Big Data Can Mean Big Returns in Retail

Lindsey Nelson

Big data for retail means a chance to see why a sale didn’t occur. Is it product selection? Pricing? Store display? Ineffective promotional material?

Before, this information was hard to track, but with the advent of big data and in-memory computing, two products ideally suited to collecting and analyzing unstructured data types like that of retail, are poised to play a significant role in sales.

For example, web logs are not the typical financial data people relate with the term “big data”. This web information shows how consumers navigate through an internet storefront. The data can be combined with previous BI (Business Intelligence) apps and sales data, generating clear insight.

Retailers now have the opportunity to see website traffic for a particular product and compare it to the sales. Before, if a product wasn’t selling it would be removed from the line. Now, managers can readjust pricing; ensure there are enough colors and sizes, and any other aspects that take a look to a sale.

This analytical approach to customer decisions is not limited to the web; some retailers are now using technologies to analyze foot traffic throughout their physical stores. These maps, combined with sales data, make way for new applications focused on optimizing store layout and product placement.

Retail relies heavily on in-store and online purchases, but they are not successful without making sure their product is delivered on time. Predictive analysis applications using the first day’s delivery, past delivery data, and real-time traffic data, provide revised delivery schedules, allowing retail managers to take immediate corrective action.

This is incredibly advantageous for retail managers, preparing them to better meet customer expectations and maintain high operational efficiency.

This operational efficiency is essential when retailers always want to know what their customers need before they even know they need it.

For example, using big data retailers now can see, through data from store cards, cashed-in coupons, and purchase history, when a customer may need a refill on a product. This data gives retail marketers the upper hand, sending the low stocked customers promotional material – urging them to buy the refill.

As Mark Ledbetter put it in his recent article, “Go Big or Go Home: How Big Data Can Bring Big Sales”, “How retailers use it to change their business, how they take advantage of it to grow sales…is only limited by their imagination.”


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How Cloud Computing Could Give You "An Edge"

Jen Cohen Crompton

As the physical and virtual workplaces change and impact the landscape of how we conduct business, cloud computing continues to be a determining factor in building business strategies focused on productivity and efficacy. Small and large companies are hopping on the cloud bandwagon and are raving about the positive impacts this technology has on their business objectives.

If you’re considering deploying this technology, there are a few considerations you must identify prior to choosing and adopting a cloud strategy. You must review some of the reasons why a cloud strategy could be good for your company and how it will provide benefit. Identifying and ranking priorities will help you understand which customized cloud solution will bring the most benefit. If done correctly, this technology could give your company just the edge it needs.

Some of the most important aspects of using cloud computing include:

Collaboration. If your company is global or intends on going global, the cloud helps foster cross-border collaboration, allowing multiple people to work on projects together in real-time. This is also true all the way down to a local level where team members might simply be in different locations. Collaboration efforts can include editing documents or presentations simultaneously, working on website coding, or any other activity that can benefit from the efforts of more than one person working together in real-time.

Interactivity. As companies follow the trend of hiring independent contractors and freelancers to fill a variety of roles due to skill-based and bottomline needs and implications, this has caused communication issues and barriers to learning how to interact as a team and form cohesion. Working within the cloud allows independent contractors/freelancers and full-time staff the ability to view projects and milestones in one specific space, and communicate directly to ensure all parts of a project are moving smoothly. This type of interactivity can be a great solution to bringing together these hybrid teams.

Mobility. Let’s face it, we are all on the move today and enjoy the flexibility. It is no longer necessary to be behind a desktop computer and logged into a company Intranet to access files and be productive. The cloud, coupled with a mobility strategy, allows for the management of project flows from anywhere on any device (including smartphones and tablets). This type of flexibility can improve and increase productivity, and also contribute to an employee satisfaction initiative.

Consolidation. The cloud can also serve as a great consolidation solution to help save time, space and cost. The cloud could eliminate some of the internal hardware needed to store and transmit files and house and manage internal servers.

Eliminating constricting factors. Overall the cloud can help alleviate some issues of time, space and place, which in turn, do not contribute as greatly to limiting the functions and performance of a business.

The bottomline is that a customized and strategically planned cloud solution can do a lot for business productivity by providing a suite of options and functionality that was once restricted by hardware, cords, and connections. Reviewing the positives and prioritizing will help your company plan an effective strategy and adoption process.


