From The Editor | May 20, 2014

An Underrated Argument For A Singular Source Of Data

Matt Pillar

By Matt Pillar, chief editor

For a company its size, NetSuite has done a bang-up job holding onto the Silicon Valley startup mentality. At its annual SuiteWorld conference earlier this month in San Jose, I walked a fun and vibrant expo floor dotted with Ping-Pong tables and video games, Love Sac beanbags and a life-sized chess board that no one was playing whenever I walked by. The 6,000+ in attendance were more enamored with the exhibit hall full of NetSuite’s many partners and a jam-packed session schedule.

The overarching themes at SuiteWorld were platform singularity and data access, the hallmarks of the cloud-based ERP/CRM/E-commerce/POS solutions NetSuite sells. Demolition of data silos is a consistent theme in our integrated store systems and channel convergence coverage, too. The benefits are often obvious—a single view of the customer enables cross-channel customer service, purchase history access, shopper preference data, and more. A single view of inventory is the foundation of cross-channel fulfillment. After all, you’ve got to see it to ship it.

But in a meeting at its NetSuite World conference last week, GM of Commerce Products Andy Lloyd pointed out a less obvious, but equally powerful case for a singular data platform in an any-channel commerce environment; the creative retail professional’s dependence on data access.

If we can accept that any-channel retailing has all but eradicated the efficacy of gut feeling and intuition in retail decision-making, then we can accept his point. Supporting creativity with data is the new opportunity for retail genius.

Accessing data holistically and establishing corollaries among channel-specific data sources is the stuff that drives retail differentiation, the stuff that enables the balancing act between agility and sound decision-making. Think cross-channel, personalized price and promotion strategies, for example. In dis-integrated environments, gathering and analyzing the data necessary to first determine an opportunity and then execute a differentiating, creative, customer segment specific, cross-channel price/promotion tactic requires acts of the IT gods. If the wide-ranging customer, inventory, and price data necessary to act isn’t readily available, getting creative is a non-starter.

Why? Just try asking the CFO for the funds and human resources necessary to aggregate a whole bunch of data from several different enterprise sources for “experimental purposes.” When asked why you need the data, and what, specifically, you’re looking for, say you’re not sure. Say you just want to play with it a little. Then let us know how that works out for you. As Lloyd put it, you’ll have a hard time making an argument for data access without concrete reason. And even if you’re granted the resources you seek, the exercise is cumbersome and draining. Agility is virtually impossible. Modeling success and gaining support is difficult at best.

Unfortunately for those in dis-integrated environments, “playing” with data is not necessarily as fruitless and unproductive as your CFO might be inclined to think. In hands connected to creative minds, access to and exploration of cross-channel enterprise data can be extremely telling. It can uncover previously unknown connections among merchandise and customers. It can reveal cross-channel shopping behavior trends. It can create visibility into basket performance. And all this can help you chart your next big, brand differentiating decision around merchandising, CRM, or promotions.

Data access and exploration is made a whole lot easier and incredibly less expensive on a unified platform with roles-based access to all kinds of data. NetSuite execs made a compelling argument for it at SuiteWorld, and apparently the market is listening. Its cloud-based ERP/CRM/E-commerce platform has grown its market share by a factor of 8 since the company launched in 1998. While its highest-profile successes are certainly with like-minded startups that were born in the cloud (companies like DropBox and Shazam), the company’s foothold on retail—which includes retailers born in brick-and-mortar—is getting firmer.