Second to last in the list of 'favourite’ capabilities was the reporting tool, not least because it didn’t, not much anyway. And what it did produce was data in a PDF format, which might have felt familiar and comfortable to established senior management, but in a business where many of the staff are TAs - young, tech-savvy Technical Assistants who are the front-line sales and customer advice staff - dense, tabulated data is never going to be front and centre of their operational mindset.
The senior management also realised it needed to make better use of the data the PoS system was generating, so around the middle of last year TCC brought in Karen Daugherty as the new VP of Data and Analytics, who recalls:
So there were all these PDFs going out, which users can't really do a whole lot with when they look at it. It was also always data as of yesterday. Where you think of the store employees, there's a lot of turnover, a lot of millennials. They don't really care about reports, they just want to see their data.
Discussions with a friend led her to the suggestion of ThoughtSpot as a possible solution, plus the realisation that she knew a sales rep there from a previous job. They discussed a solution that could fill the information gap in a much more appropriate fashion.
Meanwhile, the TCC CEO informed all the stores that they would have a new reporting solution by 1 October which, as the order was not signed until mid-August, meant that Daugherty was under no time pressure at all - ahem!
As it happened, she wasn’t. She thought she might get half the stores covered within six weeks, but had all 580 covered in seven weeks.
The reporting approach selected was to generate pin-boards for staff populated with data relevant to their bit of the business. This was helped by the ability of ThoughtSpot to search for data associated to a specific name or similar detail. So 'Jane', who specialises in selling 'Verizon' mobile Services in 'Albuquerque', 'New Mexico' can be given quite specific information about her bit of the business easily and quickly. And if the source of the data is a real time feed from the PoS, that data also provides right up to the minute status, explains Daugherty:
It's different, not your typical report. It's hard to explain to people who haven't seen it, but the staff loved it, because they could get their hands on their data. The most important thing was the data had to be trustworthy. And that had everything to do with us and the data we put in.
With support from ThoughtSpot she started by providing staff with just sales data from the PoS and, as that first process went well, she soon added access to relevant inventory data. The next step, well underway when we spoke, was providing individuals, where relevant, with KPI metrics. This involves adding specific formulae and calculations into the mix.
All the time the key goal is to provide with data as near to real time as possible. This is valuable for all staff, but it can be crucial for senior management such as regional directors. Here, keeping tabs on individual performances, both in terms of TAs, and brands and products, can be vital, especially if there is a sales promotion going on
The next goal is to add in some historical data, says Daugherty:
It is in a SQL Server database that is sitting 'just over there’. So it's on my list of things to add so that we can do some true year-over-year comparisons and three-year trends analysis.
What has surprised her is the savviness of some of the TAs. They have started taking the ThoughtSpot-based pin-boards and adding their own information requirements themselves. As they are developed and extended they also appear on Daugherty’s system. One TA in particular, she says, continues to come up with some good ideas for additional information services on the pin-boards and she has asked permission to share them around the rest of the staff:
There are now over 700 pin-boards created, and some people have asked me if I am OK with staff creating their own. And yes, I am OK with it. When I joined my strategy and roadmap was to exploit the data. Some people think exploit is a bad word. But I say exploit means to take data to its fullest potential. So now it's starting to catch on. They're wanting to do contests: my store versus your store, and my region versus your region. And they're being held to some pretty stringent goals. They are starting to make the connection that they need to use this data.
The pin-board model is also proving a good training tool, making it relatively easy to use the working pin-boards as the base training tools. This can be important in a retail environment where there is high turnover of staff, particularly amongst the young TAs.
How else can the data be spun?
Using the pin-boards as the universal portal approach to company data also allows TCC to develop new business models, such as the In-Store Pick Up promotion operated in association with mobile services provider, Verizon. Here, customers can nominate a local store to pick up Verizon products ordered online. The store in question does not have to be one of Verizon’s own, either, it can also be a Verizon reseller, such as TCC.
This means that the company not only has to manage the admin and logistics of ensuring the right products are in the right stores ready for collection and payment, but the in-store TAs have to be up to speed on inventory management, knowing which stock is for collection and payment, and which is for sale.
Another new service is called Endless Aisle. This is for when a customer wants something – usually an accessory like a phone case – that is not held in stock at the local store. This allows them to go online and browse virtual, Endless Aisles to find what they want and order it. Daugherty explains:
All I have to do is put a filter in a pin-board that says `filter on this view’. And now I can show all the endless aisles and where those are selling on a heat map. Now we can react to the business and what each store needs so much quicker.
At its annual conference last year Thoughtspot ran some early demos of voice interaction with business data, and this is something Daugherty feels will go down well with TCC senior management. Most of them spend a good bit of time travelling, driving between stores and regional centres, the idea of them being able to access up to the minute data, safely, while they are driving has real potential for her ability to deliver to them:
I loved in the keynote where the mobile talks back. I don't want VPs asking, 'What's my top selling store?’, and then having to take their eyes off the road to see the numbers. Now the mobile can tell them. Having a mobile app, and then having that natural language query, I think it will be a really huge hook for adoption. They're going to love that.
She is now brimming with ideas for other applications, such as marrying store foot-fall traffic data against sales in the same time period; the creation, management and feeding of a data lake approach; and the possibilities of developing sales prediction services based , in part at least, on event data from outside sources, such as selling new apps that tie in with, say, local sports events:
The other thing in my roadmap, and ThoughSpot seems to have the foundational components going right now, is the ability for the system to tell me what I don't know when I need to know it. Part of the problem I have is that VPs get up in the morning and ask `what am I going to do first?’ and I want the system to be smart enough to say , 'Here's your hot list’.