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Going With the Flow of Business

BY CSA STAFF

The sluggish economy has retailers competing for consumers’ discretionary dollars. If store-level systems and customer-facing solutions deliver a poor experience, however, shoppers will be sure to spend their money elsewhere.

While business-intelligence and monitoring systems can shed light on IT breakdowns, the results are often after the fact, delaying remediation. But business transaction intelligence solutions could transform retailers’ reactive approach. Senior editor Deena M. Amato-McCoy chatted with Marc Borbas, VP marketing at Burnaby, British Columbia-based INETCO Systems, about how to create an enterprisewide view of IT performance, and how to boost productivity and the customer experience at store level.

Chain Store Age: What issues do retailers face when monitoring and analyzing their POS systems?

Marc Borbas: The biggest is that they lack a consolidated view of store-level performance. If issues arise, it takes time, sometimes days, to figure out what happened. That is where business transaction intelligence comes in.

CSA: What is business transaction intelligence? Who would use it and for what purpose?

Borbas: We see it as a new category and an emerging customer requirement.

This system can reside at headquarters and view activity storewide or enterprisewide. Then retailers’ IT groups can use the data to bridge performance across their infrastructure and operations from headquarters down to store level. It allows retailers to align the customer experience and IT infrastructure.

While there are many areas where this solution can be applied, the initial focus will be on the front end, since this is where retailers tend to touch customers the most. More specifically, retailers will use information to optimize payment transactions and reduce customer-related issues resulting from negative experiences that can happen at checkout.

CSA: How is this different than existing business-intelligence and monitoring systems?

Borbas: Typically, business-intelligence solutions work hand in hand with data stored in data warehouses. By querying stored data, retailers can improve business decisions. However, this is historical, not real-time, data.

What makes business-transaction intelligence different is its focus on seeing transactions from the customer touchpoint all the way to its impact on infrastructure.

IT typically monitors servers and concepts that touch the end users via stored data. This evolving concept, however, looks at the actual transaction and how it flows in real time, end to end across IT systems.

CSA: What trends are driving the need for business transaction intelligence?

Borbas: As retailers increase their focus on the customer experience across increasingly complex multiple channels, they need an application that can make sure operations are efficient.

Typically, retailers are looking at their operations from the bottom up. They analyze statistics based on servers and network links, and then they guess what the experience looks like based on these numbers.

Business transaction intelligence, rather, looks at the experience from the customer perspective, then bridges out to systems performance. The help desk no longer has to monitor the server and assume that since it looks busy, POS performance may be slow. Now the help desk can see exactly which lanes, in which stores, are slow.

By gaining a real-time view, retailers can pinpoint issues much faster and manage operations better, which leads to productivity gains.

CSA: How effective is business transaction intelligence for improving the end-customer experience?

Borbas: It’s very effective at uncovering how the performance of IT systems impact the quality of the end-customer experience. By understanding where transactions are slowing down or failing, retailers can find ways to optimize the IT infrastructure to deliver the best possible customer experience.

CSA: What features should retailers consider when looking to invest in these solutions?

Borbas: This is a system that will be most heavily used by help-desk and network-operations-center personnel. It needs to be highly visual, able to detect and alert users to performance issues in real time, and help operators rapidly isolate the source of performance problems (e.g., network, application, servers, etc.). Ideally, this should be accomplished without agents that can slow down or disrupt critical production systems.

CSA: Since retailers are struggling to operate in this economic downturn, will they consider this a priority?

Borbas: Chains’ main focuses are on productivity and efficiency gains, and improving the customer experience.

Since this system supports both goals, it is crucial that this solution is considered an IT priority during this tough economy.

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Wal-Mart to sell earth-friendly CDs

BY CSA STAFF

SANTA MONICA, Calif. As part of Wal-Mart’s “Earth Month” the company is selling more than 20 Universal Music Group titles that come with special earth-friendly inserts. The inserts are made with special seed paper and, according to the companies, can actually bloom into wildflowers.

The inserts, in addition to being good for the environment, also offer consumers three free digital downloads from Universal Music. Universal also said that a number of its new CDs will be packaged in third-party certified, renewable recycled board and recyclable paper.

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ODP urges rejection of Levan nominees

BY CSA STAFF

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. Office Depot is continuing to urge its shareholders to reject dissident nominees and elect the company’s nominees to its board of directors at its annual shareholders meeting this April.

In a proxy statement sent to investors, Office Depot said that Alan Levan’s proposed nominees would do little to help improve shareholder value. According to the statement, Levan’s company, Levitt Corp. has seen its share price fall about 93% over the past three years and that its subsidiary, Levitt and Sons, is in bankruptcy. Office Depot also noted that BankAtlantic, of which Levan is chairman and ceo and one of his nominees, is president of real estate, construction and development, share price has dropped approximately 75% over the past three years.

Office Depot also cited news reports that commented on Levan’s failing business ventures, as well as others that said that his nominees are not qualified to serve on Office Depot’s board of directors.

The company pointed out nominee Mark Begelman’s experience with Mars Music, a company he founded in 1997 that went bankrupt in 2002. According to Office Depot, many news reports attributed this failure to a flawed business strategy.

According to Office Depot, when Levan’s other nominee, Martin Hanaka served as chairman of Sports Authority from 1998 to 2003, the company saw its price fall by about 13%.

Office Depot stressed that its directors best understand the company and are well-suited to help the company grow.

“We strongly believe that removing two of the most experienced retailing executives from our board, including our current ceo who is driving the implementation of our strategic turnaround plan, would be highly disruptive, could delay the implementation of internal and external initiatives and could damage prospects for a successful turnaround,” Office Depot said in the proxy statement.

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