TL; DR: Retailers have been collecting and storing data for more than two decades, but many still haven’t figured out how to gather actionable insights from it. As businesses move toward digital transformation, Dell EMC is showing companies how to build data into their future by thinking about how it can be used to boost ROI. Beginning with use cases, a variety of information in different forms can be layered into a data lake and used to solve large-scale problems efficiently. And Dell EMC goes beyond just giving answers by enabling businesses to learn lessons from their valuable data and project future outcomes.
Retail was one of the first industries to embrace the potential of data to drive revenue, and some companies — like Walmart — began setting up data centers in the early 1990s. But just because a business collects customer data doesn’t mean it has the capability to use it efficiently to drive revenue.
Over the years, many executives lost confidence in data altogether because they ended up with different versions of the same data siloed across various databases, networks, and data marts. Even today, some companies have decades of customer loyalty data just sitting on servers, unused.
“Many retailers have been capturing customer loyalty data for 20 years,” Bill, aka the “Dean of Big Data,” told us. “My local grocery store has data on everything I have bought since I signed up for my loyalty card, and the best thing they can do is send me a generic mailer.”
But it goes beyond mailers. Many times emails contain the same generic offers for products that are often hit-or-miss when businesses should have more than enough information about a customer to know exactly what he or she wants. Too often, a retailer is not adequately prepared to use its data for making predictive recommendations.
Dell EMC is on a mission to remedy that by providing the technology and resources — storage, IoT architecture, application development, data science, and security, among other services — to help retailers get value out of the data they are collecting.
And to make sure information isn’t left sitting on the sidelines, Dell EMC begins by helping companies understand the best approach to analytics. Because, in many cases, businesses don’t focus on the most critical aspects of digital transformation.
Dell EMC Helps Define Digital Transformation for Businesses
The challenge many organizations face is knowing what digital transformation entails, so they often focus on smaller aspects of going digital — like moving data to the cloud or developing mobile apps. A more holistic strategy starts with an organization truly understanding what it means to undergo digital transformation.
Bill has come up with a definition that has helped many businesses take a step back and identify all of the components before diving into any one project.
“Digital Transformation is the application of digital capabilities to processes, products, and assets with the goal of improving efficiency, adding customer value, mitigating risk, and uncovering new monetization opportunities,” he told us.
Bill’s definition shows that a business needs to start with knowing what it wants to improve and work its way back to the technology, not just acquire tech and then find problems it can solve. And one of the most valuable assets a company can enhance through digital technologies is its data.
“Digital Transformation is the application of digital capabilities to processes, products, and assets with the goal of improving efficiency, adding customer value, mitigating risk, and uncovering new monetization opportunities.” — Bill Schmarzo, Chief Technology Officer at Dell EMC
“Insights about your customers, your products, and your operation are vital,” Bill told us. “I want to know as much about consumers as possible — their tendencies, inclinations, behaviors, interests — so that I can better serve them.”
By using that data as a starting point, Dell EMC can help a company focus on exactly what problems they want to solve with it, and what other data can be brought in to make the result even more insightful.
Retailers Predict Consumer Actions and Trends Using Analytics
Dell EMC first helps a business identify a problem to solve. By focusing on one case at a time, the solution is more direct. Dell EMC helps businesses unearth those solutions — well beyond a simple answer — through its Analytics Insight Module.
One use case is parsing data to make predictive recommendations to consumers. Another use case Bill spoke to us about is when shrinkage due to self-checkout — or other factors — has a material impact on a retailer’s bottom line. Dell EMC can set up robust reports around that specific dilemma using every bit of relevant data available.
“We help business owners not just answer questions about what happened, — What products are subject to the most shrinkage? In what markets? At what time of day? — but also go through a process to predict what is likely to happen,” Bill told us. “If I can start predicting what is likely to happen, I can start prescribing actions.”
That could be moving small, high-value products closer to a cashier, or improving visible security — by adding more personnel — as a deterrent as opposed to relying solely on cameras. The information put into the analysis becomes the basis for these actionable insights, providing a business with clear options to fix the problem.
Dell EMC also helps companies find the right data to layer into its analysis — because the more relevant the input information, the more perceptive the output.
“By using transaction information and layering in data about location, weather, local economy, or local events, all of these data sources empower POS data to become exponentially more insightful,” Bill said. “For those decisions, not all data is of equal value. So we have to bring in the right data.”
Dell EMC helps find the relevant data from the peripheries and bring it to center stage, giving it an important role alongside core transactional data. And by placing it all into a data lake, retailers save time and effort in the quest to take action.
Data Lakes Enable Layered Information to Provide More Context
A data lake — which can be built on a Dell EMC Isilon storage system — is a repository for unstructured data, which could originate from many different systems in various forms. That means a data lake doesn’t require the same type of organization as would a database or warehouse.
“Data lakes do not need a schema — or any level of organization —which could be a six- to nine-month project to move into a data warehouse because you have to build schemas for each use case and link them all together,” Bill explained.
Data science is built on repeatedly comparing information, and having it all in one place makes the job much more efficient. From a processing standpoint, the flat files produced by a data lake can save minutes — or even hours — every time information is parsed, which adds up quickly in the world of analytics.
“Data science is a fail fast, learn faster environment where you don’t know if a model is good enough until it has been pushed to the point of failure several times,” Bill told us.
And once data is included in a data lake, it can be used in the same form for any future iterations of analysis that a retailer wants to conduct.
“Real value comes in the fact that data only has to be input once,” Bill said. “The margin of cost for factoring that data into any future use case is zero. And when a retailer is trying to drive ROI through analytics, that can be critical.”
Companies Can Turn Stockpiles of Data into Realized Revenue
When the path to digital transformation doesn’t start with data, it can often be more expensive and less productive. But when a retailer sees data as a valuable asset, it can use it to unlock a more profitable future.
Some businesses knew back in the early 1990s how valuable data would be — they just didn’t know how to use it. Dell EMC has helped change that by educating companies on the properties and potential of what they have already collected.
“Data has been referred to as the new oil, but data has characteristics that no other asset has — it doesn’t depreciate or deplete,” Bill told us. “A better analogy would be that data is like a single barrel of oil that you can use to fuel an infinite number of vehicles, and it never runs out. Looking at it from that perspective, the economic impact of data is staggering.”
When put to proper use, data can tell a retailer everything about services, pricing, products, promotions, and how to drive customer engagement. Dell EMC helps businesses use data to understand customers, products, and operations so well that predicting the future becomes easy.