RESEARCH & RESOURCES

CASE STUDY - Talk America Builds a Highly Available, Scalable Infrastructure

Commentary by Laurence Grant, IT Director of Enterprise Computing Systems, Talk America Holdings, Inc.

case study Talk America
Challenges

Founded in 1989, Talk America Holdings, Inc. is a leading communications provider that offers phone services and high-speed Internet access to nearly one million residential and small business customers across the U.S. Based in Reston, Virginia, they operate in 25 U.S. markets, focusing on Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas. In 2004, Talk America’s revenue grew 23 percent to $471 million. The company has received the J.D. Power and Associates Award for the highest residential telephone customer satisfaction in the North Central region two years in a row.

In the highly competitive telecom industry, the 1,300 employees of Talk America face many challenges as they strive to differentiate themselves with high-value, low-cost products and excellent customer service. In order to help meet its high growth targets, Talk America needed a system that could grow with it.

“We were experiencing tremendous growth after changing our focus from long distance to the local marketplace, and our existing legacy system struggled to meet the high availability and scalability requirements of various mission-critical applications,” says Laurence Grant, Talk America’s IT director. “We already managed 60 terabytes of data in multiple Informix databases, and we knew the system wouldn’t scale to accommodate the 100 terabytes of data we were expecting to store within the next five years.”

Solution

To support the computing requirements of its growing business, Talk America consolidated their separate OLTP and data warehouses into a single Oracle 10g Grid Computing database on HP. It was possible to build both OLTP and DSS applications on the same database because Oracle Grid Computing technology enables the database to support multiple types of workloads in a highly flexible manner. For example, if Talk America needs more resources for their CRM application to handle increased numbers of callers due to, say, bad weather, they can take some resources away from their reporting system. These can be allocated, on demand, to the CRM system, and it will be transparent to the users.

Consolidating the OLTP and DSS systems into a near-real-time system helps Talk America eliminate duplication of data, reduce maintenance costs, and minimize integration. It also gives management accurate measurements of the effectiveness of customer acquisition efforts while achieving greater mileage from marketing dollars.

“The new system provides an accurate 360-degree view of customer information to all our employees at all times,” says Grant. “We achieved this by building both OLTP and DSS applications in the same database, and the new system has an enterprisewide common data model that enables sharing of data across multiple applications, serving as the single source of truth.”

Talk America has leveraged grid computingtechnology to consolidate our OLTP and DSSsystems into a single database to provide a highlyavailable, scalable, and secure IT infrastructure.
— Laurence Grant, IT Director of Enterprise Computing Systems, Talk America

Results

With the Oracle system, Talk America’s sales and service employees are now able to handle twice the number of customers they were handling in the earlier system. Not only are they handling a greater quantity of customers, they’re doing so with a higher degree of quality.

“When a customer calls our service center, the agent has the latest and most accurate information such as call data records, billing details, and contact info, as well as analysis information such as lifetime customer value and cross-selling/up-selling opportunities for the customer,” explains Grant. “All these features enable us to provide superior customer service and maintain a high growth rate.”

The new Oracle system has easily accommodated Talk America’s substantial growth—23 percent in 2004—while decreasing overall IT costs and improving value. Data storage capacity has swelled to 100 terabytes, processes have become more efficient, and the system has not experienced any unplanned downtime.

“An integrated database helped us to eliminate the many silos and complex integrations in our earlier system, while reducing data inconsistencies and inaccuracies,” says Grant. “It allows us to provide timely, accurate, and consistently relevant data and analysis to all our employees at all levels, and we’re now able to measure the effectiveness of our marketing campaigns faster, take immediate actions to fine-tune [them], and achieve higher return on our marketing dollars.”

For Further Information

Learn more about Oracle business intelligence and data warehousing at: www.oracle.com/solutions/business_intelligence

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

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