Empowering Retailers with Customer Insights

The world of data is changing and retailers are challenged by the increasing scale, complexity and velocity of data. The past few decades have seen exponential growth in computing and storage: driven by Moore's Law, computing power has increased dramatically, making the modern laptop more powerful than a supercomputer from 1980s. At the same time the amount of data stored has grown dramatically, thanks to rapidly declining hardware cost and the emergence of new data sources such as RFID, the web and social media.

Emerging technologies like Hadoop and MapReduce now enable customers to extract value from this growing ocean of unstructured data that was previously discarded or archived. These new technologies significantly change the economics of data processing and analysis. Hadoop dramatically reduces the cost of petascale analytics of unstructured data through the use of commodity hardware. Hadoop also shifts the analytical paradigm: its distributed computing platform, coupled with advances in machine learning, has ushered a new wave of advanced analytics with sophisticated mining tools like neural networks, genetic algorithms, graph analysis and forecasting models on petabytes of data instead of small samples. This enables customers to gain competitive advantage through the use of smart mining algorithms on all their data.

An interesting story is from BlackBall, a Tea and Dessert Restaurant Chain, based in Taipei, Taiwan. Established in 2006, BlackBall has expanded from 20 stores in Taiwan to 40 more locations throughout Malaysia. To support regional growth, BlackBall wanted better insight into business operations. Each store sent point-of-sale (POS) data to the corporate headquarters, where managers manually entered the information into spreadsheets. They also monitored other sources such as social media, but it was difficult to make connections between the disparate sources of information. After looking at a variety of BI tools, BlackBall went with a hybrid cloud solution based on Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise software running on-premises and Windows Azure HDInsight Service on the Windows Azure platform. In May 2013, BlackBall began a proof of concept with HDInsight Service that integrates unstructured data from the company’s Facebook page and online weather reports with information pulled from POS systems in the Malaysian stores. BlackBall employees used an interface that included a dashboard built with Power BI. See the details of the case study for more information.

Holland America used Microsoft’s BI stack to create a BI portal with sections for each onboard revenue team group. All groups post and combine their cube documents to tell a complete story of what happened on a voyage. The company’s onboard revenue team uses business intelligence (BI) to analyze the revenue-generating performance of the various venues and activities onboard its ships. The goal is not only to identify best practices that generate the most profit but to deliver the best guest experience. By implementing a Microsoft BI solution, Holland America Line has tripled BI use, empowered business users, made more data-driven decisions, and gave its IT staff more time to innovate. Read the detailed case study here.

Power BI for Office 365 is a powerful solution that enables every business professional, regardless of technical skills or experience with data analysis, to explore data and uncover important, meaningful insights and to share these with others quickly and easily. This empowers business users who understand and run the business to make data-driven decisions without the usual complexities and dependencies associated with IT and BI systems. No special tools, no complex software installations, no hardware infrastructure to configure and manage. Just the simple, everyday tools of the business world: Excel, a browser, and natural business language. This is what makes Power BI so powerful; this is what cloud computing enables. And this democratization of BI is what enables Retailers to take advantage of the democratization of information that is changing the retail world.

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