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April 1, 2007

Beer and diapers revisited - not just an urban legend

These are days of turmoil and upheaval in the Business Intelligence world. So it’s good to hear of a story with a happy ending. And what could be happier than discovering that an urban legend is, in fact, true? You know the old tale of the supermarket chain mining their data to discover that sales of beer were uncannily linked to sales of diapers. And every time you hear it, someone is on hand to debunk it.

But wait. Of course, you already know, from coverage on the B-Eye-Network, that leading French retailer, Carremart, have invested heavily in a ground-breaking new BI system. Yesterday, at the end of March, they closed their first quarters’ books using the new technology and by early morning April 1st, they had already completed their first analysis. An inside contact mailed me immediately to say that they had indeed found a correlation between sales of beer and diapers. As you can imagine, I was hardly able to contain myself, so I telephoned Carremart at their Mond Rouge headquarters to interview Avril Poisson, the senior “Data Attendant.” You can read my interview with her below ...

First Avril, tell us about your interesting job title. What is a Data Attendant? As a Data Attendant, I look after the needs of the data.

So you’re a Data Steward? That’s such an old term. Yes, we used to have male “Data Stewards” and female “Data Hostesses” but we felt those terms set the wrong tone. “Data Attendant” describes my role better. The data has a long journey from source to destination. It’s my job to ensure that the right data is in the right place and is refreshed when necessary.

As an Attendant, then, it’s your job to load as much data as you can into a highly compressed structure as quickly as possible? Oh no, this is business data. We don’t compress it so much and it is always loaded first.

And if the data has a lot of baggage with it? Baggage? You must mean metadata. It is of course better if the metadata travels with the data. At least it should be tracked along with the data so they eventually can be linked. But honestly, nobody in this business cares that much – quite often the metadata arrives much later, and sometimes it gets lost altogether.

Tell me about this breakthrough analysis, Avril. “Beer and diapers” turned out to be true after all? Ah, not quite. I am sorry if you misunderstood. Perhaps a bad translation. However, our analytics experts were able to positively correlate sales of large quantities of beer with - how you say? – adult diapers.

Depends? No, we’re absolutely certain. The more beer sold, the more adult diapers were needed.

Interesting. What technology do you actually use in you analytics department? We use BI tools from our database vendor, Debacle.

Which consists of what exactly? Today it’s a layer of Fiebel CRM over a relational bed, bound with ConFusion middleware and ELTLE from Sumoptions. All presented at the last moment with a glossy presentation layer of Hyperinflation.

And have you found the Debacle solution to be well integrated? Certainly. For example, all the consultants arrived on the same flight. They even shared a minivan to our headquarters – it’s good to keep costs down. We had hoped to see their data mining guy, but he missed the 9am flight from San Francisco due to heavy traffic on the 101. A shame, but you can’t predict these things.

But six months on and you’re happy with final results? To be honest, the results are not quite final. In fact, we’re still installing the Debacle system.

Still installing? So, how did you arrive at your conclusions? With the traditional methods. We copied and pasted everything into Excel and drew some charts.

And are you confident in your analysis? Good question. How you say? Depends …

Posted by Donald Farmer at April 1, 2007 11:05 AM


Donald- You had me right up to the data hostess remark. (Please, ma'am, may I have another?) You could write for The Daily Show. The traffic joke is classic. Hilarious!

Posted by: Jill Dyche at April 2, 2007 9:06 AM

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