Chris Wones, former Senior Enterprise Architect at Dunnhumby, recalls a moment about three or four years ago when then-CEO Stuart Aitken stood up and listed five things he wanted to see the company accomplish over the next couple of years. To leverage the company’s role as an analytic services provider to retailers and consumer brands, Aitken wanted to reach new milestones that would require employees to look deeper into data, more thoroughly analyze historical information and determine the forces impacting customers’ purchasing decisions, Wones explains.
“When our CEO was sharing these goals, I thought to myself, we just don’t have the foundation right now to hit those milestones,” Wones says. “We needed far more horsepower to go deeper and wider with our data.”
Wones knew something needed to change. The problem, he says, was that at Dunnhumby, they had data all over the place and it was difficult to consolidate and do analysis across all of that data. In addition, the team at Dunnhumby wanted to centralize and globalize all of its products, but everyone was doing it differently, which was a drag on performance.
To solve this problem, Wones and his team decided to replace and augment an outdated SAS environment. The key was getting the right system, and that meant Wones needed to find a way to properly evaluate his options.
Wones says there were three so-called pillars that guided him and his team in the purchasing decision: performance, the ability to do end database analytics and a strong vendor they would be able to partner with across the entire solution.
As a first step, a team of Dunnhumby analysts and business people were sent out to evaluate the major database platforms at the time. They weighed factors such as how likely each particular vendor was to go out of business in the future, what the roadmap looked like, the ability to partner with a company like Dunnhumby, and so on. Then, prospective vendors were brought in-house for three weeks to run tests, collaborate, work side-by-side with the Dunnhumby folks, have side conversations and lunches and, as Wones says, “Make sure there wasn’t any cheating and that it was a fair fight.”
Throughout this experience, the folks at Dunnhumby stretched the limits of each vendor and evaluated how they responded to problem solving. “One conversation led to another, and these were ultimately the most valuable pieces,” Wones says.
While every vendor performed well, eliminations took place here and there during the in-house test run, when it became apparent that some solutions simply weren’t as fast as others. This tactic proved to be especially beneficial and ultimately, led Wones and his colleagues to their final purchasing decision.
By reaching this decision and implementing the new solution, Dunnhumby reduced its key deliverable run times from 49 or 50 hours, down to just an hour or so. The company also gained the ability to do things it simply could not do before. For example, moving to the new SAS platform allowed the team to bid on new business, an integral part of its growth. And it better positioned Wones and his team to gain a competitive edge.
Just as critically, by migrating analytics into the SAS platform using advanced analytics, Wones and his team could focus on tweaking the system to meet their needs. “It enabled us to consolidate our team’s focus in one place and concentrate on ways to grow our business,” Wones says.
The purchasing experience proved to be so rewarding that Wones plans to implement the same techniques and methods, such as bringing vendors in-house to run tests, for any other major shifts in the future.
Just recently, Kroger bought a part of DunnhumbyUSA and created a new company called 84.51°. The new company uses a sophisticated suite of tools and technology to turn data into knowledge that can be used to help some of the world’s leading consumer-packaged goods manufacturers and partners develop and nurture deeper relationships with customers. Both Wones and Aitken are now a part of this new venture, and Wones is sure he will carry over all he learned from this experience at Dunnhumby to help advance analytics at 84.51°.
Renee Morad is a freelance writer and editor based in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Discovery News, Business Insider, Ozy.com, NPR, MainStreet.com, and other outlets. If you have a story you would like profiled, contact her at [email protected].
The IT Innovators series of articles is underwritten by Microsoft, and is editorially independent.