Intellera makes Black’s click

Before Intellera, Canada’s largest photographic retailer had a less than picture perfect way of seeing its data.

Intellera vice president Lorne Goloff credits the company’s knowledge of the industry and technical expertise with helping the Montreal-based business solutions provider secure the

contract with Black Photo Corp. in May 2001.

“”We won the deal by catering to their core needs.

“”They were looking for somebody who understood their business,”” said Goloff.

Intellera combined its retail specific knowledge with Cognos’s business intelligence applications to provide a business intelligence design for Black’s, allowing the retailer to drill into details of its inventory and stores.

Tim Hammond, vice-president of merchandising and marketing at Black’s says the retailer was data rich, information poor when it came to analyzing areas like inventory management and sales margins across its more than 180 locations in Canada.

“”We needed Intellera’s help because we had tons of data but no easy way of easily dealing with the data,”” said Hammond. “”It was hard to see what was actually taking place in some of our stores relative to other stores. You could look at individual stores but it was really hard to compare them.

“”Intellera with their Cognos solution gave us a way of looking at the business in multitudes of ways.””

“”We found ourselves in a predicament, where we were asking questions that required us to perform downloads from our AS/400. We would then try and manipulate that data in Excel. It was taking forever to get to an answer, and that’s not the best way to run a business.””

Intellera’s “”merchandising cube”” was integrated to Black’s existing JDA database and was implemented in 60 days. The development of the project began in June 2001 and was completed with training by the end of August 2001.

Goloff explains how the cube works.

“”Business intelligence sits on top of their different transaction processing systems,”” he said, citing point of sale software.

“”We help pool the data and deliver it with business intelligence tools that make it easy to evaluate and analyze areas.””

Since then, Black’s has implemented the Cognos cube on top of other parts of its business including labour and, most recently, customer data.

The cube has allowed Black’s to measure inventory by week and by location, to do category management at a multitude of levels, and to redesign stores by examining them by gross margin per foot. Commenting on the store redesign, Hammond said, “”We were able to discover which locations were very efficient and which weren’t.””

In terms of measuring inventory, Black’s can now easily and quickly report on 3,000 SKUs in more than 180 stores.

The biggest benefit externally has been improved communication with Black’s vendors, which has helped both parties grow their business.

“”By sharing the information with our vendors, our partners now show up saying, ‘this camera was only in 20 stores and it’s selling five times better than a camera that’s in 40 stores,’ and they ask, ‘can we switch them?’,”” recalls Hammond.

“”We would switch them and sure enough, it would work.””

Hammond says vendors who haven’t turned to this new technology are experiencing a decline in their business.

Goloff predicts this kind of vendor collaboration will become more widespread in the industry.

“”It’s something that through its leaders, its visionaries, are currently using, specifically with respect to sharing information with the vendor community. That is something we believe will become more widespread,”” he said.

Black’s now saves more money than it spends on business intelligence solutions —one of the two biggest challenges that Hammond initially faced. “”The initial cost of implementation represented one half of one per cent of our inventory savings over the course of six months,”” said Hammond.

The other challenge was to get the behavior of the users of the technology to change. “”With technology, the hardest thing is always for people to change.””

As for future applications of the cube, Hammond says, “”The possibilities are endless.””

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