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First Look – Sonetto Retail


I got a briefing on IVIS Group’s Sonetto product this week. Sonetto is most famous as the platform for Tesco’s multi-channel strategy. Sonetto is a product designed to focus on multi-channel operations, especially (but not exclusively) multi-channel retail. They make the very valid point that multi-channel retail is complex. Not only do retailers have multiple channels (stores, web, catalog, mobile, phone) they also have multiple brands, multiple store formats and partner channels (affiliates, amazon etc). This front-end complexity is matched by a complex back-end with multiple data providers, suppliers and fulfillers. To manage this environment they see a set of application areas that enable the acquisition and retention of customers and the development of customer communities:

  • Multi-channel information management
  • Multi-channel infrastructure
  • Supply chain Logistics and Operations
  • Customer Experience
  • Sales and Marketing Channels

    While all these are important, to IVIS multi-channel information management is at the heart.

    Sonetto Retail is a suite of business applications designed for business users so they can manage product, pricing and customer information without any reliance on IT. The suite manages the dynamic information requirements of a multi-channel retail and allows the business to develop a centralized process for collaboration. Business users “teach” Sonetto by example and define rules and triggers that are automatically applied.

    Sonetto Retail uses a ripple-down approach to business rules (defining rules by example and creating rules to handle exceptions as those exceptions are found) to manage a set of core decisions on the product side:

      • Standardize
        Take information as it arrives and add/standardize information attributes. Products often have inconsistent descriptions and lots of data hidden in text fields, for instance, and the rules extract this information.
      • Categorize
        In a multi-channel world most products have multiple categories (wide screen TV, LCD TV, Home Theater etc) and this is rarely supported by the source data. Rules are created to correctly categorize products.
      • Price and Promote
        Pricing rules and rules to describe offers and promotions are created. The promotion rules are based on a wide range of templates such as bundle pricing, buy-one-get-one-free or cheapest item free.
      • Merchandise
        Defining rules for responding to stock levels, clearance sales etc
      • Publish
        When products are pushed to specific channels, additional rules might be applied to decide which channels and in what circumstances.

        The platform consists of 4 layers:

        • Underlying everything is a decision repository with the usual versioning, audit trail, rollback to old versions, see what was relevant when features
        • The Sonetto Enterprise Decision Management Platform (love the name) with a Semantic Search engine, a Business Rules engine, a Categorization engine and a Workflow engine.
        • Built on this platform are applications for Product Information Management(PIM), Price and Promotion Management(PPM), Channel Information Management, Community & Lifestyle Management (e.g. the recipe community at Tesco).
        • Finally a common environment manages all these applications and supports data management, data viewing and transactions (commerce engine)

          Sonetto expects to run in a complex IT environment and supports integration with ERP systems, Content Management Systems, Search engines, eCommerce platforms, Service Desk systems and more. The product is all web-based (thin client) and has a clean, easy to use look and feel.

          I was a little surprised by the lack of analytics. The product is very rule-centric and all the rules must be entered directly. While IVIS has customers who use analytic tools to mine their data for rules, these rules must then be created and managed by business users in the product. Clearly some more integrated analytics and some ability to execute analytic models would be useful, though Tesco has made itself into a case study among case studies using Sonetto so perhaps this matters less than I think it does!

          The business value of all this comes from increasing sales, reducing costs and improving customer relationships (nothing surprising there) and the product offers particular gains in agility (through the use of rules managed by the business), enhanced customer experience (better search and categorization, cross-channel consistency) and increased productivity. Sonetto’s value add comes in three areas:

          • A Business Focus
            They offer a (fairly) natural language interface and focus on making it easy to add rules incrementally plus they allow simple definition of workflow
          • Flexible and Agile
            They have no fixed product definition or hierarchy allowing companies to develop a complex network of categories and they support a very open environment.
          • Productivity
            Through rules, dynamic forms and a focus on avoiding IT delays.

          All in all an interesting product for retailers that clearly works – as I said, Tesco is a poster-child for multi-channel retailing these days. It is not currently sold in the US and their focus is on expanding in Asia/Pacific and Europe.


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