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Toshiba Analyzes Customer Satisfaction

The diagnostic equipment maker wanted intelligence on customers' experience with its products. But how do you apply BI to qualitative data?
Zimmer said the decision to build a BI system based on "experience" rather than bottom-line dollar figures came out of the need to stay ahead of the competition in an industry -- and a world -- where the technological leading-edge moves rapidly from company to company, from rival to rival. "If you come out with some super-hot technology, that's a blip on the screen. Your competitors will eventually catch up, and then you lose your advantage; it's impossible to sustain over time. So we had to come up with a way to build an organization that can sustain those technological ups and downs." The answer, he says, was to become more intimate with the customer over the long lifespan of these complicated products, and to keep customers happy.

Development began about 16 months ago, Zimmer says, and the company plans to branch out to other departments beyond marketing. He said that a system of the size Toshiba uses would typically cost from $350,000 to $400,000, development included. He wouldn't say what price he and Cognos specifically negotiated. Toshiba tested software from a number of other BI vendors, but said that the flexibility for customization that Cognos offered did the trick.

Toshiba also uses Cognos for more typical BI functions, such as analyzing sales figures and financials -- bookings, billings, margins, win-rates, etc. The data sources for this are an AS/400 order-management system running with an Oracle database.

Schwartz said that Cognos replaced an "archaic" system at Toshiba, which had been using a program from Actuate to cull information from all the company's disparate data sources, and a Clarify reporting tool, which forced IT personnel to stick the data manually into Excel spreadsheets. Reports took weeks to complete.

Integrating Cognos' OLAP cubes into Toshiba's legacy system was "challenging," says Schwartz. Both Schwartz and Zimmer liken the process to "taking old furniture and putting it into a new house. Not everything fits, so that's when you get out your hacksaw." For instance, the old system used a data mart, and when Toshiba IT built a new data warehouse for the Cognos analytics, Toshiba had trouble transferring some of the AS/400 data into it, which required the design of "a lot of algorithms" to make it all fit.

Another challenge was simply figuring out how to define the OLAP cubes so that they would match Toshiba's requirements. The very definition of the word "customer" became a problem, because the organization that receives the bill for a machine is often not the organization that actually uses the machine. For example, a hospital might buy an X-Ray machine that winds up in an off-site clinic affiliated with that hospital.

Ironically enough, Schwartz says there's no hard data to determine just how much Cognos has improved Toshiba's business, but he notes that over the last four years, the company has had a 300% reduction in number of customer alerts, or complaints. And, Zimmer says, Toshiba is the "fastest-rising company in terms of user rating" when compared to its rivals. "We're not 100% across all our products, but we're No. 1 in ultrasounds, both radiology and cardiology, for instance." He predicts that more products will achieve No. 1 status as the company introduces new products to the market, having tweaked them with information learned from the Cognos reports.