Saturday, April 13, 2013

Business Intelligence: The enablement engine for a successful Omni-Channel Strategy

 Context Setting

Watching through the eyes of history one can witness retail evolve from a rudimentary trade between two cavemen to the multi-trillion global industry that it is today. However, while it is true the basics continue to be the same (how to procure a “good” that someone else has in exchange for compensation) the way we go about it has changed radically. Let us take a quick look at history and see how the evolution of the interaction has evolved over time: In the beginning a “good” would be traded for another “good” directly from the person who could provide it. The first evolution of commerce appeared in the form of merchants who would consolidate “goods” from multiple suppliers and then trade on behalf of the collective. The deal would still be made in person and compensation would be in the form of equivalent goods. The second evolution happened around 1500 BC with the invention of money, which was easier to carry and collect than physical goods and allowed for a system of pricing against a common element rather than against diverse set of goods. People were now enabled to accumulate wealth in a form that allowed for postponing the consumption or acquisition of the goods. This new capability prompted the creation of retailers, which were the next evolution of merchants that would consolidate goods and offer them to people for money.

Defining multiple retail channels

Retailing was simple at its infancy, people would visit a merchant, identify a “good” they liked and pay for it with money. The first retail channel: the physical store was established. History continued its course and people started to realize that they did not necessarily had to go to the store to acquire the goods if they could start a way to send their buy request to the merchant and the merchant could deliver the goods to a destination of their choice. This process could be made more efficient if the merchant sent word/pictures/drawings and eventually photos of the merchandise in stock for the potential buyer to decide on what to acquire. The second channel: the catalog and “mail” order was established. Fast forward a few hundred years with the invention of the telephone and people no longer needed to write down their order, but could actually place a voice call to make an order. The third channel: the call center was established. A few decades later, another breakthrough in communication – the internet – made its debut and it was now possible to place orders using a computer. The fourth channel: the World Wide Web was established. Just a few years later, phones became small, portable and smart and it was now possible to place an order using a phone application. The fifth channel: the Mobile Phone was established.  Every new retail channel created new possibilities in retail and allowed new players to change the market dynamics and challenge the status quo.
Coming back from our trip in retail history, we now have 5 fairly unique & well identified channels or methods of acquiring a “good” from a retailer (Reference Figure 1).

Combined, these channels create a much more complex retail environment today than what existed in the time of our ancestors, when all the commerce took place face-2-face within the confines of a store or selling space.

Understanding the challenges of an Omni channel strategy

Today’s retailers realize that in order to compete effectively in the market place, it is not enough to have a well-defined strategy for a single retail channel, but rather they need to have an Omni-channel strategy that provides consumers a consistent experience no matter which channel they use to interact with the retailer. Given the diverse nature and different levels of maturity for each channel, this is actually much more difficult than it sounds.

Let us take a simple example of three consumers trying to buy a ceiling fan from a typical retailer today. One of them is using a computer, another is using a cellphone and a third one is calling the company’s sales line. From a consumer perspective, buying something from a retailer looks like a maze, if we could represent the experience of these consumers graphically it would look like the image to the left (Figure 2).
While every consumer will have a different experience, eventually people will achieve the same outcome of buying the fan, but the level of personalization, customer service and messaging will be different. This situation is compounded as the modern consumer does not limit him/herself to only one channel. There is a very big likelihood that he/she will start the interaction on one channel, put the transaction on hold and resume the transaction later through a different channel. The alignment of goals and strategy becomes extremely important in such situations. The retailer can no longer afford to outsource a channel without making sure the consumer experience is consistent with the brand and core messaging that the company stands for. Further, the customer expects to be recognized as an individual across any of the channel(s) they interact through and expect the same level of service that they are used to.

Business Intelligence: The enablement engine for a successful Omni-Channel Strategy

Without a doubt, an Omni-channel strategy has many challenges that require collaboration of many parties, internal and external to the organization. However, the most effective way to enable Omni-channel is through a solid Business intelligence strategy (Figure 3)

 Through the proper use of Business Intelligence an organization can achieve six core objectives central to the Omni-channel strategy:

1)    Single view of inventory: Business Intelligence allows the integration and more importantly provides visibility of the inventory available across all channels. This is probably the most critical feature of an Omni-channel strategy as the last thing a company can afford is to be sold out of a particular item on-line, while having plenty of inventory at its brick & mortar stores (or vice versa). If the product is available, the consumer has a right to know regardless of the channel they are using to interact with the retailer at that particular moment.

