Taking the Guesswork Out of Mobile BI

Mike Relich, CIO of Guess, wants to take the guesswork out of mobile computing. He welcomes mobile devices of all sorts for corporate use, charging his team to find ways around any processing power, presentation or security issues.

Any smart CIO would do the same, Relich says. Companies that don’t jump at mobilizing enterprise data and applications are risking not only alienating smartphone-toting employees but also losing ground to competitors. “Look, there are–what?–6.9 billion people on earth and about 1 billion PCs, but 5.3 billion phones. We have to embrace these devices,” Relich says.

The clothing maker and retailer has three categories of enterprise mobile applications: marketing and branding apps aimed at consumers; productivity tools for the operations staff; and applications that help managers make decisions faster. This last group, mobile business intelligence (BI), is where Guess has focused most, Relich says, “because that is what will make you money.” Guess revenues were up 16 percent for fiscal 2011, to $2.5 billion, while profits increased 13 percent.

One BI application allows Guess buyers, who decide which jeans and accessories to stock in which stores, to analyze sales trends on their iPads using data, graphics, photos and GPS information about individual products, stores and regions. Buyers can drill into the data to see forecasts, goals and historical trends. The application accesses current data using database and BI software from MicroStrategy.

See Trends More Clearly

Guess is ahead of the curve, says David White, an analyst at Aberdeen Group. While many companies want to deploy mobile BI, just 38 percent of 240 companies Aberdeen surveyed are doing it. Small smartphone screens are an obstacle, but one that could be cleared by tablets, White says.

Having visual information helps Guess employees spot sales opportunities more quickly, Relich says. With the iPad, a buyer can click on a picture of a product superimposed on a map to see sales and other data for that region. Last autumn, returns of a thin jacket outweighed sales in the Northeast, where temperatures were unseasonably cold. “Seeing the behavior data by geography, visually, made the issue obvious,” says Relich. Guess quickly got thicker jackets to stores in the region.

Operations staff, such as field managers, use BlackBerrys. The display and processing limitations of the devices mean they can’t support interactive features, says Bruce Yen, director of BI at Guess. They’re better suited for a fast look at static data, such as customer traffic patterns.

Guess keeps mobile devices secure with strong passwords that include capital letters, symbols and numbers. Logging in to an iPad many times a day, because an application times out after 5 minutes, is irritating, says Yen. A buyer may be looking at product data and then get pulled into a conversation with a store manager, so keeping the iPad active for up to an hour may make sense for some applications and some users. “You want to make it convenient, but you have to have enough security to satisfy internal requirements. It’s not the easiest thing to balance.”

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