BI on Tablets Brings Right Info to Right People at Right Time

Ann All

I got a great comment from reader Dennis D. McDonald on my post from earlier this week titled "Customer Service and the iPad Effect." In it, I wrote that while companies remain focused on enabling customers to make purchases via mobile devices, they are missing an opportunity to equip staff at brick-and-mortar locations with tablets and other gear so they can provide better customer service.


McDonald, surely a man after my own heart due to his mention of people and processes, wrote:

While I agree completely with the ideas presented here, this is also a double edged sword. We're not just giving floor-walking staff more information, we're fundamentally changing the processes that they and customers have learned to use. Customers may want more than just an easy checkout from any point in the store; some will also need consulting-type advice, and the employee will need to be ready to provide it in a convincing way.

Amen, Dennis. Coincidentally, I enjoyed a recent briefing with business intelligence provider QlikTech during which Erica Driver, the senior director of product marketing, showcased some capabilities of the company's QlikView software that I think would come in awfully handy for employees circulating through stores with mobile devices.


In its last software update, QlikTech introduced associative search capability, which, as Driver explained it, employs a powerful inference engine and robust search technology "hidden" by a simple user interface. It became quite clear to me how powerful this could be for a retail sales associate, based on a demo called TV Finder found on the QlikTech site.


Driver walked me through the demo, which shows how sales associates can quickly search through more than 200 televisions to find one right for a customer. The associate can ask basic questions like "How much do you want to spend?" and "How large of a screen do you want?" and then the software filters the options. When an associate selects a TV, he/she can check availability, review technical specifications with the customer and send it to the cashier for purchase. (Or, I suspect, complete the purchase for the customer right there.) In our demo, Driver and I were able to narrow the number of possibilities from more than 200 to just three in about a minute and a half.


In my demo, we decided I'd be especially interested in a Samsung TV. I was quickly able to call up a list of options by typing an "S" and an "A" in a box just like the one I use hundreds of times a day for Google searches. Presented with two choices, I clicked on a "compare" tab and got a list of price, features and specifications for both models, along with a notice that both were in stock.


A Manager Dashboard offers similar capabilities, allowing managers to quickly view a store's inventory. He/she can also view inventories at nearby stores and run analyses to see, for instance, how discounted TVs are selling relative to non-discounted models.


These kinds of capabilities seem to deliver on BI's promise of offering the right data, to the right people, at the right time. As Driver told me during our briefing, QlikView is "not what you think of when you think about BI." (And I'd venture to say that for most people, BI still means reports compiled using historical data.) QlikView is "a business discovery platform," Driver said, that allows users to "ask and answer their own stream of questions, see what's related and pursue their own discoveries."


Deployments of this kind of technology are already happening. Earlier this month I wrote about a pilot at Starbucks, in which MicroStrategy software will allow managers and executives to access financial and other data relevant to a specific location while visiting that store. They'll use tablets, because GPS capabilities make it possible to quickly deliver the store-specific data. It's not surprising that the buzz for mobile BI, especially delivered via tablets, continues to build.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 27, 2011 8:46 AM Elliot Ross Elliot Ross  says:

I agree Ann - looking at the processes is important -

In retail? From automotive dealers, to high end furniture, through fancy gas fireplaces and other durable goods. Imagine being able to demonstrate features, models, and colours that you may not have in inventory. Possibly even with competitive comparison benefits. And I don't mean via a static Web Page, I mean an App that utilizes the full power and graphics of the devices. This includes the touch screen motions to move, size, flip, and change the orientation of images.

In sales? Imagine sitting in your largest customers office and having all order, shipment, and confirmation details in a few taps? Vendors have been doing this for a while with the much smaller form factor of smart phones. The expanded space on these tablets will take that to the next level.

Also imagine inspection or field service roles where checklists of tasks have to be performed. Do it on paper and perform data entry into a computer? or open the App and Tap, Tap that each has been checked? (As an example outside of the SME space, think how much paper the rental car companies would save when we  go through that nicks and dents inspection every time we rent a car! If that was an App where we just tap the location of those nicks or dents)

Legal and other professional services? boxes of briefs or a tablet? take your pick.

To me when it comes to operationally improving our business processes, if the main task is viewing, or consuming information, anywhere and any-when, these devices need to be looked at.

Jul 27, 2011 9:41 AM Erica Driver Erica Driver  says:

Ann: Thanks for the great article. It really helps illuminate that mobile BI has an opportunity to deliver so much more than just limited versions of the same ole' BI on a new, smaller device.

I wanted to clarify one comment that I didn't really do a good job explaining when we spoke. Since its inception years ago, QlikView has had a powerful inference engine that drives the associative experience users get. What was new in QlikView 10, which came out last October, was an "indirect search" capability. By putting a search field on a list box (an object listing all the field values in a field), application designers enable users to search that field on related terms.

For example, if a user wanted to identify a sales rep but couldn't remember the sales rep's name-just details about the rep, such as that he sells fish to customers in the Nordic region-the user could search on the sales rep list box for 'Nordic' and 'fish' to narrow the field to just the people who meet those criteria.

Hope this helps. Again: thanks!

Erica Driver, QlikTech


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