Who Are You? Why You’ll Profit by Using Analytically Driven Entity Identity Management.

Alice in Wonderland

 “The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

Who are YOU said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I–I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’ “

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1865.

For a business, the ability to answer the question “who are you?” for each individual customer or prospect is critical.  Understanding “YOU” is the holy grail of marketing today – and the quest to better identify “YOU” and understand “YOU” is progressing as data, analytic capabilities and technology expand and advance.

The first step of identifying “YOU” is often not discussed or explored beyond domain experts in customer management. The more accurate information you can link to an individual, the more precisely you can identify that person and develop tailored product and service offerings for that specific individual. The system of accurately identifying entities is called Entity Resolution or Entity Identity Management (EIM).

Today the expertise related to Entity Identity Management is deepening and evolving toward Entity Information Management Systems. According to Dr. John Talburt, Executive Director of the Center for Advanced Research in Entity Resolution and Information Quality: “Either explicitly or implicitly, every organization uses some type of Entity Information Management system.”¹

And like Alice, WHO you are may be viewed differently based on the type of information, the linking of the information, and the associated “business rules” created for integrating the linked information into all components of existing processes and systems.

The Challenge: Finding the WHO.

In 2011, two technology experts, Jill Dyché and Evan Levy published Customer Data Integration: Reaching a Single Version of the Truth. There they assert:

“Customer data is the most basic raw material required for building customer relationships […] while the raw material itself has never been in greater supply, converting it into usable customer information and insight has never been more challenging.”²

The challenge of converting customer data into insight – linking data and correctly associating it with a specific customer – is not a new one. However, today’s data environment is very different from that of the past. To fully understand our customers requires handling copious amounts of data, including unstructured data and fragmented data, and aggregating these from varied channels.

Today’s complex and nuanced data atmosphere – coupled with the importance of accurately answering, “who are you?” – necessitates a more advanced solution. Whereas businesses once addressed the issue of entity resolution, they are now facing the task of entity identity management. In response, new capabilities are being developed for a more analytically driven approach to better understanding your customers.

One Approach to Analytically Driven EIM.

How a more analytically driven approach to Entity Identity Management enables businesses to better understand their customers and improve their processes.

Black Oak Partners³, where Dr. Talburt serves as Chief Scientist, has its own unique Entity Information Management solution. Their approach analyzes all of the information related to individuals and/or entities from multiple sources of data, and then applies likelihood and probability scoring to determine which information belongs to which entity. This solution, designed as a service, allows clients to develop their own matching rules utilizing their unique business intelligence guided by analytic expertise. Clients benefit from a deeper understanding, derived from the customization not present in many traditional entity management solutions that are not analytically driven.

Organizations utilizing Black Oak’s analytically driven approaches to Entity Information Management have also demonstrated the capability to utilize fragmented and poor quality records and transform them into a useful knowledge structures that can add value to the customer recognition process. According to Black Oak, in test environments clients have realized entity recognition improvement of 8-12%. To scale, this improvement may have a sizeable impact on various business processes that contribute directly to the bottom line.

These analytically driven approaches – Black Oak’s and others – enable better targeting and insights around particular customers as well as more accurate identification of their associated risks and opportunities—all of which creates more favorable outcomes.

[Disclosure: I’m an Advisory Director at Black Oak Partners.]

Into the Looking Glass: Finding the WHO in an Analytically Driven World. 

We predict that the current state of customer recognition will be replaced by these intelligent systems that manage information about a customer or prospect through the use of advanced analytics.

Just as Alice changes throughout her adventures, so does each customer. But whether she is a normal sized little girl, as small as a mouse, or as big as entire room, she is always Alice. Individuals are multi-faceted and being able to identify multiple representations of an individual and link them to a single unique entity is crucial. This identification and linkage is the first step to creating an accurate and complete view of your customers. It is the first step in understanding “Who are YOU?” in order to create relevant and timely products and services that “you” will utilize and enjoy. Even though advanced customer recognition is not often discussed, EIM is fundamental and a critical domain expertise for delivering customer insights.

Updated capabilities within Entity Identity Management are appropriate for any business that understands the importance of identifying customers in the most accurate fashion at every level of business engagement. Across industries, applying this analytic expertise ensures the highest integrity in identifying customers accurately. Entity identity integrity represents a significant opportunity for every business—and making sure that all entities are 100% identified correctly has serious financial implications for every aspect of any business.

  • How do you approach Entity Identity Management in your organization?
  • How well can you identify your customers within and across your businesses? Do you know how many unique customers you serve?
  • How would your products and services be augmented if you had confidence in the accuracy of your entity identification?


  1. Marcia Tal, interview with Dr. John Talburt, December 10, 2013. 
  2. Dyché, Jill, and Evan Levy. Customer Data Integration: Reaching a Single Version of the Truth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2006. Print. 
  3. Marcia Tal is an Advisory Director at Black Oak Partners (http://blackoakpartners.net). 

Join the Converstation

  1. Interesting information, thanks!

  2. Wow. Thanks. I need to look at my approach!
    Kim Patterson

  3. Gosh, I hadn’t heard this!