From paper and printers to furniture and electronics, omnichannel retailer Viking – formerly known as Office Depot Europe – sells office supplies in eight countries. Over the years, as its customers’ needs have evolved, the company has undergone a digital transformation – one that’s still in progress today. But business competition is fierce. So Viking is going all-in on cloud-based analytics.
Through more than 50 years in the office supply business, the Netherlands-based company Viking has grown by creating a fanatical customer experience. It has also acquired other companies – good for growth but challenging to keep the customer experience consistent.
“Our data and systems were scattered everywhere,” says Matt Steell, Director of Data and Analytics at Viking. “We’ve never had the same capabilities in more than one market or channel at once. As a customer, you’d have a different experience at every Viking entity you shopped at.”
This was obviously a problem. Thriving as an omnichannel business means not only operating a functional website, but optimizing processes in a way that boosts customer loyalty and revenue. Having capabilities spread across geographies didn’t exactly streamline things. Viking needed a more holistic analytics strategy.
Modernizing doesn’t mean starting from scratch
Viking has a solid foundation to build on. For the past several years, the retailer has used SAS Customer Intelligence 360 to infuse data into the customer experience, helping with things such as personalizing marketing campaigns. As a result, print costs are down and revenue is up.
Looking to build on this success, the company recently started to integrate SAS Viya on Azure to unlock new analytics use cases and innovation across the organization. With Viya on Azure, Viking plans to expand analytics from marketing to the enterprise.
“We plan to use SAS Viya on Azure for business decisioning and steering,” Steell says. “It will be the one place we keep trusted data to make decisions, whether you’re an inventory planner or the managing director.”
Modern analytics means keeping one eye on the past and one on the future, according to Steell. “With SAS Viya, all our data is centralized, which allows us to look backward and forward. With better forecasting, we’ll be able to focus on how we influence those predictions to meet our strategic business goals.”
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Cloud adoption gives Viking better control over digital assets
Another component to the ongoing digital transformation at Viking is Azure Synapse Analytics, which is a unified platform that brings together data integration, enterprise data warehousing and big data analytics into a single cloud-native service. Goodbye siloed processes and tools, hello unified experience.
With Azure Synapse, Viking can take in data from multiple sources and prepare it for analysis. The limitless analytics engine gives Viking the ability to easily scale and refresh data, allowing users to investigate and build their data pipelines for analysis within Viya.
“The use of Azure Synapse has allowed us to scale our compute and storage as we have grown over the course of the year,” Steell says. “At the same time, the ability to pause the compute when unused – like overnight or on weekends – has meant that we can minimize our costs in the cloud environment.
“By using DataOps in conjunction with native Azure databases, like Azure SQL DB and Azure Synapse, we have been able to build automated deployment pipelines for both data integration processes and managing our table structures. With more than 700 database tables put into production in less than a year, having confidence in our pipelines has been vital for our engineering teams to have confidence that our environments are fully aligned when completing further developments.”
The alignment of Viya and Azure Synapse gives Viking a comprehensive analytical cloud-native environment to create, facilitate and manage the entire analytics life cycle.
“By having both our core data platform in Azure Synapse and SAS Viya on Azure, it has meant that we are able to co-locate our solutions into the same Azure region,” Steell says. “This gives us networking benefits due to the geographical proximity. We have also been able to make use of the Azure Private Links to securely connect our cloud instances to enable data transfer between them across the Microsoft backbone, meaning that exposing our service to the public internet is not necessary.”
Ultimately, the combination of Viya and Azure Synapse provides users with more options for methods, governance and scalability.
The decision to deploy Viya on Azure was part of a strategic decision to consolidate a large number of processes into the cloud.
“We’re going through a big consolidation effort with our tech stack,” says Steell. “The organization has approved a multiyear program to consolidate our technical landscape and to simplify our processes.”
With SAS Viya, all our data is centralized, which allows us to look backward and forward. With better forecasting, we’ll be able to focus on how we influence those predictions to meet our strategic business goals. Matt Steell Director of Data and Analytics Viking
5 reasons SAS on Azure is an easy decision
Viking has been a SAS customer for nearly 15 years, always on-premises. But the decision to deploy Viya in the cloud on Microsoft Azure was easy this time, according to Steell. He cites five reasons:
1. Expertise. For Viking, SAS deployed Viya on Azure as a hosted managed service in the SAS Cloud. The way Steell sees it, as SAS learns from similar deployments, Viking will benefit from that knowledge. He calls it “knowledge on tap.” In turn, SAS is learning from Viking and deploying these lessons to other customers. It’s a win-win.
2. Value. After running the numbers, Viking determined it would cost less to deploy SAS on Azure than to deploy it on-premises.
3. Speed. If Viking would have chosen to manage its own SAS environment – whether in the cloud or on-premises – it would have been limited to the knowledge of its employees. Working with SAS means moving and iterating faster.
4. Impact. Steell admits that cloud computing is not an internal focus. By outsourcing this capability to experts, Viking can focus on what it’s good at.
5. Security. By connecting this platform with other cloud platforms using Azure, Viking can connect and transfer data between systems using one secure cloud network. This will result in faster networking speeds and less security risk.
People transformation alongside the digital one
Viking went live with Viya on Azure in late 2021. Right away, the retailer deployed a handful of reports and an email engagement model, which analyzes the operational data coming from SAS Customer Intelligence 360, allowing for even better email campaigns.
The next step, according to Steell, is moving all data science models, reporting and analytics into Viya. Within six months, the retailer expects to be fully operational.
Steell doesn’t downplay the human element of rolling out enterprise analytics in the cloud. “We’re not only going through a digital transformation, we’re going through a people transformation,” he concludes. “Our people have worked the same tools for many years. But we’ve seen SAS change from code-oriented software to software for businesspeople, so we expect our people to embrace this new way of working.”
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