2)    360 view of customer:  Through Business Intelligence, organizations can fully understand how their customers interact with them through multiple channels. While the use of a single customer ID, provided by loyalty card or other marketing programs facilitates this analysis, it is not always required. BI can pull multiple data sources together, internal and external to the organization, to identify a customer using other methods (e.g. cookies on the website, masked credit card numbers, transaction patterns, etc).

3)    Alignment of HR and compensation metrics: Business Intelligence provides a platform for visibility and alignment across the HR & compensation metrics from the multiple units of the organization that support, maintain and operate each retail channel. By having a consistent HR and compensation strategy, organizations incentivize a consistent behavior towards the organization goals.

4)    Message unification: BI allows for the continuous measuring of the response to the company sales messages, establishing a common framework and understanding to standardize and unify the successful messages across channels and measure their relative performance over time.

5)    Channel transparency: BI enables the channel transparency experience by measuring customer satisfaction in a way that can be measured separately and consistently for each channel, thus forcing the experience to be equally good across interactions, regardless of the origin of the same.

6)    Immersive experience: Perhaps, the most critical element of an Omni-channel strategy is providing an immersive and superior customer experience. BI can assist the organization on this goal by making each channel owner accountable to the defined organizational metrics and provide alerts mechanisms when the experience for a customer is less than desirable across any channel.

BI truly provides an opportunity to get to know the customer and their preferences for interaction with the retailer to create a profile that can facilitate the personalization and customization of the consumer experience through any channel.


Omni-channel as a strategy is here to stay, if anything we will see more channels added in the next few years (e.g. a smart watch, or a dedicated virtual assistant that will do our shopping while we sleep). Successful retailers will need to adapt and provide a consistent, personable, channel transparent experience to the consumers. Business Intelligence will literally become the star of the organization providing an enablement engine across each and every interaction or touch point.

About the Author:


Noe Gutierrez is a Sr. Director at Cognizant Technology Solutions. He leads the Retail, Transportation and Hospitality teams within the EIM practice, a 13,000+ strong practice focused on helping Fortune 1000 companies to effectively leverage their data assets. Noe maintains a personal blog on: and he can be reached at

Mobile BI: The next frontier in Business Intelligence


Over the last few years we have witnessed unprecedented changes in how the world lives, communicates and interacts. The advent of the internet has disrupted well established business models by enabling new channels to get information, shop and communicate almost instantaneously from any computer screen. In a matter of years email and the web went from being niche tools, primarily for academic institutions to being tools at the service of the entire population. Reuters estimated that the number of internets users would exceed 2 billion by the end of 2010. However, Reuters did not factor-in that the PCs would be outsold by mobile devices by 2011. As of 2012, there are over 1.2 billion mobile web users; with this number only expected to grow as more of the 5.9 billion mobile subscribers upgrade to smart phones (85% of the phones sold in 2011 were smart phones).
This new connected world has changed how consumers shop for products and services establishing the need for businesses to provide a consistent experience regardless of the channel – web, mobile, brick-and-mortar, telephone, email – which the consumers use to interact with the service provider. Many of these empowered consumers are taking their devices to work and expect their firms to provide support for these devices for them to perform tasks that require access to sensitive or secure company information. Further, companies are looking to leverage this new symbiotic relationship between individuals and mobile devices to provide their employees with enhanced information services that enable them to make better decisions regardless of location or access device. This need for information to be ubiquitous has created a discontinuity that many companies will have to bridge to stay competitive, the purpose of this whitepaper is to help these companies understand this new paradigm and ease their journey into the next frontier in Business Intelligence: Mobile BI.

Levels of Engagement in Mobile BI
As organizations start exploring this new frontier, they will begin by exploring the territory, mainly in the form of enabling mobile access to their existing BI implementations. The next step in the journey will be to start leveraging the very nature of the mobile platform for their employees to engage, collaborate and share. Mature organizations in the Mobile BI space will have mastered the new possibilities enabled by built-in mobile features such as GPS. The diagram below illustrates this concept and provides a better definition of the levels of engagement in Mobile BI.

1)      The porting of existing BI and Information Management capabilities so they can be accessed through a mobile device

Most companies start their inroads into Mobile BI by enabling the mobile access of their existing reports, dashboards and information querying capabilities. This is the fastest way to get started as there are many Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) products that can be leveraged to Mobile enable the existing BI Infrastructure. This approach can help an organization achieve benefits faster by providing a simple, easy and intuitive way of navigating the information free from the limitations of a mouse and keyboard from any location where the mobile device gets connectivity.

