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A Fresh Look
December 21st, 2010 by Rick

Over the past couple of months, RIBA Retail has been working on a new look for our web-site and refining our overall message. I am very pleased with the outcome. I think our message is clearer and  the web-site is easier to navigate. I hope you can spend some time browsing our updated web-site and share any feedback you might have.

I have also started a new blog on this site, that will focus solely on Data Transformation for Retailers. I believe there is a lot to talk about on this topic. Retailers continue to implement more and more new systems, which rely on tight integration. Retailers are struggling to get this right, resulting in poor business processes and lost sales. Imagine not being able to allocate merchandise, because your allocation system is not in synch with purchasing!! Buyers, planners, allocators, and management are quick to lose all trust in systems if the numbers don’t match up. These are the types of things we see every day. RIBA Retail has focused on these problems for years now, and we would like to share our experiences with you. Join this conversation and share your real life experiences with us too. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Visit us at www.ribaretail.com

8 Steps to Planning a Successful Data Conversion
November 29th, 2010 by Rick

Implementing a new retail system is difficult. A new system can result in many great benefits; improved business processes, access to more and better data, improved analysis, more intuitive results, etc. A new system brings hope and excitement for the future. Regardless of how great the new system is (will be), it cannot be successfully implemented without proper and fully converted data. Retail systems have a lot of complex data and converting it is no simple task. By following these 8 simple steps, you will significantly improve your chance of a successful conversion, with little or no disruption to the current process.

8 steps to a successful data conversion:

  1. Define Scope - Scope must be clearly defined up front. What is being converted and what is not? How much history is being converted? What can be done manually rather than automated? It may not be possible to convert ‘everything’. Scope is critical and the project’s success will be dependent on having this clearly decided upon.
  2. Identify data sources Where is the data coming from? If you have multiple systems or data sources, each data source must be clearly identified.
  3. Identify data destinations (APIs) Where is the data going? You must identify the source systems or databases and the appropriate APIs to get the data in there.
  4. Define requirements/mappings - This is what I believe to be the most critical step. Detailed requirements must be defined for each element within each conversion; what data mapping is required? What business rules must be applied? What data transformations need to occur? Each and every data element must be scrutinized and documented.
  5. Define Estimates – Assign appropriate estimate of effort to the development of each conversion
  6. Define Scope of Test – Scope of the testing must be defined. It may not be viable to convert ALL data as a test or it might be done in a number of steps – sample, small dataset, and then larger or full dataset. All of this must be defined and included in the overall plan.
  7. Who and how to validate – How is this all going to be validated? What results are expected and who in the organization is going to validate the results? Key users/sponsors must validate and feel confident with results.
  8. Develop Project Plan/Assign Resources – And lastly, build the project plan for all development, testing and validating tasks; identify the sequence and dependencies of all tasks; identify and assign the appropriate resources to each task on the plan.

Implementing any new system relies on a successful data conversion. Following these 8 steps will lead to a complete successful data conversion. What do you think? Is there anything else you would caution about or add to the list?

Movin’ Forward….
November 21st, 2010 by Rick

This blog has served me well and has given me an opportunity to share my thoughts and views on a vast array of  retail, retail technology, and personal topics. But now it’s time to move forward…in a different direction. Over recent years I have re-focused my business and expertise in the area of Data Transformation for retailers. And so, I want my blog to re-focus on this too.

The costs and complexity of Data Migration or Data Integration are not widely discussed or understood in the retail industry. Retail systems are not getting simpler, and most retailers are implementing or managing a vast array of systems, hoping to gain that extra edge; from systems such as Price Optimization to PLM, Planning, BI, Warehouse Management, and others. Retailers are connecting with their customers and selling through more channels (store, web, mobile, etc).  And retailers must integrate with 3rd party solutions such as 3PL, EDI, Financials, Human Resource, etc. For most Retail IT organizations, data integration is a frequent and on-going headache that keeps their best people away from value-producing projects. My blog will explore how retailers of all size can better deal with the ugly issue of data transformation.

We will provide some tips and suggestions, as well as explore new tools and new ways of managing all of the challenges retailers face with data integration. This will be useful to all retail system resources whether you are a user, IT, independent consultant, software company, or systems integrator. Your input will help shape the topics, and bring everyone’s experience and knowledge to this shared space.

Here are a few questions and planned topics:

· How can you improve the data conversion process when implementing a new system?

· What is your overall data integration strategy? How can it be improved?

· Is any of your data shared across multiple systems/databases? Can things be more centralized?

· What tools can facilitate/standardize your data integration process?

· What is the value in MDM (Master Data Management) solutions?

What would you add to this list? Are there any other topics that you would like to see discussed here? Please feel free to add your comments and let’s start the conversation.

