Friday, 29 March 2019 17:40

National Pharmacies puts Oracle's Autonomous to work

National Pharmacies CFO and innovation manager Ryan Klose National Pharmacies CFO and innovation manager Ryan Klose

The use of Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse and Autonomous Transaction Processing is claimed to have saved about 50% of National Pharmacies' IT budget.

National Pharmacies collects lots of data from its 350,000 members and 600,000 other customers, and is putting it to work in various ways.

CFO and innovation manager Ryan Klose said the use of ADW's machine learning features reduced the company's working capital requirements by $7 million as a result of doing a better job of stocking the right products at each of its 100 pharmacies. Getting the original deliveries right also helps reduce the hundreds of thousands of dollars the company has been spending on transferring stock between stores.

Part of this process involves identifying short-term trends – for example, National Pharmacies can see flu spreading around suburbs from purchasing patterns, and this can be used to adjust stock levels of relevant products at individual pharmacies ahead of spikes in demand.

Klose pointed out that National Pharmacies didn't need to use data scientists to take advantage of the ML features in Oracle's software as the input from the company's pharmacists and supply chain specialists was sufficient.

The company also wanted in-store staff to be able to see customer history in order to personalise the shopping experience, and ADW delivered the speed required to make this possible. Pharmacists are trained to adapt the conversation to suit the individual they are speaking to, and this capability needs to be reflected in digital channels, he observed.

There is also a desire to "surprise and delight" non-pharmaceutical customers such as those buying cosmetics. In order to achieve that, National Pharmacies is using machine learning to profile customers in such terms as whether they purchase for themselves or others, or whether they celebrate birthdays or religious holidays.

Being able to rapidly scale ADW from one to 20 CPUs in response to varying loads means that tasks that would previously have taken hours can now be done in seconds.

Speed also comes into play when moving data from the transaction processing systems into the data warehouse. For example, it can be important to know that a customer has just visited another of the company's pharmacies.

The efficiency of Oracle's autonomous products has reduced National Pharmacies' licence costs by 40%, he said, and the use of Oracle Cloud also helped Klose control costs associated with database administrators and infrastructure people.

Demands on BI are growing, Oracle APAC vice-president of technology Valery Lanovenko told iTWire. It was once something that's “nice to have” to become a common business requirement. Organisations realise they need to use the data they collect, and the combination of BI and AI is a route to the future.

Oracle Autonomous Database is largely about the ability to analyse data, he said. It provides better performance through automated tuning and monitoring, and its automated security features reduce the need for skilled labour. These considerations mean line of business groups are more able to work independently of the IT department, but the latter also benefits from automated provisioning, which allows technical staff to be redeployed to more productive and innovative areas.

Achieving less than 2.5 minutes a month of scheduled and unscheduled downtime is “unprecedented,” said Lanovenko. “This is totally a breakthrough” for mission-critical applications.

"Our database is now fully self-driving," said Oracle EMEA and APJ president Loic Le Guisquet. Self-patching is particularly important, he said, as more than 80% of breaches would have been avoided if systems had been patched promptly and security features activated.

National Pharmacies is a major sponsor of Adelaide's Christmas Pageant, said Klose, and is planning bring IT to bear with an augmented reality game. The idea is that Rudolph will steal Santa's sleigh and lose the presents, which players will be able to find in pharmacies by using an app – somewhat like Pokemon Go.

In addition, Santa's elves at the pageant will be labelled with QR codes for kids to scan in order to collect tokens and unlock prizes that will be claimable at National Pharmacies stores.

Klose said the company is looking to set up a "shared data room" that would be made available where appropriate to fire, police and other organisations. This will be based on the same instance of ADW, and no extra hardware will be required.

Other plans for 2019 include a move away from using tablets in store due to occupational health and safety issues, and replacing them with voice interfaces. Further ahead, Klose expects to introduce more-intelligent bots so customers can interact directly with the systems, without necessarily involving sales staff.

An important part of Klose's strategy is the use of Oracle middleware, which he sees as a 10 year investment. Since all access is via the middleware, even major changes to core systems are largely invisible to users. For example, when an older ERP system was replaced with JD Edwards, National Pharmacies avoided $800,000 in training costs because the tablet app used by employees remained unchanged. Similarly, introducing a voice interface won't affect the core systems.

Klose pointed out that each technology iteration requires new skills, but they tend to be hard to find and expensive. Fortunately, Oracle provides more prebuilt integrations and functionality, reducing the need to buy-in new skills. For example, only two IT staff are needed to deliver information stored in Oracle systems to 350,000 people.

And he tells National Pharmacies' IT staff that they need to realise they are back in their first year every year – their expertise is still valued, but they need to learn new things.

National Pharmacies received Oracle Australia's 2019 award for excellence in retail.

Disclosure: The writer attended Oracle OpenWorld Asia as a guest of the company.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.



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