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Why Executive Participation Is Critical To ERP Success

Dror Orbach

In current economic conditions, most businesses are expected to operate more efficiently, run tighter ships and do more with less. That is just the new reality.  So a decision to implement something as large as an ERP system is not an easy one to make, and needs to be justified by the substantial business benefits that will be achieved in doing so.

What business issues are you looking to solve?

That is the most critical question that executives need to answer when deciding whether or not to proceed with a new ERP system.  More specifically, what are the business problems or pain points that are either hurting the company right now, or have the potential to hurt it in the future? In some cases the need stems not from a problem, but rather from the set of new automation / IT system capabilities that will become crucial enablers of the business’ growth and its future competitive position. One or more of these major change drivers needs to be clearly demonstrated before a top executive should consider approving the purchase and implementation of a new ERP system.

Executive Participation important from start to finish

Executive involvement shouldn’t end there.  In fact,  approving the system is only the beginning. It is also very important that top executives actively participate throughout the ERP implementation process.  The executive plays a key role in ensuring that the implementation stays on track and never strays from the overall objectives.

Why? Only the executive level offers the necessary high-level perspective that is needed to juggle competing priorities.  Most project teams are made up of a variety of people from different departments – all with their own view of what’s truly important. The executive represents the overall best interests of the company as a whole, and has the overarching perspective to make sure the team chooses priorities that serve the best interest of the company as a whole: the ones that actually address the core objectives that were intended in the first place.

Executives keep project focused on things that matter most

The executive also plays a key role in maintaining focus for the ERP implementation team.  As the team moves through the implementation, it’s easy to get distracted.  Challenges can range from trying to include too many things in the first phase of the implementation, to losing sight of important objectives when paring project scope down to fit previously approved budgets.  ERP systems are very broad in their capability, so project teams can feel a bit like kids in a candy store – there is so much to choose from.  Without the executive rigorously controlling scope,  it is tempting for the project team to add functionality that is desirable and value-adding, but not really necessary for attaining the stated objectives. The executive can keep the project on track by reminding the team of what they are trying to achieve and what the priority areas are – thus ensuring necessary capabilities are delivered while minimizing possible scope creep.

Without executive involvement, the implementation will also take much longer and be more costly in the end – which may ultimately add more pain points than it takes away.   By applying some discipline, the implementation team will be able to achieve an early success and have something go live that is meaningful and has an impact right away. Conversely, by expanding the scope too much, the implementation becomes more complex, the benefits are delayed and the focus of the team gets diluted.

The dangers of losing sight of your objectives are clear: if you don’t focus on them, you won’t achieve them.  Having that active participation and direction of the executive team at every step of the implementation process ensures your team’s focus will not waver.



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Team Sky: Performance Management Extraordinaire

Richard Barrett

Bradley Wiggins Wins 2012 Tour de France

Any British cycling fan has waited a lifetime for today when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France with fellow Brit Chris Froome in second place and the pocket rocket, sprinter Mark Cavendish, picking up three stage wins en route, including a 4th win on the Champs Elysees to become the most successful sprinter of all time despite having to make his own opportunities as the rest of the team supported the yellow jersey.

And it wasn’t all to do with precocious talent; performance management was the key to Team Sky’s success.

  • Sky Pro Cycling MantraThe team formed in 2010 announcing the audacious goal of winning the Tour with 5 years. They did it in 3!
  • They had a single focus – winning the Tour with the best man for the task – and were able to ignore minor distractions and get every team member committed to that goal in spite of the fact that it wasn’t always in their best personal interest with sprinter Mark Cavendish happy to fall into the role of super domestique carrying food and feed bottles for fellow team members.
  • Apparently they measured everything that could be measured in a relentless pursuit of incremental improvements in every area of performance – the aero-dynamics of bikes, the absorbtion of different fibres and the energy output of different foods.
  • They assiduously corrected weaknesses with Wiggins reshaping his physique by losing 8kg in bodyweight and Cavendish working at his climbing ability both to enable him to support fellow team members and to get himself into more sprint finishes
  • . . . and they got everyone to believe it could be done and constantly reminded them when they looked down to their crossbar.

Team Principal (note the title), David Brailsford, helped British riders win a clutch of medals at the Beijing Olympics and now, four years later, leads a team at the pinnacle of another discipline. For me, it’s a text-book case of what can be achieved when performance management is whole-heartedly embraced and relentlessly executed. It’s a shining example for all of us.

