Canada Post on the (careful) commercialization of data

When Canada Post embarked on their transformational initiative to monetize address data as a value-add service to Canadian businesses, they did it under one condition: That privacy and protection would be a constant consideration.

As a common data point across databases, address data is an integral part to any Master Data Management strategy. It’s powerful when it’s right; frustrating when it’s not. Could the organization turn this seemingly ordinary data point into a profitable business line? Once leaders at Canada Post started asking themselves what-if questions on behalf of their potential market (“What if you had every address maintained, authenticated and updated for you every week?”), the answer became clear.

And by delivering more than 9 billion letters and 153 million parcels to 14.5 million points of call in Canada, Canada Post has a LOT of address data to offer.

As James Smith’s and Alexis Zamkow’s Digital Delivery Network teams began to make the case for building a business around the address data, executives at Canada Post began to understand the u tapped potential that “data people” were bringing to the organization. “For data to have a seat at the executive table, the quantifiable benefit needed to be defined, and that’s just what we did,” Zamkow said.

With a small yet powerful team, Canada Post’s Digital Delivery Network teams tackled the internal and external data collection by establishing a strong data governance platform — including structured and repeatable processes for controlling data access. Because they worked closely with data “partners,” maintaining high levels of communication and transparency on privacy and security issues was critical to maintaining trust and goodwill.

For data to have a seat at the executive table, the quantifiable benefit needed to be defined, and that’s just what we did.

The resulting “products” include marketing lists, address Web services, address licensing (identifying addresses at more discrete locations, say, a doctor’s office within an office building). Supporting sales efforts through visualization dashboards allows Canada Post’s sales and marketing teams to explore the data and deliver customer facing quotes faster and with greater insights.

SAS analytics help with the underlying proximity modeling, to help determine what type of business an address is (is Cindy’s Nails a nail manufacturing facility or a nail salon?), and taxonomy analytics to determine whether an address is a business or a consumer.

“Data governance is critical since this reflects the quality of our data product,” Smith said. The amped-up requirements for data quality and data governance became not only a critical strategy for the monetization initiative, but offered a nice side benefit to the IT organization itself in its ability to deliver better data. Canada Post has established a governance office and committee comprised of data stewards, IT, legal and others to discuss user access controls, documentation, and data protection, among other topics.

The growing success of this initiative within Canada Post now has business and IT partnering in think-tanks on the future of the business. Smith’s and Zamkow’s teams are now managing 55 data sources with 22 data partners, have launched 15 new products with five more projected in 2013, and double digit year-over-year revenue growth. Not bad for a bunch of “data people,” eh?

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