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SOA is a diamond store's best friend

Helzberg Diamonds uses SOA to bring real-time information from its corporate data warehouse into its 270 retail jewelry stores, unlocking the regional data silo setup it had previously built.

Customers who spend thousands of dollars for a pair of diamond earrings probably would like the jewelry store staff to remember them the next time they visit. They probably don't want to have to tell a sales associate the entire history of what they bought in the past and explain personal tastes and prices ranges.

It's basically very easy for us with any application within the enterprise to access information not only in the data warehouse, but any database within our internal network.
Greg Backhus
Director of Data WarehousingHelzberg Diamonds

That is the customer service challenge faced by Helzberg Diamonds, which has been in the jewelry game since 1915. Back then, of course, store managers kept customer histories in their heads or in one of those state of the art ledger books where they could scribble information with a fountain pen. Today, Helzberg relies on SOA and Web services to put a customer's history immediately into the hands of a sales associate at any of its 270 jewelry stores nationwide. The system is so effective that Helzberg is something of a poster child for IBM's Information on Demand initiative combining SOA and data integration technology.

Using point-of-sale lookup applications built with the SOA components of WebSphere, sales representative have real-time access to customer information stored in a data warehouse at Helzberg's corporate headquarters in Kansas City, MO, explains Greg Backhus, director data warehousing for the company. Even if a customer from Kansas City visits a store in St. Louis, all his history and account information will be there so the sales associate can provide the same level of customer service as the store back home.

However, up until the implementation of the SOA lookup application using Web services to connect point-of-sale terminals to the data warehouse, that was not the case. As any database administrator knows, filling a database with information is one thing, getting specific data back out in real time right when you need it and where you need it can be a challenge.

"We have a fairly mature data warehousing environment," Backhus said. "It's enterprise-wide and hits every subject area within the organization, but we have had challenges with all the different parts of the organization accessing that information."

Prior to the SOA implementation, sales associates only had access to customer information from local stores in their city or region, he explained. So in the case of a patron from St. Louis who moves to Kansas City, the local store could not easily get the customer's previous history with Helzberg. Getting the information would have required sending a request to the data warehouse administrators at the home office and then waiting to get the data back in a spreadsheet. Not exactly real-time.

"That probably wasn't happening a lot," Backhus concedes of the old query system. Since the store in his new hometown didn't have his records, the customer might find a new favorite jewelry store, which is the last result that Helzberg Diamonds would want. So the use of the SOA lookup application has been crucial to what Backhus says is the intangible of customer retention.

For more information
Enterprise Data Integration: A critical piece in a Service-Oriented Architecture

SOA: Bridging the divide within IT

"Now, by using the central lookups, it goes back to a central database where all the customer information is kept across all the markets," he explained. "So there is a 360-degree view of the relationship of that customer to the company."

While he did not have ROI dollar figures for the SOA lookup application, he said it is achieving the intangible goal of enhancing customer satisfaction.

Besides the lookup applications, Helzberg has developed an SOA customer relationship management (CRM) application, which based on customer history in the central data warehouse, pings sales associates in local stores reminding them to send thank you notes to customers or reminders of servicing appointments.

"Now we use Web services to access backend data," Backhus explained. "It's basically very easy for us with any application within the enterprise to access information not only in the data warehouse, but any database within our internal network."

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