Informatica Day - Johannesburg is a half day event that brings together the Data Community's brightest minds to push the boundaries of current thinking and discuss the role of data in the real-time digital enterprise of the future.

The agenda will be based on the most popular sessions from the recent Informatica World event held in Las Vegas - with additional sessions that focus on POPI - a key priority in the South African market. Industry experts will present Informatica's vision for the new data-centric world, and discuss the innovations that will take the concept of a data platform to an entirely new level.

Using big data to drive a personalised customer experience

When it comes to history, capability and sheer size, Western Union is clearly the big fish in the money transfer pond. The 160-year-old company has made it its mission to help loved ones near and far stay connected by moving money around the globe. It achieves this thanks to its 500 000 agent locations in over 200 countries and territories. Clearly, this massive capacity and ability to deliver around the globe is the reason millions of people trust Western Union to send and receive money worldwide.

Nonetheless, the company understands the need to continually evolve its business model. This evolution is supported by a data strategy that enables the expansion of digital products, the growth of new channels to market and a change in its approach to the customer experience.

The data challenge

Despite its strong reputation in the industry, Western Union is facing the same challenge as many other businesses, namely increasing competitive pressure from emerging technology trends.

To this end, the company is transforming itself and focusing on developing an omni-channel approach, which will include not only retail, but also Web and mobile. At the same time, it plans to expand into new markets with e-commerce and other digital products, while also focusing on reaching its customers with a more tailored and personalised experience.

It needs to be remembered, however, the organisation conducts business in more than 120 currencies across a vast number of countries and territories. In the 2013 calendar year, Western Union conducted some 242 million consumer-to-consumer transactions and 459 million business payments.

This, in effect, translates to more than 29 transactions per second. Such a massive number of transactions inevitably generates a significant amount of structured and unstructured data, all of which needs to be integrated from a diverse range of sources, including legacy, mobile and online data.

This is a substantial challenge, as it not only creates data complexity, but puts the company in a position where it needs to cost-effectively deal with this, while simultaneously scaling access, storage and processing. The goal is to enable data scientists to utilise a data platform to conduct statistical modelling and predictive analysis, as well as systematically noting trends in sending and receiving behaviours.

A scalable answer

The solution to Western Union's challenges was for the business to build a data platform based on Hadoop (Cloudera) and Informatica's PowerCenter Big Data Edition.

Informatica offers the industry's leading independent data integration platform and is also integrated with Hadoop, an open-source software framework for storage and large-scale processing of data-sets on clusters of commodity hardware. In other words, it is a software engine designed to give answers to big data queries.

Western Union is one of only a handful of very early adopters of Hadoop on such a global scale and the company has now begun to maximise the return on big data, as Hadoop supports its top business imperatives, by allowing it to mine this data for hidden gems.

Real benefits

The adoption of Hadoop and Informatica offer tangible benefits to Western Union, in that it assists the company in improving performance, scalability, reliability and ease of data access.

Apart from being a highly scalable storage platform, an additional benefit is it also offers a cost-effective storage solution for organisations that need to deal with very large data sets. Moreover, it enables Western Union to tap both structured and unstructured data, in order to generate value from this information. This means business insights can be derived from data sources as diverse as calls, transaction records and even social media.

Western Union has always taken pride in being close to its customers. The company has built its reputation on speaking its customers' languages, living in their neighbourhoods and sharing their culture, thus being viewed as a key part of their lives. The company's new ability to derive enormous amounts of value from the big data generated by its customers' multitude of transactions, means it will now be able to take this closeness to a new level.

"We will continue to be proactive, anticipating, adapting to and addressing the ever-changing needs of our customers, and always striving to stay one step ahead," concludes Hikmet Ersek, Western Union's President and CEO.

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