2)      The establishment of mobile BI as a new platform to engage, collaborate and share

The next level of Mobile BI is tapping into the social nature of the mobile devices; the mobile devices were designed with the intention to enable communication and collaboration regardless of the physical location of the person. When these native concepts are applied to BI we start seeing new users accessing the system, being pulled in by other users in the context of discussing a revelation within the “aha! Moment“.

3)      The enablement of advanced BI features through Mobile (E.g. geo location)

The highest category of engagement for Mobile BI is the enablement of new use cases or applications leveraging the location awareness capabilities of today’s mobile devices. In addition to empowering users to take immediate action, these new capabilities enhance the experience by providing a default context setting for the BI applications. For example, if a user is visiting a particular store, the application would detect the location of the user and provide specific reports for that store when the application is opened.

Mobile BI: Paradigm Shift

Mobile BI demands a different approach and mindset in conceptualizing and executing BI solutions.

From: Traditional BI

The traditional paradigm for BI is centered on Reports and Dashboards that will be accessed through a web browser from a computer. The user will interact with these components using a combination of keyboard and mouse to identify the areas of interest that will most likely be eventually printed, emailed or downloaded in Excel format for further manipulation. Typically many reports require the answering of multiple prompts before the user can access the information and few very users will leverage all the advanced data analysis features that modern BI suites provide.

To: Mobile BI

Mobile BI still leverages reports and dashboards, but these are usually arranged following a story board. Because of the space limitations on mobile devices the information is segmented in screens that are linked between them, enabling the users to follow-up their thought process from generic to specific using a few “gestures” on the touch screen interface. Mobile devices have the benefit of having intrinsic/built-in features that enabled a more natural interaction with the BI application. For example the built-in camera that most mobile devices have today can be used as a scanner and quickly capture information from a bar code (rather than the user typing the UPC number), also the GPS feature can be leveraged to default the application to a particular view based on the most common view of the information from that location. Further, given the very nature of mobile, decisions can be made right on the spot; a big leap from a generation ago where the decision maker had to take notes and then wait to be in front of a computer to execute.

Evaluating the need for Mobile BI

While the advent of Mobile BI can bring substantial benefits to an organization, it can also be highly disruptive. The recommendation is for every organization to evaluate the readiness to start a Mobile BI roadmap, across three major perspectives: People, Process and Technology. The chart below illustrates some of the key questions that most be answered when planning to start on this Journey.

Defining a Mobile BI Roadmap

Once the organization has decided to start their journey into Mobile BI, there will be a need to create a roadmap that answer such questions as: What do we want to achieve, Where do we want to go with this technology? While these questions might seem trivial, there is a large number of companies which started their journey into Mobile BI, committing million of dollars in Mobile equipment buys, that had to put their initiatives on hold because they realized they did not have a strong business case.

Typically the best way to start the roadmap exercise is by identifying a business sponsor and aligning the Mobile BI strategy to their information needs. The next step will be to identify what technology (combination of device &  software platform) will be best suited to address the needs of the business sponsor. Subsequently, there will be planning and prioritzation exercise  to align people expectations and set the context of what can be realistically achieved given the timeline and program constraints.

Choosing the right Mobile BI Platform

The most critical technical element of the Mobile BI Roadmap is the selection of the Mobile BI platform. While there are many offerings in the market and at first glance, all of them seem similar, the recommendation is not to rush into a decision, but rather conduct a formal tool selection exercise, including a POC. The tool selection exercise needs to start with the definition and endorsement of the Mobile BI reporting requirements from Business Stakeholders.


Final Recommendations

The author hopes that this whitepaper has met its goal of assisting organizations to better plan their journey into Mobile BI. It is indeed a journey full of potential but also plagued with many obstacles that will test the most experienced BI practitioners. The possibilities enabled by the new advanced mobile technologies are indeed vast but the benefits will only be realized by aligning both business and IT to meet well defined organizational objectives. Welcome to the new Frontier and best of luck on your journey!

About the Author:

Noe Gutierrez is a Sr. Director at Cognizant Technology Solutions. He leads the Retail, Transportation and Hospitality teams within the EIM practice, a 13,000+ strong practice focused on helping Fortune 1000 companies to effectively leverage their data assets. Noe maintains a personal blog on: and he can be reached at