As data and analytics strategies become higher priorities for organisations, it’s 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.
Ezibuy, 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.
It 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.
“If you think about the scale of Ezibuy’s digital footprint, there are hundreds of decisions that are made on products and what gets positioned and promoted and where,” Harrison says. “So, 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.”
The 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.
Business intelligence architect and team lead Anton Vermeer says the deployment is part of a greater driver to bring information closer to users. “For 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’s a browser-based system, information can be provided to them where they are working. It’s different information, but it’s relevant to them,” he says.
The 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.
Vermeer’s 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 “typically require five to 10 people to do what we do with two people,” he says.
BI belongs in the business, not IT
Vermeer 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—not at the heart of IT.
“A lot of businesses have BI as part of IT, and that’s OK, but these guys [Vermeer’s team] operate as an independent part of the business. They get across all parts of the business. They’ve got technical capabilities in their own right, but they don’t function by taking direction from the IT team; they link directly into the business,” Harrison says.
“It 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,” he says.
Dealing with a dynamic ecommerce environment
Turning 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. “It’s the tools starting to highlight ‘there’s something we’re detecting here that you should be considering’ and starting to present that in front of people,” he says.
The 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.
Harrison 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. “We’ve got many touch points, and we’re 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.”
Meanwhile social networks such as Google and Facebook are changing their approach to data sharing, although Harrison says they “will 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.”
In the end, a successful data and analytics strategy comes down to whether the organisation is able to measure the effectiveness of every activity. “The 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—the marketing spend links to increase in visits or increase in customer count—that’s the core that any retailer is trying to track,” Harrison says.