From Guided Analytics to Cloud-Based SaaS Self-Serve Analytics: How Precima Is Helping Businesses Chart the Future of the Retail Landscape


By Mohammad Belghiszadeh, BI Lead at Precima and Peihao Jin, Associate Director, Solution Architect at Precima

Have you ever heard of the Ikea effect? It's a simple concept. Users put more value into a product if they partially build it themselves. The same applies to LEGO. There's a tremendous sense of accomplishment in assembling a solution. This idea is also applicable to analytics. If you want to build engagement, you have to empower users, and that's what we're doing with the next generation of Precima’s retail analytics solutions.

Precima is a global retail strategy and analytics company that provides tailored, data-driven solutions to drive sales, boost profitability, and build customer loyalty. Along with AIR MILES, BrandLoyalty, LoyaltyOne Global Solutions, and IceMobile, Precima is a LoyaltyOne business and part of Alliance Data―a Fortune 500 company and global leader in data-driven loyalty solutions. Precima's head office is located in Toronto, Canada, with global offices in Den Bosch, The Netherlands, Chicago and Boston Area, USA, and London, UK.

From Guided Analytics to a Self-service Model

Precima had originally began using QlikView as part of the OEM program to provide guided retail analytics to our customers via direct BI solutions. In 2017, we embarked on a digital transformation journey that saw us transition to a cloud-based provider of SaaS analytics services. Through that transformation, we have transitioned to using Qlik Sense to develop our next generation of embedded analytics and visualization-based applications.

This transition enabled us to offer self-service as an addition to our existing guided analytics products. Let me refresh you on the difference. Guided analytics provide pre-packaged stories and actionable insights that users can utilize right away. Self-service analytics empowers users to build their own insights using pre-assembled data sets and other information. The process is a lot like assembling an IKEA bookshelf or a cabinet, however, creating this type of user experience presented a new set of challenges for Precima.

Chief among these are governance and security. When you work with retail analytics, you're dealing with billions of records and a diverse group of internal users, as well as external users like vendors and marketing consultants. That's a lot of data and people to keep track of, so you have to get your framework right from the start. Creating a solid foundation involves setting the appropriate access permissions for administrators, developers, contributors, and consumers so they can access the self-service functions that are relevant to their BI needs.

Setting User and Data Parameters

For example, we need to allow some users to create custom data sheets that they can share with colleagues exercising a specific function or working in the same department, but we must also prevent unauthorized access to these documents. In addition, we have to restrict some data to read-only mode. Users can share this information in stories, but they cannot alter it due to its nature.

The other major concern is the sheer volume of data we have to process. We're talking billions of transactions that include customer, price, and item data. We cannot pre-aggregate the data set because of double-counting issues. For example, a single customer can purchase various items at different stores and on different dates. 

Were we to pre-aggregate data, a user couldn't drill down dynamically to look at this information from different perspectives, so we have to restrict the amount of information, and the processing power users can access, depending on their specific needs.

The Elements of a Strong Framework

To build a strong framework, you have to consider all of the above. You must set roles and security rules for different classes of users. You must then provide QMC (Qlik Management Console) utilities and ODAG (On-demand App Generation) as needed.

The best way to manage change is to establish ownership.

To keep all of this functioning smoothly, you need to restrict the size of apps, as well as the resources they consume. Next, you have to create a retention policy. User-created content, including apps and data sheets, takes up storage space and should be deleted regularly.

Finally, you have to look at data stewardship. You need to establish ownership of every calculation and master item, so you know who to talk to when you're dealing with issues and change requests, among other things.

Governance and a Solid Foundation

The bulk of our work went into establishing governance and building a robust framework. We spent less than a third of our time on development and the rest of it laying down a foundation we could build upon. In this manner, we were able to roll out the first phase of our new platform in less than six months, and also prepare a roadmap to add new functionality and new classes of users in the coming months and years.

We called this framework MAD, which is short for Monitor, Analyze, Drill-down. Our target for the first phase was to empower 70% of users to get their answers using ready-made objects, with the remaining 30% having to create custom visualizations to garner the necessary insights.

To facilitate support and training, use easy-to-understand business-oriented language.

To facilitate support and training, as well as future expansion, we used easy-to-understand business-oriented language to build our framework and to set user classes, access permissions, and security rules. Our internal teams can access this framework to assist consumers and make changes to the platform. We can quickly see what functions have been switched on or off for which users and react accordingly.

For example, we can consult this framework right now to explain to a vendor that they do not have permission to build an app on the portal. A few months down the line, when we hit phase two, we will modify the framework to enable some classes of users to clone an app or to add data from external sources, like Access databases and Excel files. In phase three, we will switch on the ability for users to create, publish, and share custom apps.

Bridging the Gap Between the Past and the Future of Retail Analytics

Precima continues to offer guided retail analytics products while increasing our efforts towards enhancing the self-service SaaS offerings to our clients.

Guided analytics tools are one-dimensional and can only answer pre-determined questions. Users get the same report day in and day out. Self-serve analytics empower users to ask questions, retrieve answers, and then ask further questions based on these results. They can view data from multiple perspectives, generate additional insights, and make better decisions.

Precima has transitioned between the past and the future of analytics. We have laid down the foundation and are giving our customers the tools to transform the retail landscape. The deeper they dive, the higher their sales can climb. That is the power of self-service retail analytics.

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