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Data Sheet—Thursday, December 18, 2014

Good morning, Data Sheet readers. Reports originating in Germany point to potential merger talks between Nokia Networks and Alcatel Lucent. But that’s all we know. Oracle is chortling over cloud business progress in its latest quarter. Plus, read about how Chicago-based startup InContext Solutions uses 3D simulation software to accelerate “field” testing for new products and packaging.

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TRENDING

Teradata buys Hadoop data archiving company. The buyout of RainStor is the data warehouse giant’s fourth analytics-related acquisition in the past six months specifically related to Hadoop data management technology. (The others were Hadpt, Revelytix, and Think Big Analytics.) Terms of this latest deal weren’t disclosed, because they aren’t material.

PayPal loses key executive to Facebook. Stan Chudnovsky, who helped plan the payment technology company’s spinoff from eBay, was in charge of growth and global strategy. He’ll be working with his former boss, David Marcus, the social network’s messaging products. Wall Street Journal

Oracle touts cloud progress. The software giant reported revenue of $9.6 billion for its second fiscal quarter. The amount derived from its cloud business applications and services accounted for $516 million in the quarter, up 45%. The company made special note of bookings for its cloud enterprise resource planning software, where it now claims more than 600 customers—and where it competes fiercely with Workday.

It wasn’t just rhetoric. New technology from Salesforce will link its cloud business applications with Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration and content management service. This gives it more cachet with big companies with lots of legacy Microsoft technology. A connection with its OneDrive file sharing and storage service is pending. TechCrunch

Sprint scrutiny expands. The wireless carrier faces far more than a whopping $105 million fine for its practice of “cramming” extra charges into monthly bills. On Wednesday, it was sued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The mysterious charges in question usually come via premium text messages (like a daily horoscope). By the way, AT&T and T-Mobile have already faced similar investigations. New York Times

RESEARCH & PREDICTIONS

Big data reality check. Most companies that have actually invested in an analytics initiative to support decision-making believe this investment has been justified. A promising revelation, albeit one that comes from a relatively limited survey of 317 IT decision-makers. While 23% of those surveyed describe their analytics capabilities as “the essence of our strategic vision,” only 5% think what they are using is really mature. The source for this data: a new report commissioned by Dell Services and fielded by the International Institute for Analytics.

CLOUD CHATTER

More IBM data centers coming. After quadrupling its cloud-dedicated facilities over the past 18 months (current count, 49), the giant technology and services company is adding 12 new locations. Nine will be established through a partnership with global data center company Equinix. The other three are being built by IBM in Frankfurt, Mexico City and Tokyo. Through the third quarter, IBM reported $3.1 billion in revenue related to cloud deals—compared with $4.4 billion for all of 2013. Reuters

STARTUPS & DISRUPTORS

Simulation software redesigns product field trials

If you are a creature of habit who frequents the same stores regularly, you can relate to the jarring sense of unease I encounter when displays or products are moved from one aisle or location to another. You’re supposed to notice, of course, it’s all part of some grand merchandising scheme.

For many years, decisions about exactly where products should be placed for maximum sell-through have been made based on random field trials and focus groups. But three-dimensional (3D) simulation technology from five-year-old InContext Solutions could let grocers, retailers and consumer products companies test a variety of options without actually having to rearrange a store.

Its cloud-hosted software, called ShopperMX, lets category managers or marketers create virtual mock-ups of packaging, displays, shelf layouts or other merchandising ideas they’d like to test. Consumers watch the simulations over an Internet connection and offer feedback through surveys.

Conceptually, the technology allows for testing among a broader base of potential buyers more quickly than a physical store trial that could take anywhere from three to six months to plan and execute. “It’s about as accurate, and it’s less expensive and involved in terms of execution,” said InContext co-founder and Chief Research Officer Rich Scamehorn. “You don’t have to get permission from the retailer to do the study. You don’t even have to manufacture the product.” Scamehorn has 15 years of market research experience, including a stint at General Mills.

