For a company that is tasked with safely delivering billions of letters and parcels across the UK and beyond every year, it is comforting to see Royal Mail taking a steady, sensible approach to big data.
Speaking at the Hadoop Summit in Dublin last week, director of the Technology Data Group at Royal Mail, Thomas Lee-Warren told Computerworld UK that its Hadoop investment is the foundation of a drive to gain more value from internal data.
This has involved using Hortonworks Hadoop analytics tools to transform the way it manages data across the organisation, freeing the analytics team to deliver insights on proprietary information held in its data warehouse.
"We have a lot of the building blocks in place, key partners in place and want to start delivering on those ROI's, because we can see them, and now we are chasing them," he said.
Lee-Warren is responsible for business intelligence, commercial insight and analytics at the historic company. "I am tasked with changing the concept of data, which is something which appears on reports, into something which changes the fortunes of the company."
He says that Royal Mail has a relative scarcity of resource to throw at gaining value from its data, so it has to focus on specific returns on investement (ROI).
Now it has put the infrastructure and tools in place for its data insights team of around fifteen employees to investigate "every part of our business and how we engage with our customers," says Lee-Warren. "We are looking at how people are using our services. Analytics can be really important in those areas."
Everything Royal Mail delivers is tracked, "so, we have a lot of data," says Lee-Warren. "We are about to go up to running in the region of a hundred terabytes, across nine nodes."
Royal Mail decided on a Hortonworks deployment of the open-source Apache Hadoop software following an extensive tendering process. "It was almost like the Big Bang, before Hortonworks there was nothing."
Lee-Warren speaks about how he wanted to free up his data insights team from spending ninety percent of their time "ferrying data backwards and forwards" from its Teradata data warehouse, to spending ninety percent of their time exploiting that data and making it available to the rest of the business.
"We're accelerating that whole process, we're not having to spin up projects just to get data. We are able to accomplish a huge amount of work with single individuals," says Lee-Warren. "We see Hortonworks as our advanced analytics platform."
One project Lee-Warren's team has completed is around churn modelling, trying to cut down on customer attrition, "so looking at how we could help our business colleagues identify those customer that were more likely to churn in particular industries."
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