How COVID-19 is changing the way decisions are made?
From its onset to date, COVID-19 has forced unforeseen changes in consumer behavior and, in turn, the business response from B2C and B2B firms. The response from businesses has largely been crisis-motivated and geared towards survival. With the baseline and benchmarks changing, the performance metrics being tracked have also changed. Consequently, the role of business intelligence (BI) tool also needs to evolve to meet the new requirements. With a renewed approach, BI tools need to help businesses not just survive, but thrive even as the road to recovery is paved.
In this article, we discuss four major areas that will define business intelligence and data-driven decision-making in the days and weeks to come:
1. Need for hyper-automation and minimizing human intervention
2. Shift from data analysis to intelligent insights and proactive alerts
3. Need for greater collaboration between Business and Analytics Teams
4. AI integrated into dashboards instead of standalone models & analysis
Need for hyper-automation and minimizing human intervention
Hyper-automation is taking automation to the next level by combining standard data pipeline and reporting automation with advanced technologies like Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). It drives end-to-end automation to augment human decision-making capabilities with relevant insights. It helps analyse data, discover patterns, measure, monitor, and reassess key metrics and in turn key processes to aid decision-making across the enterprise. With COVID-19 presenting itself as an unprecedented situation, without any historic data, Hyper-automation of BI will enable business users to spend less time pulling numbers and provide more time to focus on strategic planning and decision-making.
Hyper-automation in business intelligence plays out in two ways during COVID-19:
(1) Boosting productivity and efficiency
While there are a number of pre-built BI solutions including many within the SaaS platforms that we use for various applications across HR, Sales, Finance and Marketing, there’s a reason why most businesses have analytics and IT teams spend a considerable amount of time developing business intelligence reports and analysis in-house. The pre-built reports are not very flexible and usually end up being unusable by most business users. Making minor changes in these canned reports means loads of time wasted in email exchanges and calls.
A typical BI project with 10 to 15 customized dashboards takes anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months. With the pandemic, working from home means that the same project might take 50 to 100% more time and effort.
A well-designed and hyper-automated BI solution can be deployed in a few hours and the dashboard customized in a much shorter time. So, adding a new dimension does not have to wait for the analytics/IT team to be online. The added flexibility can help leaders themselves add a story-like structure to information, clearly establishing patterns and evaluating the impact of their decisions.
(2) Understanding Consumer Behavior
One defining characteristic of COVID-19, for businesses, have been rapidly occurring changes that have been tough to predict. With one thing leading to another, a pattern of change is yet to emerge, resulting in unexpected/unplanned outcomes. The pace of change has also caught most businesses unaware. Even a data-driven e-commerce major like Amazon was not an exception. The unprecedented strain on its supply chain was evident as deliveries started getting delayed in major markets across the globe.
Without built-in capabilities to analyse and predict, most Business Intelligence tools have proven to be inadequate. In the absence of historic data and analysis, the leadership teams based their decisions on speculations and assumptions. In many cases, it led to less than favorable outcomes.
Hyper-automation helps automate collection, transformation/preparation and analysis of data at scale which acts as a boon given the work from home situation is leading to communication inefficiencies and a greater gap between requirements and output. Faster the businesses switch to hyper-automation, the better are their chances of survival and growth. After all, there’s a good reason why Hyper-automation tops the list of Gartner’s emerging strategic technology trends of 2020.
Shift from Data Analysis to Intelligent and Proactive Alerts
The pandemic has meant that a business cannot afford to make mistakes, especially given the limited communication channels between various teams which might lead to key signals can get missed. In a rapidly changing environment, decisions need to be made promptly and based on real-time data and insights.
The agility with which businesses need to respond to changing consumer demand has no parallel in history. Inability to do so, in turn, may lead to loss of business, a shift in demand channel, poor customer experience, poor brand perception and also surge in sales of alternative product categories or substitutes; all of which add to the complexity of analyzing and forecasting future demand, leading to further loss of business. The only way to avoid this downward spiral is to put technology infrastructure in place, to assist proactive and agile decision-making.
The importance of proactive alerts can be illustrated with the help of assortment and inventory planning process at a lifestyle retail store chain. Unlike pre-COVID-19 era, where the planning of inventory and assortment would have been more or less a seasonal exercise, the pandemic necessitates a whole host of changes at various levels — SKU, category, channel, and location — due to the changing consumer preferences and shopping habits. Few scenarios have been listed below where quick action needs to be initiated by decision-makers:
(1) Low-demand/Aging Inventory: Unsold inventory, most considered to be discretionary purchases, have been stuck with the retailers through the pandemic. Flanked with issues like seasonality (say, fashion & apparel) or short shelf-life (like CPG) the decision-makers need to ensure that these items are cleared at the earliest possible. Proactive alerts would facilitate in-time decisions, avoiding the last-minute rush and forcing a clearance at loss.
(2) High-demand/Out of Stock Alerts: If anything flew off the shelves and e-commerce warehouses in the last 4 months it’s undoubtedly health and hygiene products (read sanitizers, disinfectants and masks). Getting caught off guard with zero stock of any of these at any location would mean losing out on, perhaps, the biggest opportunity of growth today — for brands as well as retailers. Without automated proactive alerts activating the entire supply chain at short notice is close to impossible.
