Archive for June, 2009

Retail Data Conversions; Part Art, Part Science. Which is more important?
Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Right Brain, Left Brain  credit to: vaXzine

Right Brain, Left Brain credit to: vaXzine

Data conversions must be exact, precise, methodical….WAIT, this all sounds very scientific and not creative at all. So what part of a data conversion can possibly have anything to do with ‘ART’? Let me explain…

Retail data conversions can be complex. I am sure this is true for most industries, but as retail is my industry domain, that is what I am focusing on. Converting critical data like UPCs, prices, customers, etc, can have a huge impact on your organization, if not done correctly! I have worked on numerous data conversions for retailers over the years, and I feel like I have encountered every problem imagineable. Yet, new problems are encountered each and every time. Each conversion is different. No matter the methodology followed, the testing prepared for, unique situations arise. In so doing, we must adapt to the situation and this is where the creativity, the ‘art’ (and fun) begins. Here are a few prime examples:

  1. When a default is not a simple default - by definition a default should be simple. Not necessarily so. Providing data for all fields in a new system is not always possible and therefore we set defaults. But simple defaults will not always provide the best results. Maybe the default can be based on other important data or dates and provide a more meaningful ‘complex’ default. In order to have a better result, it is preferable to use as precise a default as possible.
  2. Using complex data maps - how creative can you be in building data maps that result in better and more meaningful output. A data map can be a simple one-one to map (replace the old value with this new value) or it can be fairly creative and complex. I recently had to map an old GL code structure with multiple parts to a new GL code with a differnet set of parts, where each part had a diffent series of rules and data masks to build the new G/L code from the old to the new - now, that was fun!!
  3. Finding a home for old data - Sometimes the residing system just does not have a place to store a piece of information from the old system. When that old information is valuable and you want to carry it forward, you must find a place for it to live, where it can be accessed and continue to be meaningful. A couple of options may be; to use a user-defined field, or put in another field that is not being used and give that field a new meaning, or merge the information into another field while keeping its meaning. All viable and creative solutions to a common data conversion problem.
  4. Resolving errors - and this is where the most creative part of the process occurs. Integrity is king! You have built a complex set of data conversions and business rules that are all inter-connected and must work in concert to get a complete result with full integrity. Sure, you can say if you built the conversions correctly to begin with there will be no errors and no discrepancies, but my experience tells me otherwise. Rejects, errors, and discrepancies are a natural part of data conversions, but how you deal with it is what becomes the differentiating factor. Some rejects or discrepancies can be fine, if they are expected or can be explained/justified. In other cases, the source of an error needs to be identified and then corrected. Once the source of the problem is found a correction is needed - corrections can be as simple as a small business rule change or as complicated as requiring a conversion re-write or additional data/conversions that might not have been anticipated. The goal is to ‘create’ a resolution that will get the desired result without disrupting the entire flow and integrity of the entire conversion process.

So there you have it, data conversions are not simply scientific, and a creative component is almost always needed, sometimes equally, if not more important. This just highlights a few examples of this and I am sure there are others you may have experienced that are also relevant? So which do you think is more important? Art or science? What have your experiences showed?

12 Ways Google Wave Can Help Retailers
Sunday, June 7th, 2009

If you haven’t seen this yet, take a glimpse at this presentation of the recently unveiled Google Wave at the Google I/O 2009 Conference (it’s long at 1h 20m, but watch a few minutes starting at the 4:30m mark, and you’ll get the idea).

It is the latest Google creation that may transform how we all work. In it’s simplest definition, it is the next generation of e-mail. But take a closer look, and you will quickly understand it’s way more than that - it’s the collision of email, instant messaging, wikis, blogging, video (youtube), photo albums (flickr), twitter, and much more into one single powerful collaborative tool. And ALL of this is done in a simple browser.

I expect this to be transformational, and I immediately began to think of how retailers might benefit from such a tool. Of course there are already lots of collaboration tools available in the market, but keep in mind that Google Wave is way more than that, it is:

  • Free - anyone from any computer can simply open their browser and have access to all of this.
  • Real-time - and when I say real-time, I mean real-time. Character by character, it is instantly displayed on the receiver(s)’ computer.
  • Everything all in one - no separate components for email, instant messaging, blogging, tweeting, etc.
  • All about a conversation - track every comment or reply in its appropriate place within the thread and specify who can or cannot see the reply. Also provides complete playback capability that allows you to step through a conversation from the beginning, one comment/reply at a time.
  • Open Source - anyone can add more services/features to this, making it increasingly powerful. In typical Google fashion - they have created the foundation and will let the rest of the world improve on it!

Retailers with locations, employees, and customers across states, the country, and possibly the world, have a lot to benefit from all this. This tool is really about having conversations. Conversations that others can participate in and build upon. Conversations can consist of 2 participants or an entire organization, where everyone can participate in the conversation and follow along in a very flexible and powerful way. So with that in mind, here is my list of 12 ways that I can see retailers benefiting from Google Wave:

  1. Education - Companies have always been good at delivering big binders/documents of policies, procedures, rules, etc. What if they can tailor those online documents to certain groups of employees? What if employees can post comments/questions right in the appropriate point of a document, where HR or other employees can respond? This is sort of like an FAQ, but organized in an ongoing conversation.
  2. Product information - Buyers have stories to tell about their collections and products. Everyone in the organization can benefit from this information and then add their own comments/feedback. All of this information can be shared with everyone and buyers can learn from others.
  3. Training materials - provide all training materials online that can be viewed and shared by all staff. Documents, videos, online conferencing, and employee feedback. Others can learn from what has worked best or not for others.
  4. Product warnings - Inform your customers quickly with warnings of any product defects or potential hazards.
  5. Customer invitations - Invite your customers to special events and upcoming promotions.
  6. Customer feedback - Request customer feedback and let employees and other customers to respond. This information will be totally transparent and shared by all.
  7. Customer polls/surveys - Conduct quick polls or surveys with your employees and customers. This will give you quick and instantaneous feedback on how things are going or testing out a new idea or strategy.
  8. Share selling tips/techniques - Store employees can share their own tips on product benefits or selling techniques.
  9. Store competitions - District or store managers can start competitions for employees or stores at a whim, and track the results.
  10. Collaborative charity events - Start/promote charity events, locally or nationally, where employees and customers can easily participate.
  11. Employee blogging/tweeting - Provides a platform for employees to express themselves through blogging and tweeting. Employees can share their personal stories and experiences with other employees and customers.
  12. Suggestion box - How about an online transparent suggestion box, where employees or customers can make recommendations, and then HR or other managers can provide their feedback.

These are just a few ideas that came to mind. Any of these or other components/widgets can be added to Google Wave. What would you suggest? How would you like to see retailers use a tool like this?

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