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Data remains retail conundrum

By Retail Technology | Wednesday June 19 2013

The era of having to manage ‘big data’ is still forcing retailers to the test the limits of technology capability, writes Glynn Davis of, exclusively for

Data is having a massive impact on the retail sector but there still remains a surprising lack of understanding of how companies should use it to their benefit, according to Glynn Davis of, who reports exclusively from an IBM event in Monaco for

Speaking at the IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit 2013 in Monaco Sir Terry Leahy, former chief executive of Tesco, told delegates that data can "transform the customer experience that then transforms a company's performance and its prospects".

But he warned that the problem today is that there is a growing "mountain of data" and that "companies are not making as much use of this data as they should". One of the practical problems is that retailers have the issue of needing to "put old systems on new platforms".

Leahy believes the continued use of gut feel in decision-making is not a good form of management and that limited sampling is also "pretty inaccurate" and not recommended. 

He said that, thankfully, a new generation of managers are emerging who are more adapt at gathering data, analysing it and then responding to it by implementing action within their organisations.

IBM’s big data answer to SAP’s HANA?

They are being helped by a growing number of tools hitting the market to help them mine the data including IBM's Watson Engagement Advisor that was launched at the Monaco Summit. 

Manoj Saxena, general manager of Watson Solutions at IBM, told that such solutions represent the third-generation of computing. These 'cognitive' systems are expected to "revolutionise the relationship with the customer" by their ability to understand unstructured data such as natural language and human interactions. 

From this they are able to process the data and deliver evidence-based hypotheses along with a percentage level of confidence they have in the response given. "This is a shift from keyword-based search to semantics-based. And the system continues to learn over time," Saxena said.

The solution has initially been put to use in the healthcare industry – where it has initially been fed with a mass of base data – and it has been found that nurses follow its recommendations 90% of the time. 

Saxena said it is now "only natural that it is being applied to commerce," where it is predicted that it will make a big impact. He suggests the increased customer satisfaction that it can deliver has the potential to boost company performance. According to research, Saxena says a 1% increase in satisfaction levels can drive a 4.6% gain in market share.  

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