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SAP: In-memory applications for POS data coming for SAP retail customers

One of the heads of SAP’s retail operations explains what new trends like in-memory technology, mobile computing and social media mean for SAP Retail customers.

Businesses everywhere are faced with questions over how to adapt to new trends involving mobile technology, SAP in-memory computing and social media. This is especially true in the retail industry, which bristles with challenges like newly empowered customers and questions about growing reams of sales data and the promises of in-memory technology. spoke to Colin Haig, a program principal with SAP Retail, about what SAP customers need to know about these new and evolving trends.

Can you give us an overview of some of the technology trends and changes that face SAP Retail customers?

Colin Haig: It was unthinkable even five years ago, that a customer could be standing in your store, price checking what’s on your shelf, using an app on their smart phone to compare it with competitors. It was unthinkable that everyone would share their experiences [online] of what shopping was like in a given store or chain. The retailer had every advantage in the past. That [power] has shifted [to the consumer]. Mobile technology is partly responsible for that revolution.

The real-time nature of what people are doing -- the consumer as well as the retailer -- is another change.

People used to talk about multichannel retailing. It’s sort of moved to either omni-channel or channel-less retailing. People want to be able to find it wherever it is, and want to get it right away. Consumers don’t care what you have to do to make that happen, but you’ve got to make it a good experience and make it fast. And they have to be able to trust you.

The last piece of that is consumer feedback. [As a customer,] I’m either going to give [the retailer] direct feedback, or I’m going to tweet to my buddies what I thought of that shopping experience or that product. The smarter retailers are tapping into social media. They’re monitoring it and they’re tying it into their customer relationship management and loyalty programs. 

SAP has been making a push on its customer loyalty application lately. How does SAP help its customers manage those programs?

Haig: If you know SAP CRM, think of SAP CRM loyalty as an extension on CRM, where we can use all of the powerful capabilities for segmentation, analysis and the underlying business warehouse we can build business intelligence on as the engine that’s behind the loyalty functionality. We also have real-time offer management, which is another module for people who want to be able to do targeted offers. 

There are a lot of point solutions in the marketplace. Those tend to be focused on a store or a single channel of interaction with the customer. But building it on SAP CRM, we can bring the same information to the dialogue with the customer, whether it’s via the call center, online, the Web, at the store, wherever it is [the customer] is going to interact with them. 

Many of the other tools were typically ‘take the customer master data, throw it in the database, slice it and dice it, analyze it and spit out a list that you’re going to do something with.’ With [SAP’s approach] business processes are integrated from end to end.

What role is mobile playing in the retail space? How is this affecting SAP customers?

Haig: This is new for a lot of them. So, there’s the desire to experiment and the desire to keep everything secure and safe. Similarly, there’s recognition of huge potential revenues and decreased costs of serving customers.

What we’ve basically done is take some classic things such as inventory position and enabled it through our in-store inventory and merchandise management. I’m taking the traditional SAP retail merchandising functionality, where I want to look at what product have I got, what’s its price, how much stock have I got. [SAP also puts] the power of analytics in the hands of the store manager. So we introduced our sales analysis for retail application. It leverages SAP BusinessObjects and Sybase technology. But the key thing is that I’m a store manager that can get, in real-time, in the palm of my hand, how I’m doing right now. So if my business at the store is not performing, I don’t have to wait until tomorrow to find out. I can get that info up to the moment.  

SAP talks a lot about retail being a great fit for in-memory and HANA because of the huge volumes of data involved, and the company is releasing an in-memory version of its trade promotion management software later this year. Can you give us an update on where that stands?

Haig: You’ll see some announcements around this later this year. 

The good news is that we didn’t have to wait for HANA 1.5 to get some of the key capabilities we need in order to harness the power of in-memory computing with the retail apps.

What other kinds of SAP in-memory retail applications can we expect to see, whether its existing applications that have been retrofitted with in-memory technology or created from scratch?

Haig: One thing is anything analyzing POS (point-of-sales) data coming from the stores. Typically, managing POS data is really challenging for the retailer, especially as they get scale. If you’re anywhere over one thousand stores, you can easily be creating a terabyte of data a week.

The big thing I’ve seen is to use in-memory technology to help power POS data management and associated analytics. So, I want to drill into that POS data. I don’t have to deal with aggregates anymore. I can get right to a specific line item within a specific transaction. The notion of building all the cubes and summarize data -- those kinds of things are going away.

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