Accent Group's data development journey

We find out how the Aussie retail group's technology investments and change management processes are helping reshape store relationships and business decision making

You know you’re onto must-have technology capability when there isn’t a single person in the business who questions ROI from the investment. And that’s exactly what’s happened at Australian fashion retailer, Accent Group, when it began overhauling its data management, reporting and analytics systems.  

Over the past two years, Accent Group has been on a data development journey to modernise its tech stack and build real-time data access and reporting capability into its ways of working. The retail group operates 738 stores, 32 websites and nearly 40 brands across A/NZ including Hype, Platypus, Saucony, Skechers, Vans and Timberland.

Historically, Accent Group operated an on-premise technology environment, using Microsoft SQL for its database and data management platform. Its head of data and analytics, Betty Thai, told CMO the ambition was to find a more scalable, flexible data and analytics approach that could support the growth and needs of the business.

“Over time, our technology was just getting old – our data platform and data visualisation tools weren’t serving the business or helping us achieve our sales targets,” she said. “Another impetus was delivering capability. There were plenty of [data and analytics] use cases across the board to address.”

Building fresh data foundations

One of the first things Thai and the team did was review all of Accent’s business use cases to show the value of standing up a new data platform. “It was a consistent need across sales, customer experience, and in our planning and strategic departments as well,” she said.

“We put together a strategy and roadmap to acquire the platforms and deliver the transformation that would make it happen.”

Accent Group chose Microsoft Azure as its cloud-based data management platform, and opted for the Qlik Analytics platform for data dashboards, analytics and reporting. The first program of work was spending nine months to stand up the Azure platform, creating the ETL [extract, transform, load] processes required to get its data centralised and accessible across systems.

“We identified opportunities we could take to improve and enhance what we have, plus against our known issues and what people had been asking for,” Thai said. “We previously were doing a daily data update, which had fed into the Qlik View product, but that was very limited. Azure gives us access to change data, which means we’re a lot closer to real-time data to stores, and planning departments as well.”

Thai said Accent Group chose Qlik Analytics over PowerBI because the platform had been part of the retailer’s set-up for data visualisations and reporting for more than six years and was a well-known tool to its more than 600 users.

“Using a product that our users were comfortable with of most important to us,” she said. “A lot of these tools are similar, and it was also important to pick a partner that made us felt supported. We have had a long-term relationship with Qlik and with more than 600 users across very different parts of the business, it made sense to continue with the next-gen platform.”

Azure was rolled out about 12 months ago, with transformation work then focused on standardisation of data, solving data integrity issues and so on. Qlik’s latest platform was rolled out next, with the first data reporting dashboards for stores rolled out in December 2021.

“Stores were the big opportunity, as we didn’t have real-time reporting in place. We wanted to start there rather than replace what we were doing – this was a new piece to deliver,” Thai explained. “So it was store dashboards first, then modernising what we have already.”

Thai said there are about 500 users of the dashboards across Accent’s store network. There are an additional 50 users in head office who initially required access to the dashboards.

“As we integrate this into our platform for all reports, we’ll have even more users in head office,” Thai said. “That’s now the plan to take us to the end of 2022. Then we get to move onto the really fun stuff, which is machine learning and advanced analytics. This is also the business case we started with two years ago. But again, this requires very good data to be in place.”

The Azure platform is also set to be integrated with Accent Group’s customer data platform (CDP), which it’s using Adobe Experience Platform (AEP) for. From a customer-facing perspective, Accent is an Adobe shop, using AEP as well as Campaign and Analytics within the Adobe Experience Cloud portfolio.

Combining the data warehouse with the CDP is about getting a true single customer view. “With more than 20 brands, so this will provide powerful information for us,” Thai said. She estimated go-live was less than a month away.

“We will be able to send information coming in from AEP back into the Qlik dashboard at some point and build out centralised dashboards there. We also have three ERPs, which is a big challenge. We had to have product that could integrate into all these. As we acquire, this will add more flexibility to that too.”

Once Azure, Qlik Analytics and AEP are hooked up, the next cab off the rank is connecting the data dots into forecasting and planning tools, which Accent uses Foresight for.

“That enables real-time allocation of product, replenishment and forecasting,” Thai said. “Once we tackle these two big pieces, we’ll go back to do phase two of our store reporting. That’s about giving more productivity information.

“At the moment, we have sales and product information but we’re looking to integrate team members’ rostered hours to help see productivity by individual and to cross-reference with sales. Then it’s onto the data science piece from October-November.”

Accent Group’s big vision for the central data analytics hub is to continually improve visibility of business performance and efficiencies, streamline the onboarding process for new markets, teams and brands, and upskill the company’s workforce in data literacy and analytics.

Measuring ROI

Thai hasn’t stopped to measure hard ROI from the data development work so far, but she said anecdotal feedback suggested it’s game changing. More importantly, there isn’t even really any need to measure it – the benefit is so obvious.

“No one is asking that question,” Thai said. “What we have been able to deliver already is game changing for stores. There hasn’t been visibility of sales and product info to our store in an easy way. It has resolved a lot of those questions.”

Thai also noted significant increase in cross-store collaborations, healthy competition and skill building.

“It has motivated more one-to-one conversations between store managers and teams. That was difficult to do that in the past,” she continued. “We can also merchandise better, as we can distinguish between what has been sold in-store versus fulfilled from stores for online sales. They [online sales] all go through to stores, but this way the customer can differentiate between the sale being because a customer walked in versus a sales picked up and sent off for online.”

Having such productivity information to hand will allow Accent to build individual targets into the Qlik dashboards for each person. That will help people understand what they are driving towards, leading to stronger productivity measures of success.

An unexpected benefit Thai cited was around Accent better defining what a ‘added value’ sale consistently across brands and stores.

“When you buy shoes in our stores, added value could be socks or a product care pack. But without information shared across the board, everyone had a different definition of added value for each brand,” Thai said. “We’re now calculating and putting that on our dashboard, and it’s become apparent that it [the concept of added value] is different in each store. We’re going through a process now of standardising and setting benchmarks around that.

“The information was always there in the point-of-sale, but someone had to manipulate, calculate by brand and interpret. This is saving teams time in-store and gives them time back to serve customers or improve the stores. We are uncovering those insights through our dashboard.”

While Accent’s data development journey has clearly required technology investment and change management, Thai also highlighted the people aspect of the work and attributed success at record -time rollouts to both the retailer’s teams as well as partners.

“We had good people with an in-depth knowledge of the data, then good relationships with Qlik and integration partner, Inside Info. Having a lean model allowed us to move quickly and implement faster,” Thai added.

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here.  

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page       

 

 

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