Thursday, 22 March 2012

It's a Changing World Out There - Business Intelligence in Retail

Shopping habits are rapidly changing.  There's a massive shift from the high street to online shopping so now is the time for the retailers to really get their finger on the pulse of their business.

As a Business Intelligence Consultant, I’m talking to customers from every conceivable part of industry but more than ever I’m amazed as to the number of retail organisations that I speak to that still don’t have any formal reporting tools in place.

BI in Retail should be able to deliver the ability to access information affecting the entire retail business, often as the data is created,  but recent statistics back up the conversations I’m having with the retail sector  in that only :

50% of retail businesses have formal BI solutions in place, 70% of SMB Retail still use spread sheets as their primary source of analytics over more functional BI tools , such as SAP Crystal Reports, and amazingly nearly 25% of the retail shops on your high street today are still using spread sheets as their only analytical tool! *

Retailers need to use BI in order to predict shopping behaviour and good BI should be able to deliver this information and be able to measure its impact directly to management, store staff and regional staff alike,  at the right time in order to be able to maximise sales. 

By including customer product and performance data in their BI program every retailer can learn who their customers are, what they want today, tomorrow and in a month's time. Improving data access to customer facing staff should be a key strategy for every retailer and this is impossible with manual speadsheets.

Slow and inaccurate BI will lead to out of stock scenarios, customer satisfaction issues, promotional delays and lost sales opportunities.

Good BI in retail impacts on the seasonal swing nature of the business by offering accurate and well planned marketing plans that everyone knows about, well timed store events and correct staffing levels.

Larger retailers who have embraced BI are outstripping smaller vendors as they are able to predict purchasing behaviour, but with SAP Crystal Solutions entry level BI Essentials package it doesn’t have to be BI only for the “Big Guys”.

Written by:  Sue Mitchell, DSCallards Ltd

*Source:   The Opportunity for Business Intelligence Enhancements in Retail - October 2011- Aberdeen Group

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Top Ten Dashboard DON'Ts!

1. Use flashy visuals and chart types when simple alternatives are capable of conveying the same message. Meaning must be derived from dashboards quickly. If charts or graphs are overly garish or complex, interpretation is hindered and usage rates will decline. When considering data visualisations for your dashboards, ensure that you: 

  •  Reduce the data to ink ratio: Follow the advice of Edward Tufte in his renowned The Visual Display of Quantitative Information: Remove anything that isn’t absolutely central to the interpretation of the data. Only display objects that are vital to the accurate interpretation and contextual understanding of the underlying data – avoid all design aspects that are unconnected to the task of analytic communication.
  • Use color sparingly for maximum contrast to highlight important data
  • Make your data standout from chart and dashboard background
  • Use gradients and gridlines carefully
2.   Think that a dashboard is final: Reporting needs constantly change and dashboards have to change in accordance, to ensure the right metrics are being reported on and displayed in the most appropriate manner, to support current business strategy. To accommodate the inevitability of changing business needs, adopt an iterative approach to dashboard design. 

3.   Select visualisations to represent metrics without considering the values themselves: Different types of graphs highlight different types of data, and features within a data set, in distinctive ways. Carefully consider the information and message that each chart is attempting to derive from your chosen metrics and values.

4.   Measure metrics that are not linked to specific business objectives: The worth of even the most engaging dashboard will be severely diminished if it reports on metrics unrelated to core business objectives. 
5.  Forget to secure agreement on dashboard KPIs and their definition: Reaching consensus on the most crucial metrics and benchmarks will allow you to produce understandable, actionable and uniform KPI reports. Additionally, don’t assume that if everyone agrees on the same KPIs that they also agree on how they should be measured. 

6.  Use/display obscure metrics: Even if agreement is reached amongst user groups regarding dashboard KPIs and metrics, ensure that the most straightforward metrics are used to monitor progression towards business goals. If users are unable to decipher the significance of a report with a momentary look, its usefulness and purpose is moot. 

7.  Deliver reports underpinned by poor data: Once management and various business groups have reached consensus on the metrics that each departmental, strategic or operational dashboard should measure and monitor, ensure you are collecting the data needed to compile the necessary reports. Incomplete or poor quality data will lead to inaccurate dashboards and distrust amongst business users, who will proceed to search elsewhere for their answers, rendering your dashboards redundant.

8.  Design a dashboard that is complicated and cannot fit on a single screen: The KPIs and values displayed on a BI dashboard are meant to be able to be consumed quickly for understanding-at-a-glance. Whilst users may choose to drill into a particular chart for extra detail, they should be able to gain a high level overview quickly and effortlessly. 

9.   Include too many alert scenarios: It’s like the boy who cried wolf. If people are regularly ‘alerted’ to events that most often require no action, eventually, people will stop paying them attention. 

10.   Include no alert scenarios: If users are not notified of action that needs to be taken as a result of a report, what’s the point of the report? As stated before, reports need to be goal oriented. Users need to be alerted to events that diverge from projections and desired objectives, or when a predefined benchmark is reached. 

For more information visit: 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

How To Install Yellowfin

We will be working as root. If you are not you will need to sudo the majority of these commands.  A pre-requisite is to have downloaded the Yellowfin Evaluation - click here.  Ensure that the software is saved at a location, which your new Yellowfin server can access.

Please contact us at if you have any questions.

Install Java

Edit the /etc/apt/sources.list to include a new repository.
nano /etc/apt/sources.list

Add the new repository to the end of the file
.Update apt.

apt-get update

Download and install the latest version of Java.

apt-get install sun-java6-jdk
Install and Configure MySQL

Download and install the latest version of MySQL.
apt-get install mysql-server
 When prompted, specify a root password.

Create the yellowfin database.

mysql -u root -p
Enter the root password. From the mysql prompt.

Grant all permissions on the yellowfin database to the new yellowfin user.
GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON yellowfin.* TO 'yellowfin'@'localhost';

Exit out of mysql.
mysql> quit
Install Yellowfin
Download the latest version of yellowfin and transfer it to your server along with your licence file if you have one. In my instance, I used wget to download the latest install package and licence file from a network server.
From the directory that contains the yellowfin.jar file, kick off the installation wizard.
  1. Specify an installation directory. For example, /etc/yellowfin.
  2. Enter the path to your licence file or leave blank to upload later from the admin console.
  3. Specify the port you want yellowfin to listen on. For example: 3456.
  4. Select option 6 (MySQL) from the database type list.
  5. Choose NOT to create a new database or user.
  6. Enter localhost for the database server host. Leave the port as default.
  7. Specify the name of the database we created earlier, for example: yellowfin.
  8. Specify the username and password for the user with permissions to alter the database, in this case the user we created earlier: yellowfin.
  9. Choose whether to install the tutorial database, reports and different languages.
  10. The install process will begin.
  11. With the installation complete, start yellowfin.

Using a browser, browse to the front end of Yellowfin. http://yourserver:port. You can then log in using the default username and password, which you will receive once you have registered for an evaluation.

For more information:

Written by Tom Williams, Head of Infrastructure, DSCallards  

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