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‘DVR for data’ gives TIAA deep insights into its digital business

Clint Boulton | June 19, 2017
Retirement wealth manager TIAA built an analytics system to gauge how its digital services are performing in real time, giving IT an immediate pulse on how consumers are responding to them.

THOR begins monitoring customer behaviors when people engage with TIAA assets on the web, or mobile devices and follows the customer's data path all the way to servers in TIAA's data centers. It counts page loading speeds to help ascertain TIAA's digital performance, how long customers visited a page, where they clicked, and most importantly, whether they completed their transaction or abandoned it to call TIAA's customer service.

 

A direct line between customer and IT

User experience designers, developers and engineers responsible for functionality such as enrollment, bill pay, rebalancing portfolios in the company's trading, retirement and financial advice products watch this activity on a heat-map style visualization interface in real-time. They can stop, pause, rewind, fast-forward and playback the activity -- just like a DVR, Blandford says.

If they see a web-page performance slow-down in, for example, Ohio, they can investigate whether the problem lies with the company or the internet. The groups can tweak the products, removing or adding certain features without requesting permission from Blandford or his lieutenants. Blandford said they are essentially autonomous departments tending to aisles in a large store.

“They love it, because in big companies it’s tough to connect your work, especially when you’re in IT, to customers,” Blandford says. “THOR has unlocked all of that for us.”

TIAA had limited THOR’s scope to digital transactions when it was initially released more than a year ago. Over time, TIAA began funneling in information collected from paper forms customers filled out, calls they made to the company's service representatives, as well as in-person visits to TIAA branches. The move ensured THOR was providing a broader view of the company’s customer service and operational performance.

Information THOR collects is aggregated, collated and analyzed to generate metrics that shows how the various software products are performing individually and in total, as part of a top-line digitization score of the company. “To get that score right we have to build a lot of great stuff on the web and drive adoption so that customers come back,” Blandford says.

Those looking to buy THOR or build it are out of luck. Unfortunately, there isn't a blueprint available for this architecture. This isn't some system TIAA hacked together with Apache Spark, Hadoop and other tools. It's a proprietary system TIAA built and the company has lodged patents ranging from data collection processes to visualization capabilities.

There is something even the mighty THOR can get its hammer on: Building consumer awareness of TIAA's digital services. Blandford says TIAA is working hard to do a better job spreading the word about its digital services, both its existing products and new releases. "Of those things available digitally … only some customers try them," Blandford says. "That gap is about adoption and awareness."

 

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