How Business Intelligence Creates Better Business Value For Retail Leaders: Part III

Part III of a 3-part series looking at how leading retail chains are using Business Intelligence to maximize insight, enhance decision making and create better business value. Parts I and II appeared in the December 8 and 22 Newsletters.

Less time to make decisions, more complex data sets and the need for analyses based on real-time data are transforming Business Intelligence (BI) into a strategic priority with greater C-level ownership. Today’s advanced BI implementations help retailers maximize insight, enhance decision making and create better business value. One of the latest strategies is access to BI from mobile devices, which Starbucks is testing now. Another is BI software-as-a-service, appealing due to its agility, flexibility and lower cost. New deployment alternatives and applications also are enhancing BI’s impact and value, every step of the way.

Garnering Access Via Mobile

Access to BI from mobile devices extends the ability for retailers to run their businesses and communicate with their customers. For example, a new product from MicroStrategy helps retailers accelerate speed and productivity by building mobile apps that connect to back-end transactional systems and databases. MicroStrategy’s Transaction Services tool allows mobile apps and web-based dashboards to incorporate action-taking features including submitting orders; one-click approvals and denials; notes for tracking and directing business activity; and write-back to data sources. Using either SQL for database transactions, or XML for web services applications, thousands of user transactions are stored, triggering new business processes, reallocating resources, and accelerating business activity.


Starbucks is among the retailers testing MicroStrategy’s new capability. The popular coffee chain will use its existing MicroStrategy Platform “to build mobile apps that connect our business users to back-end operations systems, and allow them to interact with these systems in real-time from their mobile devices,” said Thomas Ball, Lead, BI Platform Development at Starbucks Coffee Company, in a recent press release. Ball noted that the Starbuck’s workforce now will be taking action based on analytical insight, “accelerating the pace of our business,” he said. 

Utilizing Software-as-a-Service

SaaS continues to develop as a leading BI initiative, due to its economic benefits as well as the agility and flexibility it delivers. Recent research by the Aberdeen Group found that the use of SaaS BI has grown more than 50% in the last year. A key driver of this growth is the reduced total cost of SaaS ownership (including hardware, software, services, training and maintenance) compared to conventional BI tools: “We found that over a 12-month period, those employing SaaS are spending $254 less per user, on average, than conventional BI users,” said Mike Lock, Senior Research Analyst, Business Intelligence, Aberdeen Group, in a recent webinar. Lock noted that the 12-month TCO of conventional BI tools was $658 per user, while SaaS cost just $404.

Domo is one of the newest SaaS BI providers, launching July 2011. The company helps executives get more value from the billions of dollars already spent on traditional business intelligence systems, said Chris Wintermeyer, Domo’s Senior Director of Enterprise Solutions. Though not authorized to release names of its retail users, Wintermeyer said the Domo SaaS solution doesn’t require its users to create or redesign additional data marts or make significant investments in IT infrastructures. “They can do more with the information they already have by connecting into all their current silos; we can pull data from wherever it currently resides and present it in a format that is easy to understand for all users.”

Since it’s relatively easy for a retailer to change SaaS BI providers, SaaS vendors like DOMO are forced to focus more on customer happiness and success than do traditional enterprise software companies which tend to focus on getting the first big upfront payment before moving on to their next deal, said Wintermeyer. 

Advancing to Incremental vs. Waterfall BI Development

Some traditional BI projects are challenged by their sequential “waterfall” approach to software design and systems development. Each “waterfall” stage is developed separately to ensure greater project and deadline control, but this presents greater risk: should a glitch occur in this linear stage-by-stage process, changing the software is arduous.

Conversely, the more agile, incremental approach to BI emphasizes values and principles rather than processes. Development is done in short cycles with project priorities regularly reassessed. Among its benefits, incremental BI allows any necessary changes to be made more easily, without rewriting the entire program. 

The incremental QlikView BI software from QlikTech gives retail IT departments the agility to write modular BI scripts on the fly, without pre-dimensions and pre-cubing, said Grosz of VIP Auto. He reported that with QlikView, VIP Auto has reduced its BI development cycle of several months to just two weeks.

“The move to incremental development is a new trend in BI that’s replacing the conventional waterfall approach, eliminating the need for retailers to set up the data warehouse and then create the dimensionals based on how the business wants to see the data,” Grosz told Retail TouchPoints. “Users aren’t asked to understand and provide their complete set of requirements in advance, thereby avoiding the disconnects that often don’t surface until the BI dashboard is completed six to 12 months down the road. Incremental workflows like the one from QlikView allow us to write scripts on the fly, without pre-cubing, which has reduced our cycle time from initial requirement to first dashboard view from about nine months to two weeks.” 

Other New BI Products

In May 2011, Oracle announced Oracle Retail Merchandising Analytics, the first of several BI applications it has planned for the retail industry. As previously reported by Retail TouchPoints (, each of the applications will leverage Oracle’s existing BI platform, allowing the application to access and analyze data from multiple applications across the enterprise, such as financial, workforce management and customer relationship management.

In October 2011, Oracle introduced its Exalytics In-Memory Machine for Big Data analytics, expected out early next year. The speed and power of Oracle Exalytics is designed to provide organizations with the ability to deliver business intelligence to more users faster than ever before, while providing access to more data and enabling a broader range of analytic applications.

Decision windows will continue to get shorter; need for real-time analysis greater; and data sets more broad and unstructured, all fueling the growth and value of Business Intelligence tools in the retail segment.

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