10 Best Things About Working On My Own
July 17th, 2010 by Rick

I love working on my own. I have been on my own for the last 6 years now. Over the past 1.5 years, I have focused on starting a new business. It has been a struggle at times, but I have always appreciated the opportunity to work on my own and here are my top 10 reasons why:
  1. Independence - Working on your own means complete independence. No person or organization controls what you do. Everything you do is on your own by your own choice. Of course you still have to answer to your customers and employees, but it is still all on your own terms.
  2. Flexibility - No regimented schedule. Your work schedule is completely up to you. Owning your own business requires a lot of work. I may work 60-80 hours a week, but I do it when it suits me best. I may work early in the morning (often arising at 5 AM) or I may work late nights and week-ends, but then I can take time off as needed for family and other stuff. No vacation requests, no sneaking out of the office, and no personal/sick time, just planning your own schedule on your own terms.
  3. No Boss - Does this really require any further explanation.
  4. No dress code - In my case, most of my work is done on my own, remote from my customers, so I can dress as I want. Jeans, shorts, sandals, sweatshirts, or whatever I feel comfortable with. When I need to, I dress appropriately.
  5. Owning your successes and failures - To me, this is the crux of it! Owning it all. The good and the bad. The successes and failures. Nobody to blame or encourage except for yourself.
  6. Using cheap/free stuff - When you are on your own (especially when you are starting), there is no need for fancy equipment, sophisticated software, or expensive services. There is a ton of free or inexpensive resources on the web for almost everything you need. Tools and services like Gmail, Dropbox, Freshbooks, just to name a few. You don’t have to make any huge investments to use these resources. I love to be able to try out something new at almost no cost. When you work in an organization it is almost impossible to simply start using free stuff.
  7. Choose who you work with - I only work with people I like and trust. I work with great people, and I do not have to work with others. It is even true with customers (in most cases). If I don’t like to work with a specific company then I can refuse their offer for work.
  8. Flexibility, again - This is really key. Above I talked about flexibility of time, but there is also flexibility of what to work on. If you want to spend time/effort on a new project or new idea, you can. Nobody has to approve what you choose to do, it’s up to you to do what you think makes sense for your business and what does not.
  9. Doing it all - You really must do it all; accounting, HR, marketing, legal, sales, etc. I think this is a great learning experience and really challenges and opens you up to other areas you may have little or no experience with. It will definitely take you outside your comfort zone, which I think is a good thing. That being said, I think it is equally important that you rely on other resources where it makes sense, because the real truth is YOU CANNOT DO IT ALL! It is imperative you realize this and pay for resources/help in areas that will help you improve and grow your business.

What would you add to this list?

Teeing It Up With Twetailer
July 14th, 2010 by Rick

credit photo to: NRE in SC

credit photo to: NRE in SC

I recently wrote about a new retail concept, Twetailer. As discussed, this provides a unique way of shopping where the buyer can simply shout out what they want and wait for the seller to make proposals to you, the buyer. OK, this sounds good enough. But with Twetailer, you can take this one step further. Twetailer is simply the mechanism that provides this hub, and brokers the sale, and it can be used as the foundation for any demand/supply scenario. Looking for an animal shelter? Looking for a used car? Or maybe you are looking to find a golf tee time at a nearby golf course with a few of your buddies. I strongly urge you to watch this 3 part series to get a better understanding of what I am talking about. At approximately 7 minutes in total, I think you will find these videos both entertaining and interesting. Would love to hear your thoughts/feedback.

Part I

Part 2

Part 3

So what do you think? Can you see applying this concept to your business, social program, charity or other?

Crowd-Sourcing With Amazon’s Kindle
July 3rd, 2010 by Rick

The other night lying in bed, I put down my Kindle for a few minutes. I saw it flash and automatically start updating itself over 3G. That was cool enough, but the next morning as I continued to read my e-book , I began to notice sections that were softly underlined with a number next to it. At first I was confused? What is that? I did not highlight any sections in this book yet. I quickly learned that Amazon had added a very cool feature - ‘Popular Highlights‘. It tracks what sections are being highlighted, and displays those sections with the highest number of highlights and the number of times it has been highlighted.

This an excellent example of crowd-sourcing. Those reading e-books might already be highlighting important sections, but now Kindle is publishing this and ranking the most ‘Popular’ highlights of a book. Its almost like creating Coles Notes by the crowd. This is obviously not possible with an ‘ordinary’ book. It doesn’t matter how many times a section is highlighted, there is no way to know what are the most popular highlighted sections.

I can see great value with this tool, when researching books for school, business or other types of research. What do you think? Do you see this as a valuable tool?

A New Kind of Retailing
June 13th, 2010 by Rick

What if the way we shop today is not the best way to shop?

