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Research Briefing

GUESS?, Inc.: Engaging the Business Community with the “New Look” of Business Intelligence

A focus on fun in the user experience, in addition to ensuring that Business Intelligence is useful and easy to use, helps increase its use and value.

In most organizations use of Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities is voluntary, so that to maximize BI’s value, users must want to engage with it. Recent research at MIT CISR suggests that a focus on fun as part of the user experience, in addition to ensuring that BI is useful and easy to use, helps in increasing its use and thus its value. In this briefing we describe how GUESS?, Inc. added consumer tablets, data visualization, and mobile app design principles to its development practices to make its BI useful, easy to use, and fun, which encouraged GUESS?’s decision makers to engage with BI in broader and deeper ways.

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Most companies are struggling to generate the much-publicized opportunities for business value from business intelligence (BI). One challenge is that typical BI use is voluntary, so engaging potential and existing BI users within an organization is not straightforward. IT leaders often find themselves in the role of salesperson, having to sell BI solutions to their user communities to ensure that data investments bring about desired returns. 

Previously, BI leaders created useful and easy-to-use business intelligence products and services to “land the BI sale.” They focused on delivering high-quality data through reports and powerful quantitative tools that users could consume and manipulate. Research at MIT CISR suggests that MIT CISR suggests that an infusion of fun into the user experience—combined with a deep understanding of decision-making workflows—is becoming an added requirement for BI value creation. Indeed, there may be something about the app Angry Birds and how it draws in more than 263 million people[foot][/foot] every month to sling wingless birds at pigs that can inform the way we should develop business intelligence products and services. 

An infusion of fun into the user experience—combined with a deep understanding of the decision-making workflows—is becoming an added requirement for BI value creation.

GUESS?, Inc. 

GUESS? designs contemporary fashion apparel, selling to wholesale and retail customers around the world. Founded in 1981, GUESS? brands generated $2.7B in sales in 2012 from apparel and accessories for men, women, and children.[foot]In 2011, GUESS? was a co-winner of a Best Practices Award for its GMobile BI application, featured in this briefing, from The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) in the Emerging Technologies and Methods category.[/foot]

Business success at GUESS? depends on decision makers who are visual, creative types with little time or inclination to embrace new technologies. They range from merchandisers who closely track sales trends, to designers who follow the popularity of product styles, to executives who monitor the current state of global operations. 

GUESS? implemented a robust enterprise data platform in 2006 when it invested in an integrated data warehouse and subsequently rolled out BlackBerry reporting (2008) and web-based dashboards (2010). These tools delivered high-quality data. They offered state-of-the-art BlackBerry- and web-based user experiences and data manipulation capabilities. Nonetheless, by the close of 2010, most decision makers at GUESS? still carried around five-inch binders full of paper. 

CIO Michael Relich knew that GUESS? IT needed to do more to engage decision makers in using BI tools. When he heard a conference speaker describe how “cool” it was to use a tablet, he recognized an opportunity to get business people “sold” on BI: 

The tablet is the perfect device to consume data. If we could take the merchandiser’s binder of paper and convert it to a mobile application with rich media—that could be amazing. 

Michael Relich, CIO, GUESS?, Inc. 

But Relich knew he needed more than a “cool” device. GUESS? IT engaged BI users by combining three ingredients in its BI design: usefulness, ease of use, and fun. 

Deeply Understand the BI User Community: Make BI Useful 

A BI team had worked for Relich at several different retailers for more than fifteen years. Although the team had a deep understanding of the retail industry and GUESS?’s business model, they invested heavily in exploring their users’ decision-making needs and work habits while developing their BI app, called GMobile. 

I stuck myself into a bunch of best-seller meetings with the merchants. I went to the stores with them. I tried to understand what they had to go through on a daily basis, to get a feel for their pain and for the questions that they ask. 

Bruce Yen, Director of BI, GUESS?, Inc. 

Once people realized that the app made a real difference in what they wanted to do, they wanted to use it.
Bruce Yen, Director of BI, GUESS?, Inc.

This shadowing was important because “the scenarios that we were designing for were so different than anything we had done in the past.” And the approach revealed some surprises. For example, Yen learned that a lot of interaction between a merchant and the app occurred before a store visit, instead of during a visit as predicted. These and other insights were fed into the development process iteratively, enabling the app to support highly emergent workflows. 

We wanted the app to have more of an investigative workflow. I can tap and get down to more insight and more detail. And you can go back to your beginning point easily. Think of it as one of those old Choose Your Own Adventure books that we read as kids. Flip to page 73. You open the door on the left. Page 14, you open the door on the right.

Bruce Yen, Director of BI, GUESS?, Inc. 

