The global datasphere is set to grow from 33 to 175 Zettabytes (or trillion Gigabytes) by 2025. Because of this abundance, it’s been said that data is the ‘new oil’, promising business growth and profitability.
But data alone is not enough, as senior global supply chain director Lori Putt at Dow Consumer Solutions found when her division merged with Dow Chemicals.
Dow produces the chemical building blocks for many of the products we use every day. The company plays a key part in getting fast-moving consumer goods on the shelves as quickly as possible. With the cycle from raw materials to the finished product taking three to seven months, this is challenging at the best of times.
But soon after the merger, on-time deliveries to customers were down, order lead times had increased, and customer satisfaction ratings dropped.
”We had more data than you could imagine, but it wasn’t mined,” Lori Putt, Sr. Global Supply Chain Director, Dow Consumer Solutions, explains. “The trick was stringing it together so that it made sense.”
This is a key purpose of technology. And using technology in this way could not be delayed given the urgent need to reverse the division’s performance issues. Ms. Putt’s team urgently needed the visibility of its global supplier network and processes. This meant that a multitude of disparate IT systems and data silos had to talk to each other and their connections and status had to be visualized in order to analyze and act on them.
And not just within Dow: Critically, the entire – highly complex – supplier ecosystem needed to feed in as well.
The Purpose of Data in an Ecosystem Economy
A fundamental part of this process was building a data strategy that could bring supply chain processes and people distributed around the globe together.
This involved integrating data from within Dow as well as from suppliers, distribution channel partners, and other players the division interacts with.
The most critical tool for Ms. Putt’s team was the “Customer Command Centre”, a dashboard to bring all this business-critical data together. The dashboard enabled a single view of the supply chain, so Dow could trace exactly where supplies and products were across the globe. They could also spot problems affecting the customer experience and resolve problems to optimize workflows in the supply chain.
Beyond arresting and reversing the negative results, the Customer Command Centre enabled a real-time perspective on the supply chain that would empower both Dow’s staff and supply chain partners in their day-to-day work.
“We were good at being reactive, but we wanted to drive a proactive approach,” explains Ms. Putt.
The insights delivered via the Customer Command Centre were critical in that context, particularly its predictive analytics capabilities, which helped Dow to identify potential issues before they could affect delivery timetables and customer satisfaction. As a result, Dow’s supply chain and customer satisfaction metrics improved significantly across the board.
Data, Data Everywhere
Taking a holistic approach to data management may appear like a no-brainer. But the reality is that many companies are not yet set up to draw the greatest benefit from their data. The reasons for this are varied.
Corporate data repositories are often still siloed. This means data is held in different places across the company, but not visible or accessible throughout, depending on the interoperability of the systems used. Disconnected data creates waste, duplication of effort and missed opportunities – it hampers innovation.
Data gaps present businesses with another challenge. As the Dow case shows, key data may reside across a company’s ecosystem rather than just in-house. Partners may not be set up to feed into the organization’s analytics, creating data black spots.
To open up fresh business opportunities, it is also important to add new sources of insight as they emerge. These could be structured data such as the sensor, GPS and Lidars data that driver assistance systems – and ultimately self-driving cars – will use to ensure people reach their destination safely. But there is also unstructured data, for example from social networks, which need to be taken into account.
Data for Empowerment
Having a handle on an organization’s data has long been viewed as key to transforming companies and one of the key purposes of technology.
It’s vital that organizations get their ‘ducks in a row’, mapping out a clear data strategy before all data sources – internal and external – are brought together. Data mining and analytics – like all technology – must serve a purpose.
Once these underlying structures are in place, data needs to be made available across the organization – not create new kinds of silos. Through this, employees are empowered to make real-time decisions and take action backed by intelligent insights.
Not only will this help streamline operations – as Dow’s case shows – it will also empower employees to make better decisions, laying the foundations for better customer experience and improved business growth.
At fashion brand Hugo Boss, a well-honed data strategy even won skeptical salespeople over, as Linda Dauriz, Director of Customer Experience and Corporate Development, highlights: “What we realized is that our colleagues in sales get more and more enthusiastic about the power of data. They were rather skeptical in the beginning, but then when you explain to them that we can predict with a high chance what the next buy will be, or when they will be next in store, that excites them […].”
Abundant, well-mined data also has the potential to unearth new business opportunities. This is particularly true if you consider trends such as mass personalization, which aims to tailor products, services or messages to customers individually.
Only a purpose-led data strategy, detailed data, a single view of the customer, and sophisticated analytics will enable companies to identify behavioral patterns and match products and marketing tactics to them.
In a world where ‘big innovations’ are ever harder to come by, complex data-mining can help identify pockets of growth that would have been impossible to spot before.