What if all the time, you spend searching/shopping for products & services, like the most the popular PS3 game or the hottest pair of Ugg boots to more mundane products like light bulbs and batteries, can be done more efficiently? What if you can find what you want, where you want it, at the best price, without barely lifting a finger?

For all of history, the typical model for shopping involves the consumer seeking out the desired product from a retailer. Who carries the product? Who has it in stock? Who has the best price? Let’s think about that for a second - I know what I want, I am prepared to spend the cash, and I want to go to a nearby store and buy it now! But where do I go? I can’t just walk into the first store I think of or see? They may not have it in stock, it may  not be the best price, so first I must spend time searching for the right place to buy it at the best price. While searching online seems like a fairly simple approach, it still involves numerous searches, wading through pages of garbage, and having to visit many sites to check for availability and price. All of this without really knowing who is reputable and who is NOT!! I would prefer to visit a nearby local retailer, who can answer my questions and provide great service at a good price. So now, I may look at flyers, talk to family and friends, do research online, or visit multiple stores to see who has it in stock at what price.   Wow - that is both exhausting and frustrating. I know what I want, I want it it now, and I would prefer to buy it locally and simply go pick it up. If shopping was just that simple….

Maybe there is a better way?

What if I could simply broadcast what I want (eg. Wii Console with Mario Kart) and let the reputable retailers in my area respond to my request. Sound too simple? Not really, just simply logical! Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to provide a little assistance on an exciting new project with a couple of really smart guys, Steven Milstein, creator of Twetailer, along with super techie developer Dom Derrien. Together, they have built a new kind of retailing - as Steven likes to refer to as Reverse Retailing, or:


Watch this video:

I like to refer to this as hub commerce. It is not one to one, the typical shopper–>retailer (brick & mortar/website) scenario, but many consumers to many retailers, brokered by a hub or twetailer. You broadcast your request by Twitter, e-mail, text, mobile, instant messaging, etc. and let all the reputable retailers in your area make proposals to you. Let them do the work, instead of you running around looking for what you want at the best price.

Wouldn’t this be a better experience?

This is a local, social, and truly equal opportunity tool, where a local reputable independent retailer can be on equal footing to a major chain-wide retailer. No expensive e-commerce, or, even simple web site is required. All they have to do is join the hub and make proposals responding to broadcast requests.

What do you think? Would you like to shop this way?

Next post - Teeing It Up With Twetailer

Ryan Seacrest - Just Lucky?
March 28th, 2010 by Rick

This blog is a slight departure from my normal topics and not something I would typically write about. I recently saw Ryan Seacrest on Oprah (you can watch part of it here). While I knew he is host of American Idol, I really did not know anything else about him. In fact I have never seen a single episode of American Idol. Nonetheless, a few things he said on Oprah really struck a chord with me. He can’t sing, he can’t dance, he can’t act, and he is not particularly good-looking, although he does have a nice dose of charm and charisma. So how does a person like this, with no particular talent, become host of one of the world’s all-time  most popular TV shows in history?

Many might say, he’s just lucky…

It would be easy to say that he landed this job by chance and that is what sent his career skyward. Well, after hearing him on Oprah for 20 minutes, one quickly realizes that this was not luck and no accident whatsoever. I have come to learn that whenever you see someone that is wildly successful, the chance of it being just plain dumb luck is very slim, and this is just another example. Ryan Seacrest has pursued a dream since high school. He worked as an intern on a radio show until midnight every night all through high school.   He had a passion for radio, TV, and entertainment. He started from the ground up, working wherever he could in this industry.  His idols growing up were Merv Griffin and Larry King. He now works 18 hour days, working about 7-8 different jobs simultaneously (hosting 2 radio shows, 2 tv shows, runs a production company, among other stuff). Ryan does not consider this work, its his passion. Its what he has dreamed of and worked towards since he was a little boy. This is not luck, its dedication and a lot of hard work. Was it lucky that American Idol turned out to be the craze it turned into? Sure. But Ryan would have found success with or without the success of American Idol.

Having recently read Seth Godin’s Linchpin, you can quickly identify Ryan Seacrest as a Linchpin. He has taken his passion and turned into an art form. As Seth explains, “Some people are hooked on passion, deriving their sense of self from the act of being passionate…the combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin“. He put in the time, the effort, the creativity and leveraged his career every step of the way. In fact, when Oprah asked him what he learned from Larry King, it was simply that Larry leveraged his position, experience, and showmanship to get even more important interviews and bigger and better jobs. Ryan has done the same. Leveraging his knowledge, experience, and success to get the next ‘big’ thing. He is now embarking on a new project with Chef mega-superstar Jamie Oliver. No luck, just leveraging his success and experience for the next big thing.

