As data and analytics strategies become higher priorities for organisations, it\u2019s important that the insights they yield are not locked inside IT departments. Pushing the data closer to business users in a way that is easy to digest and act upon is becoming a critical part of running an effective business intelligence function.\nEzibuy, which began as a mail-order catalogue business for apparel and homeware in the 1978 and has since evolved into a multichannel Australasian retailer processing 1.8 million orders a year, is highly dependent on data to make fast, effective decisions.\n\n[ Deliver deep insights with the 7 keys to a successful business intelligence strategy and find out why you\u2019re failing at business intelligence. | Get the latest business intelligence and IT strategy analysis by signing up for our newsletters. ]\n\nIt sells online as well as in its own stores, and everyone from merchandisers to product marketers to the COO Richard Harrison rely on real-time data to make timely business decisions.\n\u201cIf you think about the scale of Ezibuy\u2019s digital footprint, there are hundreds of decisions that are made on products and what gets positioned and promoted and where,\u201d Harrison says. \u201cSo, the volume of those decisions and the speed and accuracy of getting good quality data that the business can access must be based on a robust [data and analytics] strategy.\u201d\nNew tool to surface data direct to users\nThe company is the first in the Asia-Pacific region to adopt MicroStrategy HyperIntelligence, an addition to the MicroStrategy Workstation platform. It lets a business user quickly access a raft of data points on a product, such as how it is selling and how much is in stock, by hovering the mouse over its online image.\nBusiness intelligence architect and team lead Anton Vermeer says the deployment is part of a greater driver to bring information closer to users. \u201cFor example, our merchandisers spend a lot of time on our website, and so the HyperIntelligence solution allows the information to come to them, where they are on the website, just by popping up. Similarly, for the contact centre, if they work in the CRM system, because it\u2019s a browser-based system, information can be provided to them where they are working. It\u2019s different information, but it\u2019s relevant to them,\u201d he says.\nThe technology is used by global retailers such as Ebay, Tesco, and Walmart, and the license for it in New Zealand is held by IT consultancy Theta, which worked with Ezibuy on its deployment. Vermeer says they introduced the technology to the business by way of a month-long proof of concept before rolling it out company-wide to about 100 users.\nVermeer\u2019s team consists of him and another BI professional, and he says that by working with external partners and deploying technology such as HyperIntelligence he can keep the total cost of ownership to a minimum. Other BI tools \u201ctypically require five to 10 people to do what we do with two people,\u201d he says.\nBI belongs in the business, not IT\nVermeer reports directly to Harrison, who believes the BI function is so critical to Ezibuy that it needs to be at the heart of the business\u2014not at the heart of IT.\n\u201cA lot of businesses have BI as part of IT, and that\u2019s OK, but these guys [Vermeer\u2019s team] operate as an independent part of the business. They get across all parts of the business. They\u2019ve got technical capabilities in their own right, but they don\u2019t function by taking direction from the IT team; they link directly into the business,\u201d Harrison says.\n\u201cIt depends on the organisation, the culture, and the setup, but quite often if you stick BI in the depths of an IT department the real value can get significantly locked. I think that [intelligence] really does need to be surfaced and directly linked to the decision makers,\u201d he says.\nDealing with a dynamic ecommerce environment\nTurning screeds of information into sharp data points that can be accessed in real time is a major focus for the Ezibuy BI team today, but Harrison sees predictive analytics as the next step. \u201cIt\u2019s the tools starting to highlight \u2018there\u2019s something we\u2019re detecting here that you should be considering\u2019 and starting to present that in front of people,\u201d he says.\nThe retail landscape is constantly changing, not least of which by privacy regulations such as the new Privacy Act that became law in New Zealand in December 2020.\nHarrison says first-party data, such as that used to deliver email or text offers direct to customers, is an important aspect of its marketing relation programme. \u201cWe\u2019ve got many touch points, and we\u2019re able to monitor which channels and which modes of communication our customers prefer and respond to best and drive our activity to continue to develop that deeper relationship with our customers over time.\u201d\nMeanwhile social networks such as Google and Facebook are changing their approach to data sharing, although Harrison says they \u201cwill still hold a significant role in helping present to a wider group of your customers offers that you need to be participating in. As the rules change in the environment and new technology comes in, its being able to maintain the source and flow of data that helps us reach better decisions on an ongoing basis.\u201d\nIn the end, a successful data and analytics strategy comes down to whether the organisation is able to measure the effectiveness of every activity. \u201cThe key thing in this space is, if you are looking to grow your business, you want to know that the investment that you are putting into that effort yields a result at the other end. As long as you can link those two data points together\u2014the marketing spend links to increase in visits or increase in customer count\u2014that\u2019s the core that any retailer is trying to track,\u201d Harrison says.