Thoughts from Andy Best, Managing Director at change++
Over the past 18 months I’ve seen most of the businesses we interact with fall roughly into two camps. The first saw lockdown as an opportunity to assess and review internal processes, maximise their potential to gain insights from data and find new ways to digitally engage with clients. The second went into ‘survival mode’ – shutting down all but essential operations and simply waiting for things to ‘return to normal’.
But here’s the thing. Now that we’re coming out the other side of lockdown (though facing continued disruption from Brexit) the businesses that used downtime to review their processes don’t want to go back to the old normal. They’ve found better ways of doing things that improve customer service and save time and money. Those that went into survival mode are now faced with two choices. Play catch up … or get left behind.
So, as we move into 2022, I’ve reviewed what we’ve learned in the last year and a half, and I’ve highlighted some of the ways that businesses can use Business Intelligence (BI) and data analysis to stay resilient and productive in these uncertain times.
Get your data in a row
During lockdown I saw many businesses renew their focus on getting the foundations of BI right. This was a change from a few years ago, when customers would often come to change++ wanting to jump straight to the sophisticated AI analytics prediction solutions that they’d read about.
The most important foundation for good BI is good data quality. After all, if your data isn’t consistent, reliable, and up to date, then however sophisticated your analysis is, it won’t be accurate. But the good news is, there are some relatively simple ways you can improve data quality without major investment or cutting-edge technology.
To begin with you need to make sure all departments are referring to things in the same way. For example, if you run a chain of restaurants, you should create unique identifiers for each restaurant and make sure everyone uses them. One way to do this is to use dropdown fields or address look up tools in your data entry forms instead of relying on manual entry.
Improving your data quality isn’t a one-off job though. It requires good governance and continual maintenance. You’ll find it much easier to maintain your data quality if you keep it in a centralized location – ideally in the cloud. Ensuring that all your systems pull data from the same source (instead of siloed databases) will improve access, increase accuracy, and remove duplication of effort. We’ve seen many businesses benefit from moving to cloud-based databases this year.
Review processes and procedures
Another element of good BI practice we’re starting to see more of is automation. With the technology available today, anything you’re doing repeatedly can be either fully automated or assisted through some form of automation. Over the past 20-years, we’ve been asked by businesses that don’t have the time themselves, to review their procedures and identify ways to improve efficiency. By automating some time-consuming tasks and ditching ones that add little or no value, we help staff focus on the things they really ought to be doing – such as delivering great customer service.
If you haven’t already taken the opportunity to review your internal processes, you could be missing a lot of opportunities to save time and money – something few businesses can’t afford to do right now.
Look to the future
As I see it, many businesses will continue to focus on getting the fundamentals right over the next year – improving and maintaining data quality and automating outdated manual processes. But once organisations have efficient processes and better access to high quality data, they’ll have time to think: ‘what can we actually do with this?’ And we’re starting to see some innovative uses of data already.
One of our customers is going through a major back-office upgrade. It’s a huge project, so we built a Power BI dashboard to help them track progress – a bespoke system that gives them all sorts of advantages over an off-the-shelf project management tool. The BI solution automatically generates progress reports, creates alerts when elements of the project overrun and informs decisions about where to allocate resources and more – eliminating manual errors, and reducing the time spent on project management. Plus, we were able to build unique dashboards for different stakeholders, giving everyone involved access to the exact information they need.
One area we expect to see BI play a bigger role in 2022 is supply chain management. The various shortages we’ve seen in recent months – from toilet rolls to petrol – have brought supply chain management very much into the public eye. As we continue to face disruption and uncertainty, BI will play an increasing role in helping businesses of all sizes, predict demand, track status of deliveries, keep customers informed and more.
The challenges of Brexit and Covid have taught us how getting the foundations of BI right can help us build more efficient and resilient businesses. As we move into 2022, not knowing what the next challenge will be, we need to build on those foundations and maximise on the insights we have available to ensure success.