Mirror mirror, in my hand …
… who is fairest in the land? So, according to Brothers Grimm, the evil queen in the story of Snow White not only had the ability to process large volumes of unstructured and visual data, but also could access it via a mobile device. It took several hundred years to get the rest of us to this technology level, but today big data analytics, in-memory and mobile devices are again some of the hottest topics in the business. And they can give us similarly powerful insight. But other than tweeting and posting on Facebook, what can we really do with this new power? Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Traditional reporting has been fairly static and mostly backward looking, basically summarizing what has happened. Further analysis was reserved for specialists and took place in separate systems. With in-memory calculating power and new analytical tools, many of these reporting limitations are eliminated. The traditional separation of transactional and analytical data is no longer necessary with SAP HANA. It allows reporting and analysis on the same real-time data, and even more important, on one-version-of-the-truth across your entire organization. The moment a sales order is created or a payment is received; this information is available for analysis. Action can be initiated much quicker based on real insight of the current situation. Moreover, SAP’s analytical tools allow the user to not only look at predefined reports, but also to intuitively drill-down further and get additional questions answered. Implementing gamification concepts into your operations, you can even use dashboards as score boards for your teams. Your staff can see how they are performing against a target right now, or in a friendly competition against other teams.
Another hot topic for big data projects is social media analysis. Today, we are collectively producing an unimaginable amount of data on various internet sites and social media platforms, most of it unstructured. While it is, of course, possible to stumble across insight by accident, a more structured approach with tools like Supplier InfoNet or Sentiment Analysis can give you a more comprehensive view of your market, your suppliers or your customers. Supplier InfoNet delivers insight into your supply chain – not only your direct suppliers, but also, for example, their manufacturers. Supplier InfoNet will search the Web for news and rumors about companies in your ecosystem. There may have been a fire in a factory, a strike, rising raw material prices or changing tax legislation – all factors that may have an impact on purchase prices, available volumes or lead times. And knowing these developments early can give you the extra time to react and drive the necessary action. For example, knowing early that there will soon be a shortage of a certain product allows you to optimize purchasing accordingly and then potentially be one of the few suppliers that can deliver. With Sentiment Analysis, you can understand what your customers think about your company, but also what they think about certain items in your assortment. So you can not only optimize your customer interaction and services but also
fine-tune your assortment.
Evolving further from traditional reporting, Predictive Analytics is another method that can take analytics to a completely new level. As already mentioned, traditional reporting is mostly backward looking. With in-memory technology, the time lag has been mostly eliminated, so we can now ask new questions. Why have things happened and what will happen next? And with this insight, can we make changes to improve future business? We can use forecast, analytics and simulation to evaluate the best possible outcome and drive insight-based action to execute toward that goal. So imagine combining historical sales data with the weather forecast and customer buying patterns to more accurately predict inventory levels. Or identifying influenza patterns early and insuring that medication is available.
An interesting side effect of these technology trends is the evaporating separation of analytical specialists who produce reports and the end-user that can only look at pre-produced content. To drive more value out of analytics, we are now able to move beyond static reports. We can work together on finding the hidden story behind the data. We can identify patterns and signals, and predict the future more accurately. And today, this technology is not only available to the evil queen, but to all of us. And who knows, maybe one of these days we’ll find out that Snow White’s middle name was actually Hana.
Werner Baumbach is a Solution Manager for the SAP Wholesale Distribution IBS and has 15 years of experience in the retail and wholesale industries.