This year marks the 131st year of operation for R. L. Polk & Co., a premier provider of automotive information solution services to corporations worldwide. A privately held company founded in 1870, Polk is the oldest consumer marketing information company in America, and employs approximately 1,400 people in offices and production facilities throughout the world.

While Polk offers automotive information solutions that can be found nowhere else, innovations and technical proficiency before anyone else and diagnostic savvy that is unparalleled in the industry, perhaps the greatest benefit of operating as a global company is the experience that it affords – our clients reap the benefits of our global knowledge in the design of their automotive information systems. We are time-tested, knowledge rich and adept at delivering a world-class product on time, and within budget.

Accurate Market Information for Ford
Buying data as a product can be a hit-and-miss affair. In no other industry would a client purchase a commodity when it was unsure of the overall quality. After all, we’ve all been the victim of database mistakes, and many of us will have bought in sales or marketing data and found it to be substantially less than accurate.

But data is the basis upon which multi-million pound decisions are made: Do we open a factory in the Midlands? Will consumers buy this product? Is there a gap in the market? Should we make this acquisition? All of this needs evidence – but if this is unreliable, or only represents a partial view, then the potential for mistakes is greatly increased.

In the automotive industry, information is crucial. The market is highly competitive, so the failure to spot an opening, react to a trend or incorrect pricing a car can mean losing money, sales, and market share.

Put it in gear
Polk is the global leader in providing information to the automotive industry. Worldwide it deals essentially with all the major motor manufacturers. It provides management and geographical information systems to Putting Data in the driving seat ? Polk Head quarter in Detriot Case Study Polk Automotive Intelligence Headquarters: Southfield, Michigan, USA Core business: Polk is the global leader in providing information to the automotive industry. Worldwide it deals with all the major motor manufacturers Business need: the ability to add value to incoming customer information by verifying and validating data sets received from clients and linking disparate data together Technology solution: Ascential Software’s DataStage to move data around the corporate databases and store in one central repository, to allow easy processing of data from all European systems Results: Facility for more complex analysis for reporting High levels of data quality are maintained Maximizing use of all corporate and customer data Data sets from a variety of sources are constantly added to and updated, to maintain market share. The Ford Motor Company in 15 European countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Polk has always maintained market share through the rigorous quality control it exercises on the information it provides. In order to create the information systems it offers, however, it is necessary to constantly update and add to the data sets it has access to. When you consider that up to twelve data sets need to be integrated for some clients, the potential compatibility and quality concerns become apparent.

Each incoming data set is essentially a ‘snapshot’ in time of a transaction database. In the UK, these operational data sets include, among others, The Society of Motor Manufacturer and Traders registration information, Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency data, territory data supplied by Ford and Ford sales data – and equivalent data sets are provided throughout Europe.

The information provided is mission critical to the organisations that subscribe to it. Ford would typically use it to support decisions such as how to plan forecourts, identify how and where to market vehicles, where to open showrooms etc. The increasing volume and number of information sources that Polk has to deal with, however, means that data quality is highly variable. Not only does it change between suppliers of equivalent data sets, but it also varies in time.

The problem that faced Polk essentially revolved around the company’s ability to add value to incoming data by verifying and validating all the records, and linking disparate data sets together to create a warehouse – which in turn would become the source for the GIS and MIS systems.

First off the block
Polk first attempted to solve this problem by focusing specifically on the Ford UK system requirements. Data management and migration specialist, DOT Group, was chosen as the implementation partner to develop a joint deployment strategy. DOT was chosen for its ability to ensure the project was delivered on time and on budget, as well as its commitment to working closely with Polk, as an integrated part of the team.

The first approach to solving the problem was to design a database to enable the evaluation of data integrity via the use of constraints and other relational tools. Normalizing the data in this way allows many potential errors to be highlighted directly by the database management system.

Once the schema was established, the next step was to build ‘wrapper programmes’. These are designed for two main purposes: the first is to effectively move the data into areas of the database that are optimized for pre-defined selects. The second to provide centralised controlled points where new business rules can be added as they are discovered.

The obvious area to look was in the Extract Transformation Load (ETL) arena. After evaluating several vendors’ products it was decided that DataStage, from Ascential Software, best met Polk and Ford’s requirements.

Using DataStage to provide the ‘wrapper’ around data movements enabled the bulk batch processes of Polk’s European systems to be automated. By developing the front-end in Java, all interfaces could be accessed from anywhere on the Polk intranet. This also provides the option to open up various functions and services to clients, if required in the future.

“The initial aim was to use DataStage to transform and load incoming data into our normalized databases, which it did very well,” said James Ricketts of Polk. “As the project progressed, however, more requirements began to appear which related to reporting on the data. In order to satisfy the growing demand for this type of information, we devised a data mart strategy centered on DataStage’s ability to extract, transform and load. This capability gave us the power and flexibility to build ever more complex analysis and presentation styles for our reporting – instantly creating what is now a rapidly expanding area of our business.”

There’s always a risk in integrating new technology into a business, but Polk’s relationship with DOT and Ascential proved adept at ensuring the smooth training, development and deployment of the system.

“The successful implementation of Ascential’s DataStage has enabled us to consider a whole new dimension in how to deploy and use our data,” Tony Ward- Polk IT Manager.