Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

Big Data in Retail – Big Ideas for Better Retailer Performance


According to industry forecasts, the world’s volume of data doubles every 18 months, and all forms of enterprise data will grow 650% over the next five years. The talk around big data is more than marveling at the mass of information we’re creating. As analysts and data scientists, we’re trying to find the good stuff – the trends, the data that allows us to make better decisions now and in the future, to predict the moves that will make our business more successful down the line.

Big data (explained in our previous article here) might be new to you, but I’ve seen some analyst reports referencing big data ideas as far back as 2001. However, the BI world is talking about it more and more as data volumes grow and we begin to see the potential knowledge to be gained in these data sets.

So maybe you’re thinking, how can big data benefit my company? It’s hard to think conceptually about it, so let’s take a look at some concrete examples of how companies are using big data today. We’ll start with the retail industry. Keep in mind that many of these ideas can be used on a smaller scale for retailers of any size.

Wal-Mart sifts through massive amounts of unstructured social media and search data to find out what products consumers are talking about. They use that information to set their ad buying strategy on sites like Google, with the goal of competing for e-commerce sales – currently dominated by

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Advice for Better BI Reporting – Part I


The terms “reporting” and “business intelligence” are often used interchangeably, but in reality, reporting is just one of the common functions of BI. It’s the presentation layer of BI, or the result of data being pulled from repositories and presented to decision-makers. With the number of employees at all levels now considered decision-makers, reporting has become even more important. It’s not just a small subset of power-users who need reports anymore; reports have to evolve to become useful to casual BI users.

The beginning of the year is a great time to evaluate the state of your company’s BI reporting. Are you simply manipulating data within Excel? Do you need more powerful reporting that pulls from multiple data sources?

Let’s talk about some ways to take your reporting to the next level.

1) Consider design. Reports that are visually confusing or overwhelming will not be favored by BI consumers. In the case where your organization is working off of reporting dashboards, some pitfalls to avoid include too many visuals on one screen, inappropriate use of graphs, and the wrong chart types for your data. Charts should include summary-to-detail navigation, so users do not have to leave the screen to analyze what they are seeing. There are many rules to great dashboard design, but the key is to let the reports tell the story and not let the screen be overrun by imagery and “flashing lights.”

2) Get faster with in-memory. In-memory processing takes advantage of the speed of RAM to decrease the response time for queries, significantly enhancing the end user’s experience. It allows report creators and consumers to engage with large data sets quicker than ever before, which results in faster and more proactive decision-making thanks to more immediate, interactive analysis. Most reporting platforms include in-memory capabilities, but only some address security (making sure only the right sets of users have access to certain data and queries).

3) Implement delivery mechanisms.

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Free BI Webinar: Calculating ROI for Business Intelligence Projects


Tuesday, December 13th @ 2pm Eastern marks the final webinar of 2011 for arcplan! If you’re being asked to justify your BI spend as 2011 comes to a close, this webinar will show you how to do it.

Since we first presented this webinar last November, more than 400 organizations have used our methodology to successfully calculate their BI ROI. This year, we’re offering attendees access not only to our easy-to-use ROI Excel template, but also to our free web application that simplifies ROI calculation even further.

In this webinar, we will present a methodology based on 10 years of ROI calculation for arcplan’s customers. We’ll take you step by step through the tough questions to ask during your ROI analysis and we’ll present case studies from several organizations. We’ll even give you insider tips like the top 5 BI projects that never pay off.

Note that audio for this event will be broadcast through your computer speakers/headphones only – there will be on teleconference.

Hope you can join us for this BI webinar!


Uncovering 21st Century Consumer Behavior with Business Intelligence


This post on BI for retailers is co-authored along with Raj Kutty, CEO of iVEDiX.

Retailers are frequently challenged with a new definition of multi-channel marketing. The marketing landscape includes more than the traditional components of print advertising, direct mail, and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). It also rolls email, social media, mobile and web (e-commerce) into the marketing mix. Customers engage with brands and make purchasing decisions on a new array of platforms, which has increased the amount of consumer behavior data available for retailers to manage. This subsequently makes the marketing campaign management process much more complex—from budgeting and planning to predicting consumer behavior to providing superior customer service.

With the rapid advent of new, innovative technologies, Business Intelligence (BI) has seen a great deal of change over the past few years. BI has reached a state of sophistication where it is being adopted as a key strategic initiative by retailers. BI solutions aggregate information and provide retailers fast and easy access to data for business reporting, analysis, planning and decision support. By transforming data into actionable information, BI helps retailers make better fact-based decisions at every level of an organization.

Social media, an influencer of consumer behavior
Most retailers are aware of who their customers are. They are equipped with the technology to reasonably ascertain demographics, buying patterns and influencing behaviors. However, the proliferation of numerous social media channels in the consumer market—like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare—has exponentially amplified the challenge of identifying and understanding target markets. Next generation Web 2.0 communication has altered the frequency and intimacy with which retailers interact with their customers.

Retailers, more often than not, have data on their customers’ online and in-person shopping habits stored in separate repositories—a CRM system and an ecommerce database. For a complete analysis, this information can be combined with social media data—customers who “like” a particular store or product or who tweet about a specific brand or product—as well as fundamental demographic information such as income level, gender and age. These layers of information can be superimposed on a geographical map to create very powerful campaign segmentation visuals. Going even further, tying in customers’ actual receipts can give the retailer an incredible perspective on the customers’ buying behavior and thought process leading up to their purchasing decision.

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Private Cloud, Public Cloud, or Hybrid Cloud For Business Intelligence?


A growing number of businesses are looking into cloud services for everything from document storage to CRM to BI. Some are choosing to go the private cloud route out of security concerns, while others are being forced into the public cloud since they want to use publicly available, third-party information as part of their BI (like Google Maps or Hoovers data for mash-ups). Hybrid clouds might offer the best of both worlds. Let’s explore each type of cloud a bit further.

The Case for Cloud
The case for moving business intelligence to the cloud often comes down to resources: the physical hardware that stores the data, the staff that has to maintain the hardware, and the money that’s spent on all of this. Companies are looking to reduce or reallocate all three of these resources, and cloud computing gives them a way to do this.

However, when it comes to BI, you have a lot of vendors who haven’t fully moved to the cloud yet because of the sheer volume of data they’re helping to manage. A customer who is using arcplan on top of Teradata has terabytes of data that will never make it into the cloud – it would be too much to move, and likely, a waste of time and energy. Nevertheless we’ve seen many companies start to make the move to the cloud because of its wide-ranging benefits.

Private vs. Public Cloud for BI
Cloud adoption is increasing in popularity and private clouds are getting a lot of attention; a 2011 Info-Tech survey shows that 76% of IT decision-makers will focus initially or, in the case of 33% of respondents, exclusively on the private cloud (infrastructure operated solely for a single organization, whether it’s internally or externally hosted). Some IT teams want to explore cloud computing within their own walls first and see how it goes, though others concede that private clouds aren’t really “cloud” at all, especially if they’re hosted on-premise (which eliminates the benefits of reduced costs and resources to maintain the infrastructure). If you have a massive data center at your location and you dedicate a portion of it to a particular set of data and applications, like your supply chain BI data & dashboards, then that could be considered a private cloud. The private cloud offers tighter controls and data security that’s managed according to your particular company’s standards.

True cloud is closer to Amazon’s EC2 public cloud.

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