How analytics changed the lingerie retail conversation
ORLANDO—An IT exec with Canadian lingerie company La Vie En Rose Inc. is attending this week SAP AG’s annual user conference, SapphireNow, to learn best practices from other businesses who have used business intelligence to change the conversations between stakeholders.

The Montreal-based company, with 153 stores across Canada, implemented Business Objects from SAP in 2008 shortly after the retailer reformed its business processes company-wide. La Vie En Rose’s vice-president of business technology, Madeleine Doucet, told ComputerWorld Canada about spending two years building a data warehouse from segregated data sources to replace “Excels from hell,” a move which subsequently changed the dialogue between headquarters and the retail stores.

Store managers have now identified peak periods unique to their location, during when they can allocate appropriate sales staff for high traffic times. “It’s pretty powerful. If you only do 10 per cent of your sales on one day, do not put 30 per cent of your staff,” said Doucet.

The Germany-based software company’s annual user conference kicked off Monday with an opening keynote featuring Irish actor Gabriel Byrne who encouraged the 6,600 audience attendees to create their own future and turn “what ifs” into “why nots?”

At Sapphire this year, Doucet hopes to meet other customers and learn from their BI implementation successes and hiccups, especially as La Vie En Rose is next considering putting analytic capability on mobile devices. “We need to bring information at that level and real time,” said Doucet.

The conversation has also changed with the lingerie retailer when it concerns visual presentation teams, now armed with real-time performance on various product categories, who are tasked with bringing merchandise to stores. “Their conversations now are starting to be different (such as), okay, if that wall isn’t doing so well, and this wall is doing well, and what do you think we should do about that?” said Doucet.

Late last week, SAP announced version 10 of its enterprise performance management (EPM) suite, which includes BI, in-memory and governance capabilities. The idea, the company is to move EPM from the confines of the finance department to all end users across a business.

Another customer, which offers relocation services for employees moving domestically or internationally, works with 175 clients globally. Joanne Hodge, vice-president and chief information officer with The MI Group Inc., which has Canadian offices in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, said the company is mostly an SAP shop that likely will consider EPM in the future as the finance department must consolidate financial results and needs business planning tools.

Hodge said SAP’s approach to place EPM capabilities in the hands of end users is “consistent with what we do” given The MI Group grants its 175 clients a portal through which to create their own analytics reports.

That client self-service is beginning to spread to the company’s internal business units, too. “What we find is internally, our business units are starting to use the portal to run reports for our clients, which is great. That’s pushing responsibility and the self-service out to the business units,” said Hodge.

At Sapphire, Hodge hopes to hear more about in-memory as that is especially important to the functioning of The MI Group’s client portal. She is also interested supplier relationship management to handle the many global clients and third-party vendors involved.

“Supply chain for us is really critical so I really want to see what is there that we might be able to leverage,” said Hodge.

Mark Aboud, managing director for SAP Canada, gave ComputerWorld Canada an update on Business ByDesign, SAP’s on-demand enterprise resource planning for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which only just became available in Canada in February of this year.

“We’re just in very early stages,” said Aboud, adding that there are “a few” customers signed up in Canada but not really enough of a critical mass to trumpet it. “We’d like to accelerate it as fast as we can. I don’t think there’s any doubt about the outcome. I’m not overly concerned yet.”

Business ByDesign became generally available in other countries in July 2010 after a lengthy delay to market to resolve multi-tenancy and scalability issues.

Aboud expects Business ByDesign will be ubiquitous among Canadian SMBs. There will be, at best, a call centre approach to pushing the product to market in order to keep a low price point, he added.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau