Spreading intelligence across the enterprise

After investing heavily in data warehouse environments and transaction processing solutions, Hudson’s Bay Company is ready to add a layer that will help its businesses get at information more quickly.

Gary Davenport, vice-president of information services for Toronto-based HBC, said the company hopes a new investment in analytics will enable employees and partners to make faster decisions.

HBC is implementing a MicroStrategy business intelligence platform across all areas of the business. Davenport said it will touch retail outlets (Bay, Zellers and Home Outfitter stores, along with their .com sites), warehouses, head offices, logistics and other support areas. Each required a system that partners and suppliers could access and navigate with ease.

“We didn’t really have anything like this enterprise-wide,” Davenport said. “(Part of the project is) more consolidating and moving to a new base right across the whole environment.”

The entire solution is being built on the concept of key performance indicators, and HBC is working with its suppliers and store operations groups to make sure the MicroStrategy solution enables support of the company’s operational metrics. Once completed, users will have access to a wide vareity of corporate data, including store sales and advertising expenditures, merchandise management, category reviews, vendor scorecards, financial analysis and supply chain reporting and analysis.

The large investments that Hudson’s Bay had already made in readying its data and data stores for BI was key in getting executive buy-in to the ongoing project, Davenport said.

“It’s the natural next step for us. It makes sense. We have been evolving to this and executives are now looking forward to what it will do for us,” he said.

Sanju Bansal, chief operating officer (COO) for MicroStrategy Inc. in McLean, Va., said any small increment of efficiency has a lot of bottom line impact for retailers, who run on reasonably thin margins. He added that retail can gain great benefit from analyzing transactional detail, which can be made up of millions of transactions a day.

This makes retail very aggressive and assertive about analyzing and reporting on the data that is coming in, Bansal said. “As a trend comment, retailers have tended to be laggards in the application of information technology…. In data warehousing and business intelligence, we find the opposite to be true. They are leading the charge with the most aggressive deployments, as judged by the size of databases, size of user population and sophistication of analytics.”

Bansal said one of MicroStrategy’s strengths is improved product availability and stock situations. The solution is Web-based and works with any major database. HBC is running on an NCR Teradata warehouse, with transactional systems on IBM DB2 and Oracle.

Ease of use was critical for HBC in terms of deciding which BI platform to go with. Davenport noted that other selection criteria were the functionality of the tool, architecture, administration, data source support, run-time support, strategy support and futures.

MicroStrategy, which calls itself “industrial strength” business intelligence, fit the bill for HBC.

The fact that MicroStrategy has already completed a number of implementations across the retail vertical – Bansal estimates 125 of the top 200 retailers run MicroStrategy BI – was an important consideration, according to Davenport.

He’s not expecting there to be an overwhelming amount of employee training. “It’s very intuitive and function-rich, so we don’t think there will be an inordinate amount of training.”

The implementation is expected to be rolled out by the end of this year in partnership with IBM Global Services.

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