The placement of grocery staples is particularly strategic, he explained: “A typical grocery store layout scatters high-demand products throughout the store to increase traffic. However, these items are easy to find and place around the perimeter of the store. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the goal is to make a consumer’s shopping trip as convenient as possible, while still getting them to use as much of the store as possible.”

While he is secretive about sharing client names, Scamehorn discloses that Chicago-based InContext is working with eight of the top 10 consumer packaged goods companies. (Its website actually includes Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, and many other well-known brands.)

As one test example, he points to a yogurt maker that evaluated several pricing levels using the InContext software before launching its Greek-style line. The company settled on a promotion rather than a lower base price at introduction, because the marketing team discovered it needed to build awareness for the relatively unknown brand.

The technology was also used to run tests for an innovative shredded cheese bag—one that can stand up on its own. The catch: on the shelf, the item looks smaller than competitive products. Using the InContext simulation, the cheesemaker discovered consumers would respond positively if the manufacturer positioned its benefits more clearly.

“With signage and an explanation, consumers ultimately bought more of it, because they felt it was a more environmentally friendly package,” Scamehorn said. Other cheese manufacturers ultimately followed suit with their packaging, he said.

Next year, InContext plans to open a fifth office location in Milwaukee (aside from its headquarters, it has a presence in Minneapolis, London and New York). Its latest venture funding infusion came in late August. The $12 million Series D round was led by private equity firm Beringea, along with Plymouth Venture Partners and Hyde Park Venture Partners. The company’s total funding is $20.9 million, according to CrunchBase.

MY FORTUNE.COM BOOKMARKS

Here are 10 of the best dressed CEOs in the U.S. By Mia Diehl, Colleen Kane

5 trends that could change how businesses use social media in 2015 By Ryan Holmes

The U.S. and Cuba just restored diplomatic relations. Here are 9 must-know numbers By Benjamin Snyder

What the rise of retirees and minorities mean for U.S. business By Bruce Katz

What’s next for Sony after pulling the plug on ‘The Interview’? By Tom Huddleston, Jr.

FOR YOUR INNER TECHNOPHILE

Sony’s Google Glass competitor comes into focus. Early prototypes suggest that the “smart” portion will be detachable—you can take the electronics on and off the glasses frame depending on where you are and how geeky you want to look. The product won’t be officially introduced until the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month. eWeek

 

ONE MORE THING

Think before you send that flame mail. Leaked emails from the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack have been pretty embarrassing for top executives there. Object lesson: you might want to refrain from being too chatty in digital ink—let alone complaining about business partners or making snide comments about employees. As security expert Bruce Schneier remarked to the Wall Street Journal: “Now every company is thinking, ‘What would it be like if everything in our company was made public?’ ”

MARK YOUR CALENDAR

IBM Interconnect 2015: Cloud and mobile strategy. (Feb. 22 – 26, 2015; Las Vegas)

Gartner CIO Leadership Forum: Digital business strategy. (March 1 – 3, 2015; Phoenix)

Microsoft Convergence 2015: Dynamics solutions. (March 16 – 19, 2015; Atlanta)

Gartner Business Intelligence & Analytics Summit: Crossing the divide. (March 30 – April 1, 2015; Las Vegas)

Knowledge15: Automate enterprise IT services. (April 19 – 24, 2015; Las Vegas)

RSA Conference 2015: The world talks security. (April 20 – 24, 2015; San Francisco)

MicrosoftIgnite: Enterprise tech extravaganza. (May 4 – 8, 2015; Chicago)

NetSuite SuiteWorld: Cloud ERP strategy. (May 4 – 7, 2015; San Jose, Calif.)

SAPPHIRE NOW: The SAP universe. (May 5 – 7, 2015; Orlando, Fla.)

Gartner Digital Marketing Conference 2015: Reach your destination faster. (May 5 – 7; San Diego)