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Agile BI: Good but Not Enough

Bruce Yen's name has been turning up on speaker lists lately, at analyst conferences, The Data Warehousing Institute's global summit and on Information Management's 25 Top Information Manager list this year. Like a lot of arriving luminaries, his journey was a long time in the making. Yen has spent almost a decade at Guess Inc., where he is presently Director of Business Intelligence.

Yen leads a small handful of developers at the fashion brand who spend their time tackling chores across data architecting, modeling and the creation of objects and reports for all business functions at the fashion specialist, including retail, manufacturing, finance and the executive team.

Their work drew attention in a TDWI award for a mobile BI dashboard platform, and Yen was recognized by Information Management for taking a third iteration of that dashboard rollout past traditional BI users and to the field.

"It's for our best sellers," Yen says. "In the past, the designers or the buying office would take pictures and paste them on spreadsheets and generate reports. One day I just wandered over to the website guys, we figured out how to get to the images and matched it to best seller information."

Making things visual and good looking is culturally inherent to a fashion company like Guess, so Yen called in a friend and graphic designer who helped create a display that invisibly served up transactional trending and drilldown information from the Microstrategy platform powering the application. "We spent some time and came up with a theme," Yen says. "We were able to put something together that provides a lot of analysis but it doesn't overwhelm the user when they look at it, it's very easy to use."

Fashion businesses and their designers channel ideas quickly and also seasonally. They can't rest on laurels or expect a long-term benefit for doing something original. It made sense that supporting technology would take a similar approach and not turn into a great corporate expedition of investigation and overwrought requirements gathering.
Simplicity paid off in consistent reusable dashboard views of retail operations for multiple user groups. For field users, from a legacy of paperwork and spreadsheets, fashion buyers and managers serving 400 stores have mobile access to data assets and operations through iPads and Blackberrys.

Super users still get their own treatment, says Yen, "but mobile users are even saying it's fun to use the apps we build and I've never heard that before about a report."

More than Agile

Yen says Guess now wants to fine tune the philosophical approaches of mobility and simplicity in ways that draw on the professional and personal styles and tastes that permeate the fashion industry. In part, that calls for fast time to market, but must account for fleeting trends in consumer behavior and consumption as well.

"Agile is a good foundation, we can always improve operationally but that also feels like it's six to nine months behind where we are trying to move to," Yen says.

What he'd like more than methodology is to connect mobile BI with the company's loyalty program, CRM system and Facebook data in ways that can generate a return on the company's investment.

"I think there is a huge rush to try to do it now, because in the back of our minds we all realize Facebook isn't going to be around forever, just like we saw with MySpace or Friendster," Yen says. "The adults have all caught onto Facebook so the kids are going to go someplace else and make something else cool. As long as, and wherever it's hot in retail, where people are blogging and posting about their favorite brands, we want to be there and leverage that in our own operations."

Where customers can opt in their loyalty memberships with Facebook or transition customers in and let them obtain points for their loyalty, Yen sees a better chance to connect. He figures mobile BI users at Guess should get a stake too, in ways to tie in data from social media and find ways for fans create to mobile apps that leverage the social and loyalty aspects together.

Yen says his competition will be looking for their own angles to entangle with loyal customers, and that there's not a lot of maturity to support flexible or multiple goals.
It's exciting, Yen says, but he feels the urge to move quickly, and that pressure won't really let up going forward.

Broadly, businesses are on the trail that seeks a series of silver bullets, and in Guess's case, that's likely to be in fleeting variables of consumption and fashion. Following success, mobility is going to be a part of that trail for employees and customers who will interact more and more closely over time.

"It's more than another user interface," Yen says. "It screams 'use me,' anytime you are ready. Our own buyers are waking up using this in ways we've never seen before." With customers chasing this curve on their own, the rush is on to give them information managers at Guess the best tools available to keep up with them.

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