Developing decision-making workflows instead of rolling out reports and dashboards was a shift in thinking from past BI efforts. Ultimately, the content delivered via GMobile equated to more than twelve pre-existing web-based dashboards. 

Deeply Understand the Device and the Process: Make BI Easy to Use 

As the BI team worked with users, they explored the new device and its ecosystem. Yen explains: 

We had never worked with [a tablet] before. We bought devices for everyone on the team, and I told them “download as many apps as you can.” We had impromptu meetings to discuss what we liked to get into the mindset of what makes for a good app.

Bruce Yen, Director of BI, GUESS?, Inc.

Everything was fair game. The team assessed highly regarded media apps and exciting games like Angry Birds and a vegetable chopping game. Through this, they learned how much information to serve up at a time and when. The team noted how apps organized information so that it was easy for people to digest. They learned, for example, that more is actually less: apps should present bite-sized chunks of information that lead to different types of data on demand. 

Yen hired a skilled app developer who was able to capture the BI team’s design while emulating cool apps and leveraging device-specific nuances that users would expect, such as swiping and finger gestures. The GUESS? Director of Mexico and Latin America Support explains: 

People aren’t afraid to push buttons or try something because they know the tablet is not going to break. They are much more likely to explore. Then, the more you use it, the more you realize new ways to use it. 

Director of Mexico and Latin America Support, GUESS?, Inc. 

The BI team invested in a leading-edge platform to ensure GMobile interaction would be fast. The app accessed terabytes of data representing thousands of SKUs from 400–500 locations over time, so GUESS? invested in a database appliance to process the data for rapid delivery in the app. 

Deliver a “Hip” Experience with Visual Appeal: Make BI Fun 

GMobile presents data using charts, graphs, and maps. The team initially underestimated the power of even simple visual approaches. 

It was a breakthrough in realizing that visual analytics does not necessarily mean a geospatial tool or a lot of time creating charts and graphs. There was a missing piece of analytics that we could bring just by doing something as simple as adding a picture instead of listing styles so that the users could visually see what’s happening. 

Bruce Yen, Director of BI, GUESS?, Inc. 

A graphic artist made the app highly intuitive, adding contemporary themes to “spice it up.” The BI team recognized that the device itself also played a role in the initial adoption of GMobile. The users were open to it because it was on a fun, hip device. 

At first, I’m not really sure if users wanted [GMobile] simply to get a tablet, but at the end of the day, does it really matter? Once people realized that the app made a real difference in what they wanted to do, they wanted to use it. 

Bruce Yen, Director of BI, GUESS?, Inc. 

Savvy device users augmented GMobile’s intended capabilities via other apps on the device. For example, they combined PDF readers and notepad apps with GMobile so that all information used to make decisions was integrated on the device. They also began using the tablet’s camera to take photos of store layouts and display strategies. 

Use, Usefulness, and Fun = Deep Engagement = Business Value Creation 

GMobile is so familiar to people that it’s second nature. My quant in the home office can talk to a creative person in design who can talk with a nineteen-year-old in the stores—and communicate on the same level.

Senior Vice President of Planning and Allocation, GUESS?, Inc. 

The result of GMobile is a highly engaged user base whose use of the app translates transactional, informational, and strategic benefits to GUESS?. In a transactional sense, GMobile eliminated paper reporting, allowed two to three FTE-days’ reduction every week in data massaging and manipulation, and decreased best-seller meetings from bi-monthly to monthly because people were “already on the same page” regarding product sales. GMobile improved information flow within and in regards to the company, resulting in better and faster decisions. Data-driven insights increasingly informed strategy, leading to outcomes such as proposed changes in store allocation processes. 

GUESS? began its BI journey with “textbook” capabilities—high-quality data and state-of-the-art BI tools that were useful and easy to use for its users. But the company found that this was not enough to maximize value from its BI investments. It was missing a key design element: fun. Once GUESS? embraced a “new look” for BI, its users became deeply engaged and substituted tablets for their five-inch binders.

Figure 1: Interface Example from GMobile, GUESS?, Inc.’s Business Intelligence Application

Source: Original image from GUESS?, Inc.

© 2013 MIT Sloan CISR, Wixom and Quaadgras. CISR Research Briefings are published monthly to update MIT CISR patrons and sponsors on current research projects. 

About the Author

MIT CISR Researcher

Anne Quaadgras, Research Scientist, MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR)


Founded in 1974 and grounded in the MIT tradition of rigorous field-based research, MIT CISR helps executives meet the challenge of leading dynamic, global, and information-intensive organizations. Through research, teaching, and events, the center stimulates interaction among scholars, students, and practitioners. More than ninety firms sponsor our work and participate in our consortium. 

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