Improving the accuracy of our forecasts remains a key priority. In 2012, our progresses took an unexpected twist, as we did stumble upon quantile forecasts. Forecasting benchmarks that we performed over 2012 with quantile vs classic have systematically shown that quantiles were vastly ahead accuracy-wise. When it comes to inventory optimization, quantile forecasts vastly outperform classic forecasts.
At this point, we believe that quantile forecasts (or their descendant) will be the de facto standard in 10 years from now for all retailers and manufacturers interested in inventory optimization. In particular, at the store level, quantile forecasts make the difference between a forecast that just work vs a forecast that doesn't.
In 2013, we intend to keep improving our forecasts, but from a more financial angle: it's no more about reducing percents of forecast error, but rather about reducing Euros or Dollars of forecast error. This is a change of paradigm: it means that we will bring our statistical models closer to the business, as opposed of chasing further decade's old classic forecasting accuracy metrics.
Our flagship webapp has undergone many improvements in 2012 with dozens of quiet upgrades. Overall, Salescast has evolved from a pure demand forecasting app toward an inventory optimization app. The integration of quantile forecasts, which are key to compute both optimized reorder points and optimized reorder quantities, have been the primary evolution of Salescast in this area.
Then, the user interface has been extensively revisited (again), if you are not a regular user, don't hesitate to look at the latest screenshots. In particular, Salescast now provides a lot more feedback to support troubleshooting data integration problems.
Also, flat TSV files exposed over FTP can now be imported into Salescast. Our classic SQL-based data format remains available; however, for a growing number of companies, flat text files seem to be easier and more scalable than SQL. However, data in flat text files can lead to all sort of data corruptions; one goal for 2013 will be to make Salescast very resilient against this type of problems.
As far pricing is concerned, in 2012, we had the first major evolution in years with the introduction of both Express and Enterprise subscription plans. Salescast has now a freemium business model, with a free version (Express, no support) and a paying version (Enterprise, dedicated support). In 2013, we remain committed in preserving and extending further this approach. The Express plan will remain free of charge; while we extend the levels of support we deliver for our paying subscription plans.
New: FTP as a Service
The File Transfer Protocol (FTP), while dating from the early 70's, remains one of the most simple and powerful way to move data over the Internet. Furthermore, in 2012, we have noticed a strong resurgence of the use of flat text files, as opposed to relational systems which tend to fail to deliver the desired performance levels. This observation lead us to support for TSV data over FTP in Salescast.
Then, in order to relieve our clients from the burden of managing their own FTP servers, we have started to develop an app that will deliver FTP as a Service, leveraging Windows Azure for reliability and scalability. This service will made available for all Lokad account holders, much like Salescast.
As far pricing is concerned, we plan to follow a freemium approach: FTP hosting will be made available for free (within limits) to Express users, and Enterprise subscribers will benefits from more storage and bandwidth.
While Salescast delivers inventory optimization, we realize that most our SMB clients are lacking of inventory intelligence tools; that is, tools that let them survey, monitor, investigate stocks and stock-outs. Classic business intelligence software are not satisfying because they require too much setup work to start delivering anything useful for advance inventory management.
Thus, we have started to develop Stockwatch, a new webapp that delivers inventory intelligence, i.e. extensive reports outlining inventory performance. Stockwatch is intended as fully complementary to Salescast, but it will be strictly independent. Hence, it will be possible to use either Salescast or Stockwatch, or both.
A freemium version of Stockwatch is also anticipated, with a free version for Express users at Lokad.
New: Phantomscan (update: 2013-01-21)
This webapp is has been announced separately.
New: (Big) Data Platform
Big Data has been a major buzzword in 2012, and for Lokad, it's a been a stream of Big Data consulting missions. We will keep leveraging our experience as a software company operating Big Data analytics software to help other companies ramping up their own capabilities.
In particular, we have started to develop a new open source product named Lokad Data Platform (see also the infographic). In short, our (Big) Data Platform gathers patterns, practices and software bricks that come very handy to service large amount of data for advance analytics purposes.
With less than 4000 lines of code, one of the strengths of the Lokad Data Platform is its minimalism. Hence, we plan to keep the codebase small and clean to keep the product attractive to fellow developers. However, we intend to keep adding more samples, use cases and documentation.
Our out-of-shelf monitoring webapp has been steadily developed during 2012. Since it addresses a relatively narrow segment of large food retailers, we have no plan, to date, to make the webapp self-serving (unlike Salescast and most of the other webapps of Lokad). However, the data format expected by Shelfcheck is now publicly documented. Shelfcheck favors flat files exposed through FTP, hence it will benefit too from the FTP service that will soon be released.
In 2013, we intend to push our OOS analytics technology further to refine again the OOS detection trilemma.This roadmap isn't carved in stone. Don't hesitate to voice your opinion.