Smart future: how data and analytics can enable the new normal

Data analytics will be vital in post-COVID business recovery. They can help employees return to the office safely, improve customer experience, address supply chain issues, improve cost optimization, increase IT optimization and more. What data will be needed, and what can be done with it?

Cash-constrained businesses need to use data analytics to drive efficiencies into production. Data analytics can help anticipate potential supply chain bottlenecks and predict future trends and customer demand. According to Matt Stratton, Head of Digital and Data at Orange Business, on the recent webinar, Data Intelligence in the New Normal, "Being data-driven means having the wisdom to leverage data for decision making. It's about understanding the data you have, is it qualified, how to consistently use data, and agreeing and understanding what quality of data you have." IDC predicts that by 2024, enterprises that deploy ML-powered data management, integration and analysis solutions will see a doubling of data-centric employee productivity."

Here are five areas where you can leverage data for business success.

1. Assisting the return to the workplace

Human movement data can be a powerful ally in the fight to manage the way back from COVID-19. Using data to identify and map out COVID-19 infected zones has helped contain the spread of the virus: Canadian AI company BlueDot first used data at the turn of the year to map the spread of COVID-19, and contact-tracing smartphone apps that leveraged data were quickly deployed in Wuhan, China, and other virus hotspots. Data on movement and behavior in response to social distancing guidelines has also helped address policy conversations and plan courses of action.

In that vein, data will be central to managing a safe, secure return to the workplace. Companies can deploy data-powered contact tracing tools, such as Anglo American, a mining company in South Africa, which plans to use workers' phones, watches and even connected hard hats to track them. These technologies will monitor where infected employees might have been and who they came into contact with, and make informed decisions based on an analysis of that data. Workplaces will need to become smart spaces, enabled with IoT-connected sensors via which you can gather data on your employees. Wireless local area networks (WLANs) can assist, again for tracking and monitoring how many people are in a space in an office building and help manage it. That data can also be analyzed, turned into useful insights and used to make the workplace a safer place.

2. Enhancing customer experience

E-commerce has accelerated hugely since the onset of COVID-19. Lockdown meant massively reduced human movement; social distancing has seen reduced footfall since societies began to open up again, and consumers are buying differently. The low-touch economy now dominates, and consumer companies and retailers have been forced to deploy contactless transactions across ordering, payments and deliveries. During this time, companies have had to shift their focus to meeting customer needs and expectations and enhancing their brand images. According to Forrester, 37% of consumers prefer to satisfy their core needs while staying indoors — including working, virtually socializing, consuming media and making essential retail purchases. Data will enable this moving forward by helping companies better understand behavioral trends and customize communications to address evolving consumer segments.

3. Reinforcing the supply chain

COVID-19 had a massive impact on supply chains worldwide, disrupting them at the most fundamental levels. For example, demand for toilet paper and paper towels alone rose by as much as 750% during the week of March 8 in the US. According to Deloitte, "the full impact of COVID-19 on supply chains is still unknown; one thing is for certain – it will have global economic and financial ramifications that will be felt through global supply chains, from raw materials to finished products." Data can help you identify issues across the whole supply chain, help you plan for rapidly changing circumstances created by COVID-19, and adapt to them. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools let you model better, predict demand, match supply to demand and automate ordering. That data analysis helps you manage inventory better and mitigate any potential shortages.

4. Optimization of costs and IT

A disrupted business world and all the challenges that will come post-COVID-19 will mean managing costs carefully. Data analytics can help minimize complexities and address issues as wide-ranging as internal employee matters, processes, operations, customer experience and partner interactions within your business ecosystem. By gathering data and using it to highlight inefficiencies, you can keep costs under control to a granular level. Even one or two percent savings can have an impact.

5. Addressing regulatory issues

Gathering new data will require data governance oversight. For example, medical data will be a key area but one that needs careful management. It is private and personal and always needs the utmost security around it, but to manage the post-COVID-19 restart effectively, businesses will need access to that data. Movement of people, where they have been, who with, their general health; this will all need to be securely collected, stored and analyzed.

A whole new level of data governance will be required. Companies will need access to types of data on people that they have never really needed access to before. The role of human resources (HR) executives will change, and they will need to ask new questions about staff in a workplace: for example, does that employee have a temperature today, has he completed the necessary forms before entering the building this morning? Human resources policies and data protection laws need to be updated rapidly – there is now a lot more new data in play that doesn't yet have rules written around it.

Speaking on the recent Orange Business webinar, "Data intelligence in the new normal," Ashley Peacock, Director of Life Sciences and Healthcare at Orange Business, commented, "Good data governance can be a competitive advantage, not the necessary evil people have seen it as historically. And data must be consistent and reliable, understandable and trusted. Because if people don't understand it, they won't trust it."

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Data: essential to transforming business operations

Integrating emerging technologies like AI, ML and data analytics tools has already helped businesses automate certain operations and become more intelligent, but it will be vital in recovering from COVID-19. Companies can no longer afford to allow misinformation to hamper decision making. According to Gartner, by 2022 90% of corporate strategies will explicitly mention information as a critical enterprise asset and analytics as an essential competence. Data and analytics tools will enable success in the new normal: there's never been such an important time for business to make use of timely, accurate data.

"Ultimately, our goal is to be answering new questions and doing it in a timely manner. We're answering all sorts of questions that we never even thought to answer before – business will continue to be that way, and as technology changes we're going to need to be able to answer questions we never thought of. We see that with COVID," concluded Ashley Peacock.

Data and analytics have always been critical in helping business leaders make informed decisions. Now, many multinationals are struggling to respond to the new coronavirus impact. Listen to this webinar to learn how data governance has been impacted by COVID-19 and what new data sets you should consider using. Listen on-demand here.