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CIOs show that the road to BI and analytics is tied to company persona

Every company takes its own route to BI and analytics, as IT leaders from TJX, Boston Properties and Wayfair reveal at CIO gathering.

TJX Companies Inc., owner of the T.J. Maxx and Marshalls discount chains, is on a roll right now, posting robust...

earnings this quarter despite -- or more likely because of -- a slumping economy. In 2011 its sales were $23.2 billion, a 6% jump from the previous year. When it comes to business intelligence (BI) and analytics, however, the Maxxinistas' favorite retailer has a ways to go, according to Jon Geggatt, vice president for information architecture and business intelligence at TJX.

"TJX is not mature in the BI space," he told a roomful of Boston CIOs at a recent meeting of the Boston chapter of the Society for Information Management (SIM). In fact, the Framingham, Mass., discounter has been so uninterested in an enterprise BI and analytics program that Geggatt, hired in 2010, claims on his LinkedIn page that he is "known amongst colleagues as the Rodney Dangerfield of analytics."

Our biggest challenge is that the volume of data is massive; it grows faster than revenue.

Of course, all that is changing. Geggatt's architecture group "is leading the charge" to make BI and analytics happen at TJX. To be sure, that means educating the business on concepts like master data management and BI governance, but more important, it requires pushing the right information to the people driving those healthy profits, he said. "We focus on supplying our buyers with information they can use to understand what vendors have goods out there and what fashion is hitting the market today," he added. Business intelligence is deployed in "an affordable way" using iPads and iPhones; a mobile application looks like the green-striped paper traditionally used by sales and even lets the buyers -- inveterate annotators -- scribble on it.

Like politics, all BI and analytics is personal -- or at least it's tied to the company persona. That's the conclusion one might draw while listening to Geggatt, part of a panel of IT professionals at the SIM gathering who talked about how their companies are using BI and analytics. Moderated by Thomas Davenport, President's Distinguished Professor of Management and IT at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., the panel illustrated just how much BI and analytics mirrors a company's culture, despite having been around as a discipline for roughly 20 years.

Clean data required for BI and analytics

So, while TJX might have been slow to embrace enterprise BI, Boston-based Wayfair LLC, a 10-year-old home-goods e-commerce retailer, or e-tailer, has BI and analytics in its DNA. "We had BI and analytics before we had a PR team or a brand team," said panelist Ed Macri, Wayfair's vice president for marketing and business intelligence. The company spent a year getting data "clean and right" for its foray into click stream data. "We don't have to deal with change management. We don't have to convince people to do it. Our biggest challenge is that the volume of data is massive; it grows faster than revenue," he said.

Boston Properties Inc., founded by media tycoon "Mort" Zuckerman in 1970, got religion about data management when it became a public company in 1997. "We have done a lot around data standards, dating back to going public," said CIO Jim Whalen about the Boston-based real-estate investment trust, one of the largest owners and developers of Class A office space in the U.S.

Over the last two and a half years, Boston Properties has focused on applying BI and analytics to its financials, modeling what-if scenarios 20 years out. "It is a differentiator for us," Whalen said. In that time, the company has applied analytics to measure and compare the service at check-in desks, building by building. "The [General Motors] Building in New York, for example, has 18,000 visitors," a year, he said. (The number of visitors is a leading indicator of the economy.) And like Wayfair, Boston Properties soon will have big data to contend with, as it begins collecting and analyzing the thousands of data points generated by its buildings' systems to optimize energy management and other services. But it's still "early innings" for that project, he added, saying that BI at Boston Properties is "a process of continuous improvement."

What the goals of a BI and analytics program should be, as well as the best way to run it (and whether IT should control it) -- also depend strongly on company culture, according to the panel. Those issues are examined in part two of this story, "BI and analytics: Hard to foster or find a home for."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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