CASE STUDY - The Swiss Colony Harnesses Web Data for Business Intelligence

Commentary by Mark Douma, Director of Internet Marketing and Operations, The Swiss Colony

Founded in 1926 by Ray Kubly, The Swiss Colony is one of the world’s largest and most successful multi-title catalog companies. Today, customers can purchase almost anything from The Swiss Colony’s line of catalogs, including jewelry, furniture, cookware, small appliances, bedding, electronics, and decorative items.

As could be expected, the company has developed a strong infrastructure to capture and report information generated by its catalog business. However, when e-commerce grew as a channel, a new series of analytical requirements emerged. “We were doing a lot of our own analysis and building a lot of reports using SQL statements and then dumping data to Excel,” said Mark Douma, director of Internet marketing and operations. Moreover, the company was not fully satisfied with the data produced by its Web analytics applications. “The Web analytics data was intriguing, but it stopped short of being truly actionable, unless you can really integrate it with your customer data warehouse,” Douma said. That kind of integration was not a core competency for most Web analytics vendors, he added.

About two years ago, the team explored how to better integrate its Web data with other customer data. As the first step, one of the technical analysts in Douma’s group developed an extraction, transformation, and load application using Perl to parse Web logs. That effort assured the team it could integrate data from its different channels. For reporting in the proof of concept effort, The Swiss Colony decided to use the reporting module from Pentaho Corporation. Pentaho BI Suite Enterprise Edition provides comprehensive reporting, OLAP analysis, dashboards, data integration, data mining, and a BI platform.

The Swiss Colony initially turned to Pentaho Reporting because the company didn’t want to invest in a traditional reporting product for a proof of concept project. However, as the team got more involved in the development process, it decided to use the Pentaho Data Integration module as well. “As we got more into the reporting, we realized that we wanted to tweak some of the data. We could have rewritten the ETL process in Perl, but it made more sense to use Pentaho,” Douma said. For the project, The Swiss Colony partnered with Open BI, a business intelligence consulting company and Pentaho partner that specializes in open source technology.

Douma felt very comfortable opting for a commercial open source solution. “Our goals aligned very well,” he said. ”They sell support. They have a lot of incentive to provide great support, and they do.”

The company has integrated nearly 400 GB of data from its 12 e-commerce Web sites with the 1+ TB corporate data warehouse, and the application is in the process of being rolled out. The flexibility of the reporting and ability for users to generate their own reports is critical. “With the Web, there is a big difference between what is trackable and what is measurable,” Douma said. “You have to determine what problem you are trying to solve and then solve it. For example, we can now look into our search data in ways that were not possible with any other tool. Our use of Pentaho has opened up new areas of analytics for us.”

“Pentaho’s BI suite and top-notch professional support enabled us to deliver a successful, high-value BI solution at a much lower cost than would have been possible with the expensive, proprietary alternatives.” —Mark Douma, Director of Internet Marketing and Operations, The Swiss Colony

As the project matures, The Swiss Colony anticipates using additional Pentaho modules. “With Open BI and Pentaho, we can use exactly what we need and they provide support. And the turn around time for support requests and feature enhancements is faster than I have experienced with commercial vendors,” Douma said. In the final analysis, the Pentaho implementation has allowed The Swiss Colony to move to the next level in its business intelligence and analytics capacity. “With Open BI and Pentaho, we have ramped up faster than we ever could have by ourselves,” Douma said.

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