OPINION5 October 2021

Ready for recovery: The role of analytics

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Data analytics Impact Opinion

Those working in analytics have an opportunity to offer predictive insight into what the recovery from Covid-19 could look like, says James Oates.

The words 'road to recovery' printed on the middle of a road, with sunshine in distance

The timescale for recovery from the global pandemic continues to jump forward and back depending on the day of the week and the latest data being released.

In our personal lives, it seems we will hopefully finally be able to decide which sporting event or music festival we would like to attend, and which family members we would like to hug again. In general, these are going to be easy decisions to make, even for an awkward, non-hugging Yorkshireman such as myself (a handshake will do fine, thanks – if we are ever allowed to do that again).

In our business lives, the timescale for recovery brings with it challenging questions within the context of a broad range of opinion on what recovery looks like: the promise of ‘a new normal’; the biggest boom for several generations; or even that there is no new normal at all and we are heading for an economic downturn.

Whatever is coming down the line, each and every one of us in the analytic arena should be thinking about what we need to do next to manage this period of change effectively and deliver the right decisions for our businesses.

I am going through the process right now, and trying to remind myself of the most basic principle that should apply to our external thinking with clients and to how we get it right with our analytic teams to deliver success through change.

It is essential that we remain relevant by staying close to our customer needs and knowing what they require.

We need to ensure that what we are working on in analytics is useful. For example, in the fast-moving consumer goods industry, one of the burning issues right now is around e-commerce and, specifically, how to understand if the new and emerging platforms, resulting from changes in customer behaviour, are here to stay.

In terms of insight provision, it means we have to understand the landscape we are looking to measure and analyse for our clients. What do we do well today, and what do we need to do to uncover client blind spots? Being open about our capability and being true to the customer’s needs will drive decisions to get the right data and to deliver the right analytics.

I am currently working through this challenge and, by listening to our clients, it is creating an opportunity to get closer to understanding what data is required to drive the broadest insight we must provide in the e-commerce arena. By being open, flexible and creative in our route forward, we will enable a conversation on client blind spots quicker than might have been possible before.

What the future looks like is the other key business question that analytic teams can really get behind. Getting the balance of short- and longer-term forecasting right is always a challenge – particularly now, with consumer behaviour being impacted so much.

Within our analytic functions, we have an opportunity to offer predictive insight into what the recovery could actually look like. Through building different scenarios to explain how behaviour could change, regardless of business sector, we can provide the guardrails to remove the uncertainty.

To use my company again as a reference point, the potential impact of shoppers not returning to commuting hotspots will change the ranges and requirements of stores in those areas. Currently, we don’t know for definite how people will return to the workplace, but we can build models that provide a range of behaviours to give guidance to future outcomes and supply-chain requirements. It means being brave enough to have an opinion and make some assumptions, but that is more insight than many clients have right now.

In analytics, we can be central to supporting our businesses and clients through this recovery, and bring to life how consumer behaviour is adapting. Remaining relevant means staying across the trends that are impacting on our respective industries and then being bold in our predictions and analytics to remove the uncertainty and blind spots unfolding around us. If we remind ourselves of that, the impact of our analytic work will grow in importance and ensure we remain relevant when calmer times prevail.

This column was first published in the July 2021 issue of Impact