Thoughts from Andy Best, Managing Director at change++
It’s hard to believe that it’s only a year since COVID-19 came crashing into our lives. The effects, it goes without saying, have been overwhelmingly negative. Not only for the victims of the disease, but for the NHS, which has been put under huge strain, for the economy, for individuals, and for many businesses – especially in the hospitality and retail sectors.
There have been a few positives, too. Some people have reported improvements in work-life balance since working from home – though even that appears to be wearing thin. A few retail sectors have seen a boost in demand – gardening supplies, and home fitness equipment for example. Plus, the nation has been brought together against a common enemy. We’ve regained a sense of unity, and pride in our NHS, home schoolers and key workers. Through it all, online personalities like Joe Wicks have kept us going with irrepressible optimism.
In the middle of all this chaos, ordinary people have shown an extraordinary ability to adapt. Home offices have sprung up in bedrooms, sheds and even in cupboards under the stairs. Yoga teachers and fitness coaches have moved their businesses online. Parents have grappled with ‘fronted adverbials’, marvelling at how teachers cope with 30 kids when they can’t even persuade theirs to do half an hour of maths. And, sadly, many people have been furloughed or simply lost their jobs and had to seek new careers.
But what happens when the data goes haywire?
Traditionally, businesses have relied on past history to predict future events. But when past history has been disrupted to the extent that we’ve seen over the last year, is it a useful guide to what will happen next? If not, do our usual means of forecasting need re-visiting?
BI dashboards, for example, enable business decision makers to quickly interrogate historical data. If last year was an exception to the rule – and this year, the situation has changed yet again – what is the value in the information? In other words, when the data goes haywire, does that, as some have suggested, spell the death of BI?
The short answer is no.
Apart from the fact that dashboards are just one of many tools in the BI toolbox, they provide much more than a view of past events. They can monitor live data, show emerging patterns in consumer behaviour, spot trends and outliers, deliver live alerts and more. Far from being a mere backwards looking tool, dashboards can give you real-time insight into what is happening in your business. What’s more, the data from the pandemic gives us insight into a situation we’ve not seen the likes of in well over half a century. We have plenty of data on what to expect in usual times – this new data only adds to our understanding of how outside events can affect our businesses. While the pandemic is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime event, the impact of outside, unpredictable factors is a regular occurrence that many businesses seek to better understand.
Where next? Finding a way forwards with BI
Of course, dashboards are only one aspect of BI. Many businesses are currently trying to do more with less. BI consultants can help businesses to refocus employees with more high-value activities by automate time-consuming processes that they’ve been doing manually for years “because that’s how we’ve always done it” – and save both time and money.
Other businesses are trying to cope with increased demand, while maintaining current service levels. Delivery and courier companies are taking on extra load at the moment and playing a vital part in keeping the economy going. You’ve almost certainly seen that message “your parcel is seven stops away – view it on a map now”. That level of service is only possible thanks to the ability of BI to monitor and track the process of thousands of deliveries, in real time.
Some businesses are undergoing complete transformation – including mergers with other companies. This can cause a logistical nightmare for accountants trying to balance the books. BI tools can help them by taking data from different sources, smoothing out all the differences in measurement and timestamping, and producing one coherent view.
In times of great uncertainty, the more we can use data to make sense of the situation, the better. That’s why we need business intelligence now, not less, but more than ever.