All successful people do this, and that is how they become successful. You may only see the end result and be quick to conclude they ‘got lucky’, but only when you see how these individuals turned passion, art, hard work, long hours, and a series of successes (and failures) to get to that point, do you realize that there was little luck involved. Ryan Seacrest is no different. No dumb luck, just a lot of passion and a lot of hard work.

Re-invent or Defend?
March 7th, 2010 by Rick

Watch this video:

Compelling, no? But my question is - why are these CEOs of multi-billion dollar businesses spending time, money and effort on this video? If they were busy creating, thriving, growing, as indicated, do you really think they would be so concerned with a few hundred bloggers, pundits, and critics that announce publishing is dead? Truth is, nobody really thinks publishing is dead - newspapers, books, and magazines will be around for quite some time yet. But there is a loud voice that has been warning everyone that the digital era changes the game. So what should publishers and other businesses in similar situations do?

Re-invent or defend?

Why waste time and energy on defense? Do you think this video is going to cause people to rush off and buy more magazines?  Do you think it will slow down the pace of change and digital delivery of content? I don’t think so. Instead of whining and defending the past, they should spend more time and energy on re-inventing. Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired isn’t wasting time, he’s re-inventing.

Other companies, like Blockbuster, have chosen to live in the past. I recently had a terrible customer service experience at Blockbuster and all I could think - here is a company that has a shrinking market and a business model that cannot survive, and they cannot even provide decent customer service? Blockbuster would rather defend their past and spend time on creating more convoluted and complex return policies. First stating  ‘no late fees’ with a complex set of rules/conditions and now the geniuses have decided to make a return to ‘late fees’? It is not a surprise to see them struggling. While wasting time protecting their existing business model, companies like Netflix and Vudu are whizzing by. Does anyone think that renting physical DVDs is an industry that will grow? Certainly not Walmart, who simply decided to purchase Vudu and enter the market of digital movie delivery. No whining, no living in the past, simply re-inventing. 

Same can be said for Amazon, the largest seller of books. It would be easy for Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, to sit back and whine about the book industry and try to defend publishers and the medium of the printed book. Instead, Jeff chose to re-invent the industry with the first commercially, affordable e-reader; the Kindle, with a simple cost-effective delivery mechanism. Just as Apple did with the iPod, Amazon has done with books, and now all other book retailers/publishers must play catch-up.

It will be interesting to see which companies will not only survive but thrive in this digital revolution. It’s an ongoing battle and ongoing opportunity. Which companies do you think are doing well or struggling in this transition?

How Will You Watch/Follow the Olympics?
February 11th, 2010 by Rick

That used to be a relatively simple question. You tuned into the one, and only one, major US network (or Canadian network, if in Canada) carrying the Olympics to see anything. Whatever they fed us, mostly during prime time, is what we saw. And then you could read about the same stories/highlights the next day in your local paper. Those days are gone….

credit photo to http://www.flickr.com/photos/melkimmett12/

credit photo to http://www.flickr.com/photos/melkimmett12/

Welcome to the 2010 Cable, Internet, Mobile, Social Olympic Games!!

In today’s new media world - you can still watch the Olympics on NBC or maybe tune into one of their many specialty channels including MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Universal Sports, USD, and others I am probably not even aware of. So right off the bat, the amount of content and the selection available just on TV alone is huge. If you want to watch Curling at 3 AM or catch the latest Biathlon highlights, you can find it on one of these specialty channels. But all of this assumes you still want to watch the Olympics the old-fashioned way….because wait, the options are numerous:

  • Local Newspaper - Check out your local online newspaper for results/highlights on local athletes/teams. Here is an example from the Montreal Gazette
  • Internet Radio/Podcast - still like to listen to the radio, try internet radio or podcasts. Get live action or full recaps on numerous podcasts that will be posted throughout the day
  • Computer - you can watch all of the TV feed right on you computer. NBC (or CTV in Canada) will provide you with all of the live streaming video you need to watch the Olympic games. Video podcasts and YouTube will provide all of the highlights and information you can imagine.
  • Mobile Phone - not near a TV or computer, don’t worry. Just turn on your mobile phone and get automated alerts/updates or even live video feeds to your phone from a large variety of news sources. Checkout what NBC provides for mobile services
  • Interactive Feeds- and don’t forget the constant feed of data/information that will stream right to you; twitter, google buzz, facebook, and RSS feeds, all on a second by second basis from everyone throughout the world. Get it all or filter your searches to the events or people that interest you most.

So why sit down to watch anything, let the games come to you. In this era of computers, mobile devices, and social media, this is what we can expect with the Olympics from now on. An overwhelming flood of information brought to your fingertips, wherever you may be!

Now, I’m off to my couch with the whole family to watch the opening ceremonies on a good old-fashion non-HD TV…enjoy the games how ever you get them!!
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