My prediction; Knighthoods all round before the end of the year.


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Dear Facebook: Please Give Us A ‘Sympathize’ Button

SAP Guest

dislike button

(Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

By Vinay Iyer, Vice President, Global Solution Marketing, SAP

I recently complained on Facebook about having to do the dishes by hand when my dishwasher was in its death throes.

Several sympathizers posted consoling comments. My Mother-in-law, though, “Liked” my status!

Now, maybe there is a deeper Freudian slip there for me to analyze, but when I asked my dear Mother-in-law about this, her apologetic response was simple: “I was trying to show sympathy, but ‘Like’ was my only option.”

There are many situations where “like” is the antithesis of the response we may be trying to convey (think about Facebook status updates involving illnesses, lost jobs, a death in the family. What is there to ‘Like’ about these?). There’s a real need for a “Dislike” or “Sympathize” button, but each of these is really only a springboard into a more interesting question about what we actually mean when we are forced to respond with such limited options.

Our opinions are falling through the net

There are all sorts of rating, recommendation, and opinion tracking systems on the Internet. Some are very simple: “Like” and “+1,” for example. Others are slightly more complex: Netflix uses a 5-star rating system to enable members to rate movies they’ve liked. The widely used Net Promoter Score surveys use an 11-point rating system to indicate how likely a respondent is to recommend an Internet site to a friend or colleague.

What each of these systems fails to capture, though, is why we have responded as we have—and that insight is critical if we have any intention of interpreting this input seriously. One vendor may view me as a fan because of the 10 I gave them in response to a recent support experience —even though I may have given them a 10 because they provided me with a return merchandise authorization quickly after I complained that their product quality was terrible. Am I really likely to recommend them? Hardly. More to the point: are they going to gain any real, actionable insight into the reception of their products and services based on my response to their survey? Not a bit.

The opportunity with adaptive feedback

To understand what an individual’s response to a given prompt really means, we need more insight. A “Dislike” or “Sympathize” button may do for Facebook (and there are discussions about a ‘Want’ button) but even that won’t really provide a company with much actionable insight when it comes to product reception in the marketplace.

What if we had more contextual and adaptive response instruments? As my friend Rajeev Shrivastava, VP of Product Management at Satmetrix likes to suggest, it is time we find smart ways to “mobilize the promoters” and “recover the detractors.” Let me explain this idea.

You might present the customer with a simple question: how likely are you to recommend our products or services? Then, you might immediately follow up on that question with a second contextual question, one based on the customer’s response. If they are likely to recommend your products, your adaptive survey instrument might then invite them to provide an online testimonial. You could even offer a reward, such as loyalty points for going the extra mile. You will learn much more about what they like about your products and services, thus “mobilizing the promoters.”

Conversely, if their response identifies them as a detractor, your adaptive survey instrument could respond in context with a message saying “We’re sorry you’ve had a poor experience. Would you like to exchange or return your product? Click here to initiate a return process.” Your response to a detractor might even take the form of a real-time chat session with the buyer in order to discover what went wrong and how you might make it right. This experience might change the customer’s entire opinion of your company for the better, enabling you to “recover the detractors” and not lose their value entirely.

Capturing the real 360 degree ‘Voice of the Customer’

Long term, is it critical for companies to capture and make sense of this customer input—and to ensure that this input is not stored in disconnected data silos but instead is made available throughout the company, regardless of the channel through which it arrived. It’s particularly important that these snippets of customer input be associated with the customers who provide it—and that anyone who subsequently interacts with these customers can see, instantly, all the input that each customer has provided.

Making it easy and painless for customers to give you relevant feedback—and making sure your customers know that everyone they deal with has seen their feedback—will go a long way to getting the right feedback in the first place!

Ultimately, it’s the 360 degree Voice of the Customer—that history of interaction and input from multiple customer engagements and channels— that is going to give you the insight into the aspects of your products and services that are truly important to your customers. You can get beyond the simple numbers and the “Likes” to understand what your customers really like—or dislike. You can use that insight to improve your products, refine your services, and strengthen your relationships, which in turn will help you stay ahead of the competition.

Otherwise a “Like” may not mean what you think it means. Just ask my mother-in-law if you need proof.

As Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP I am responsible for 360° Customer Experience thought leadership, social media marketing, go-to-market strategy and execution and customer engagement.  Follow me on Twitter @VinayIyer.


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