(3) Sudden dip in demand at certain location/channel: Just when the business is limping back to normalcy, and sales have started to trickle in, any sign of sales suddenly choking at any of the locations or channels would warrant an immediate investigation. Proactive-alerts help keep a finger on the pulse of the business to steer clear of such sudden dips.
Apart from the above scenarios, proactive alerts can help in a variety of other situations. For example, with call center executives working from home proactive alerts can help the team leader diagnose and address productivity issues of the team well before the overall efficiency drops. The issues could be systemic, process or people-related. An efficient BI tool can provide alerts and help leaders make more informed decisions, in-time.
With several factors at play, a BI tool which provides insights and proactive alerts will cut down on time spent in planning and decision-making. The boost in agility will help businesses cope and fulfill business needs better, as the conditions continue to be in a constant state of flux.
Greater Collaboration between Business and Analytics Teams
Functional silos have long been a bane for most organizations. While it could be an organization-wide problem, COVID-19 has amplified the criticality of efficient and effective interaction, particularly between business and analytics teams.
Inability to raise and execute mission-critical BI requests in time can result in significant opportunity loss. During COVID-19, a lost opportunity may turn out to be a death knell for a small business that is already struggling to stay afloat.
With data coming in from numerous sources the leadership may need specific insights that the current dashboard may not have. While the fulfillment of such requests in an office environment wouldn’t be much of a challenge, remote working makes it a time-consuming affair.
A smart and efficient BI tool with on-platform collaboration tools (like chat and mails) makes work requests clear and the processing faster. If the business team spots an anomaly and wants the analytics team to investigate and come back with a report, the whole process can happen on the platform. Without having to copy-paste the data on an email and avoiding the hassle of video conferencing on every flag raised, it saves time and effort for all the teams involved.
The seamless collaboration so achieved should be able to deliver growth and profitability for the business at large.
AI integrated into Dashboards instead of Standalone Models & Analysis
Most of the current BI tools provide output that calls for significant human intervention when it comes to analysis. Human inference and intervention is inherently loaded with prejudice and bias from experience. It becomes a bigger challenge when there are too many moving parts to a business demanding a healthy dose of human judgement.
COVID-19 amplifies the problem as the standard behavior of variables itself has undergone a drastic change. In addition to the internal variables, several externalities like macroeconomic impact, consumer acceptance, and supply chain hurdles need to be accounted for during decision-making. The sheer number of variables at work make analyzing data an uphill task.
While AI seems to be an obvious solution that can concurrently process a large number of internal and external variables, it has not been able to deliver the expected impact in most cases. The primary reason for this is the manner of deployment which is kept separate from dashboards and meetings that actually drive day-to-day business operations.
Say, while evaluating the performance of marketing campaign for an online store, you see an unusual spike of orders from a particular campaign/region. Before you increase the marketing spends on that channel, you would want to assess the potential impact of your decision. An AI integrated dashboard can provide you crucial insights on potential returns, cancellations & fraud, and net expected ROI for the campaign / region using relevant data signals along with the spike in Orders allowing you to make the right decision.
Running with limited data pertaining to the pandemic period, AI-powered dashboards can pick the smallest of the signals and prompt the user to explore an aspect which would have otherwise been overlooked. It can thus provide actionable insights during meetings and facilitate better decision-making.
How Blik.ai can help you navigate the uncharted waters?
We launched the Beta version of Blik.ai in March and are getting great feedback from its users. Blik.ai aims to address the above challenges with some of its unique features. No matter what industry you are in, Business Intelligence is an essential tool that will help your business survive and thrive. An efficient BI tool can help you track KPIs, spot patterns & anomalies, enable predictive analysis and help you make informed decisions without spending significant time and effort in gathering and processing data.
Blik.ai is a BI platform for SaaS platforms that delivers pre-built dashboards that help you understand your business without spending significant time and investment on a large BI engagement. With one-click integration of data sources (SaaS applications and Social Media Sources), your teams will have easy access to all data that they need, at a glance! The clean and intuitive dashboards help you track and optimize performance for each of your teams and also ensure that they have a clear idea of the actions to be taken. The collaboration features of Blik.ai allow you to interact across teams and get answers to questions around data.
Randhir Hebbar is one of the founders of Convergytics — Asia’s fastest growing and leading analytics brand. Randhir heads Digital, BI, AI and Products at Convergytics and Blik.ai is a solution that he has conceptualized, designed and built with his team of team of developers, BI specialists, data engineers and data scientists.
Convergytics is a Microsoft Gold Partner for Data and Analytics. We focus on four core areas:
(1) Data Management and Data Engineering: data ingestion, validation, transformation, warehousing and OLAP
(2) BI and Advanced Dashboards: reporting KPIs/metrics, real-time BI, automated monitoring and alerts, ETL, executive/operational dashboards
(3) Digital and CRM Analytics: site optimization and A/B testing, digital audits and implementations, optimizing digital media spends, real time personalization and predictive CRM, and automated reporting
(4) AI and Machine Learning: forecasting, safety and risk, defect prevention and preventive maintenance use cases
Blik.ai is Convergytics’ proprietary end-to-end business intelligence platform for other SaaS platforms and provides one-click integrations with SaaS platforms along with pre-build modern-BI dashboards for these platforms. Blik.ai already has integrations with tools such as Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Google Adwords, Freshdesk and many others are in the works.