Dashboard Insight recently spoke with Vikas Gupta about BI technology for retail applications, the benefits of an ARC deployment - and something about a retailer's "business cosmos."
Dashboard Insight: Where does ARC sit on the BI stack?
Vikas Gupta: ARC is a complete DW-BI solution and has all the blocks present in a typical DW-BI stack. This includes an inbuilt ETL tool, a retail-specific data warehouse and an OLAP engine with an integrated BI suite architected specifically for retail.
DI: Can you tell us about your ARC product line and your retail-focused pre-packaged analytics applications and KPIs?
VG: Retailers can choose from a range of ARC products to suit their specific decision-making needs. A host of analytics applications and key performance indicators are pre-packaged into each of these products. Each product leverages all capabilities of the ARC retail data warehouse and BI platform.
The ARC product line includes ARC Merchandise Analytics, ARC Customer Analytics and ARC Finance Analytics. In addition, retailers can chose the ARC Enterprise BI which is a comprehensive, end-to-end business intelligence platform that combines all the above three products along with specific analytical modules for operations, human resources and loss prevention - to provide a wide array of role-based analytic applications for a retail organization.
DI: Tell us about role-based dashboards in retail and how ARC Dashboards focus on the intersection of a user's business function and level in the organization.
VG: Retail business executives want dashboards to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time so they can make optimal business decisions. Therefore ARC Dashboards acknowledge that different people responsible for different roles and activities in a retail organization need to look at information in different ways at different times. Yet all these perspectives and points of view must align with one another and ultimately with a company’s strategic objectives and targets.
ARC Dashboards focus on the intersection of user’s business function - for example merchandising, promotions, supplier performance and finance - and their level in the organization: strategic, operational or tactical.
Dashboards in ARC provide this focus on the intersection along with alignment of these intersections: cross-functional alignment, cross-layer alignment, role-to-role alignment and alignment with strategy.
With ARC Dashboards, buyers and merchandisers can easily monitor, analyze and mange their category-management processes at various levels. It also enables them to perform a holistic and in-depth analysis of the business performance by linking strategy to execution in a closed-loop analytic framework.
DI: How does the ARC product line cater to specific retail segments (fashion, mass merchandise, food and grocery, etc.)?
VG: ARC understands the differences in decision-making practices, processes and technology for specific retail segments. Powered by in-depth understanding of diverse retailing strategies and objectives, ARC is designed with your decision-making needs in mind.
Whether it’s dealing with changing trends in fashion retail, understanding customer behavior in specialty retail or the getting the right assortment for food & mass merchandise retail, ARC can help you make the best decisions.
DI: How long does it take a customer to get up and running with your solutions?
VG: ARC - an integrated, retail-specific BI solution - scores over a custom-built one in myriad ways, the most significant being the reduction in cost, effort and time required for implementation. Most data-warehousing engagements involve several external vendors, tool and technology components, and internal project teams. The ARC architecture radically changes the deployment lifecycle for retail BI, putting the power of ARC’s analytical engine in the hands of the business users within weeks. The design phase is shortened considerably as the solution encapsulates considerable business knowledge in its packaged form by means of pre-defined retail business process mappings. Customization is required only to incorporate unique, retailer-specific features not present in the standard application feature set.
ARC provides a guaranteed, fail-safe deployment. The general deployment time for ARC is 16-18 weeks. This superior deployment time is achieved because of the exhaustive data-model, pre-built analyses and reports and its inherent capability to understand the underlying data structures and systems. For example, the entire ETL process is pre-packaged, including the movement of data from source systems to the ARC data warehouse and data cleansing, quality and handling of retail processes, such as late-polls and historical data corrections.
In cases where retailers are using known retail systems like JDA, SAP, Retek and so on, their ARC can be deployed in 12-14 weeks.
DI: Do you offer localized versions of your products? If so, can you tell us about what you offer?
VG: ARC has multi-language and multi-currency capabilities at the architecture level and is able to provide retailers an interface with the language of their choice along with the choice to view any currency data. ARC is i18n compliant and supports easy localization to languages other than English, including Arabic, Chinese and other Indo-European languages.
DI: What are some key retail BI best practices you would recommend?
VG: Most BI tools focus on providing a host of BI features and analytic capabilities. ARC focuses beyond these boundaries to drive better business value to retailers by specifically addressing their unique needs. The exclusive focus on retail BI pain points gives ARC the advantage of bringing a set of best practices to the table. These include the analysis incorporated in design, the understanding of nuances in retail segments and the practices that foster collaboration within and beyond the organization.
DI: Retailers are going through very difficult times in our current harsh economic climate. How is ARC addressing this issue?
VG: The retail segment today has evolved into a fairly complex industry with the number and complexity of factors affecting a retailer having grown exponentially. During a harsh economic climate like the current one, retailers not only need to handle the pressure on margin and revenue growth, they also have to grapple with complex issues like ever-shrinking product lifecycles, changing customer behavior and greater activity from competitors. They also need to respond to market dynamics – mainly changing demographics, the emergence of new channels and stiffer unforeseen competition. In such situations, a retailer needs to make quick decisions and also the right decisions. An analytics-driven business intelligence culture plays a pivotal role in shaping such decision making. Retail analytics has at its core the process of taking data from multiple sources of the retailer’s business cosmos and churning business intelligence that enable performance improvement. An effective retail analytical application enables retailers to formulate the right retail strategies and address critical issues during a downturn.
ARC’s integrated, retail-specific BI solution makes BI a reality for a retailer. It scores over a custom-built solution by bringing a reduction in cost, effort and time required for implementation, making insights come to a retailer faster, easier and less expensively. The highly intuitive and rich user interface along with the self-service BI capabilities of ARC ensures that business users are able to perform guided role-based analytics without any assistance from the IT group. This along with the enterprise-wide pricing structure of ARC ensures greater BI adoption within the organization and institutionalizes a performance-driven culture.
DI: What can we expect to see from ARC in the coming months?
VG: There are several other products currently under development, leveraging the comprehensive base architecture developed for ARC. We have assiduously fostered a culture of innovation, encouraged big and bold thinking, and promoted the pursuit of excellence, all of which has resulted in this fine piece of product architecture and design. A few of the products currently under development include a supplier collaboration portal, store productivity benchmarking and scorecarding, merchandise planning and forecasting, as well as operations analytics.
Chief Technology Officer, Manthan Systems
A founding member of Manthan Systems, Vikas heads the ARC retail business intelligence product group, and as Chief Technology Officer, is responsible for technology strategy at Manthan Systems. With more than a decade's experience in the research and development of various IT products (especially in the retail business domain), Vikas has had the distinction of being an entrepreneur and also having worked with notable global IT firms including Wipro and Netkraft. His extensive experience in project management and product development has been shown in solutions like ERP Systems, SFA applications, EAI Platform, communication and messaging systems, as well as BI solutions across various tools and technology platforms.