Getting your holiday retail plan right

Outdated retail forecasting and analytic systems are preventing retailers from capitalising sales during the busiest times of the year.

With Christmas fast approaching and visions of Santa on every street corner, I often wonder if Santa still handwrites his list – before he checks it twice - and more importantly how does he keep track of what every little boy and girl in the world wants for Christmas?

I like to think that Santa is a man of the times and like many businesses – big and small – has embraced the cloud for the storage of such precious information. Imagine if Santa didn’t think about business continuity and wasn’t able to access his list mid-route?

Today’s businesses are faced with keeping track of masses of similarly important information. From payroll to sales forecasts, being able to manage and analyse a myriad of data is the very heartbeat of every organisation worldwide.

For decades businesses of all sizes have relied on spreadsheets or other on-premise solutions to manage critical data, the crux of vital planning decisions.

But in today’s near-instant, ever-evolving business environment, organisations need to get smarter at planning because business is faster.

A report from research group EKN, Big Data in Retail, revealed that retailers in general spent less than half of one per cent of their entire IT budget on big data projects in 2013.

The report found that many retailers lack the basic analytic maturity that is required to take advantage of big data insights. According to the report, only 60 percent of retailers are able to perform even basic analysis and reporting tasks.

Retailers' outdated retail forecasting and analytic systems are preventing businesses from capitalising sales during the busiest times of the year.

Planning and strategising for retailers in the lead up to the holiday period is vital.

Traditionally, business planning was top-down due to the complexity involved, but today’s decisions have to be made closer to the customer, to provide as much agility as possible.

As the vast majority of businesses have access to them, spreadsheets have become a readily used tool that can be used across a number of departments or functions.

Spreadsheets may be the weapon of choice for many smaller companies, as effectively their main business-planning tool, but it was never designed for that job. It was designed to be a personal-productivity tool.

Of course instead of spreadsheets, some businesses have resorted to complex custom built analytical tools.

Literally years have been spent fine-tuning these applications, eventually to the detriment of the business as the developer of the complex codes is probably long gone.

Old staid legacy tools used for personal productivity certainly have also lost their appeal and purpose; they will never be powerful enough for true enterprise analytics in complex environments.

When a growing proportion of your technology infrastructure is moving to the cloud, wouldn’t it make sense to shift the building blocks of your business – the myriad spreadsheets - there too?

The software as a service environment puts the planning capabilities in the cloud, making it easy for an entire team or department to be involved in collaborating on the best approach, whilst sharing accountability for the results as they are realised.

The on-demand resources of the cloud provide retailers with unprecedented scale and ability to cost-effectively manage, mine and process data volumes that were previously unthinkable.

The unlimited resources of the cloud are ideal for highly sophisticated, configurable and up-to-date forecasting which utilises all kinds of structured and unstructured data.

Re-forecasting tomorrow based on today’s results, pivoting the business based on changing environments, and having the tools you’ve built automatically change with you is paramount in maintaining a competitive advantage in today’s business landscape.

Rajeev Mitroo is the managing director of Anaplan Australia