Sunday, June 27, 2010

Oracle Crosstalk 2010: Yes, OR can help retail

Analytics is a hot topic for retailers. Several presentations during this conference returned to this theme and is a huge positive sign for OR in this industry. However, how to apply science smartly to the tons of sales data being collected (and retailers collect this like holy dust nowadays) and to automate robust decision making is another question altogether - 99% of the retailers do not have the right skill sets to pull this off. It is not easy building this system in-house from the ground up, and companies like Oracle Retail can do this better and faster, allowing retailers to focus on their core business areas. Few if any, were even aware of 'OR' (is OR by any name still OR ?). On the other hand, the general consensus was that revenue and supply chain optimization is a must to compete in this tough economy (honey, i shrunk the margins). A panel of investment experts with representatives from major financial institutions, both government and private, felt that in addition to top-line growth, being able to optimize the use of scarce resources to achieve operational excellence is one of the keys for survival in this new economy.

The level of hype surrounding the virtual region that lies at the intersection of social networking and mobile technology is staggering with numbers going off the charts (literally). How can OR grab a share of the science pie here? For example, I liked the way Wet Seal has been innovating and surely this area is going to see new and innovative applications being developed soon. Experts from Google and other tech-heavy companies weighed in on this as well and all signs point to an interesting retail shopping experience in the near future. Get your scan-ready smart-phone out and interactively and collaboratively shop in a real store with your virtual friends. The line between brick-and-mortar stores and the virtual shopping world is rapidly blurring.

On a side note, it was great visiting Chicago after a few years. The single most beautiful landmark there is the dazzling Swaminarayan Mandir (loosely translates to 'temple') in Bartlett. Hand-sculpted from Italian Marble and Turkish limestone by thousands of Indian craftsman, this Mandir does not rely on machine-tools and does not contain a single metal part or fastener in keeping with the sacred Indian tradition of Mandir architecture. Interlocking stones are used throughout, with individual stones weighing between a few grams to 5.2 tons. Pretty amazing. It is open to the public and is a must-see for visitors. The gardens and fountains surrounding the temple are well-maintained and pleasing to the eye. Inside the complex, smartly designed fiber-optic lighting and hidden underground heating add an invisible high-tech layer to this construction, and combines with the silence that must be observed within the ethereal sanctum-sanctorum to create a deeply personal and spiritual experience. The food served in the community center in the basement is excellent, and is strictly vegetarian, of course.

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