web and mobile environment into and through the mainframe systems where applications are running, the banks can then use the data it generates to bolster applications where needed to ensure greater customer satisfaction.  

One other point to note with regard to customer experience: In March IBM launched its Customer Experience Lab. There, IBM research scientists and business consultants have worked with more than 100 customers from across the world to create new technologies and “revolutionize the way companies interact and engage with customers.”

If you’re in the business of serving customers, it might serve you well to keep an eye of innovation coming out of the lab. They’ve already announced new social, mobile and analytics tools to help C-Suite leaders.

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