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Big data must put customers before technology

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Having access to so much data can be daunting – as a business it is important to learn how to use it to your advantage but always remembering to keep the customer at the heart of it, says RICHARD MULLINS, MD of MEA at Acceleration.

Data works in two directions. Firstly, it gives businesses access to unprecedented volumes of real-time data about customer behaviour, preferences and context. It also provides consumers with information about where they should go for the best product range, experience, and pricing.

Thanks to smartphones, consumers have this information at hand whenever they research purchases, shop, and interact with brands.

Consider, for example, someone in a mall looking for the best nearby restaurant. He or she will look up nearby pizzerias on Apple or Google Maps or look up best restaurants on Zomato’s app. This provides the local owner of a pizzeria to target him or her with a contextual ad and perhaps an offer for a complimentary drink.

Think about someone trying on a jacket in a clothing store – having checked out the colour and the fit, he or she may decide to find the cheapest price and order it online. This may be done via their mobile phone, a mobile app or a tablet, for next day delivery. Why not offer to match pricing from the biggest online competitors in a PPC ad when the customer does his or her mobile search on Google?

The trail of behavioural, location, demographic and even psychographic data customers leave behind as they use mobile search and social media enables us to understand consumer behaviour and personalise messaging and right place right offer opportunity. Bear in mind that is aggregated customer data rather than information that identifies them personally.

Personalised experiences
To thrive in a world where smartphones make nearly every shopping experience a digital one, brands must learn to use data across their touch points to deliver a clear and personalised experience to each customer. Luckily, marketers have unprecedented volumes of data that they can use to understand and influence consumer behaviour in real-time.

The problem with trying to wrap one’s head around all this data, however, is that it can be hard to capture, analyse and segment. Most organisations have a plethora of information scattered across numerous logistical, transactional and marketing systems. The marketing systems include the likes of CRM databases, ad-servers, social media platforms, search, third-party data providers and more – and most companies have no idea how to bring it all together to create a single view of the customer. Some large enterprises have been struggling to reach this Holy Grail for decades.

What’s more, in the South African context, data isn’t as big as it is in the US or Europe. Outside a few of the large banks and telcos, most local companies don’t have deep pools of customer data to mine for statistical insight as, for example, Amazon. Lacking the volume of data, they will not achieve the same results as a player with Amazon’s scale even if they apply the same algorithms and analytics tools.

Think smart rather than big
We recommend that marketers ignore the buzz about big data and begin by asking a simple question: “What information will enable us to offer relevant messages and experiences to our customers?” Once they have identified that piece of information, they can begin to think about where and how they can access the data and how they will activate it with the customer.

For us, it’s not about big data. It’s about smart and usable data. Data that enables us to align the right message, service and product with the right customer at the right time. Rather than starting off with a complex data technology solution, marketers should step back and ask: “What data do we need, what data do we have, where does our data sit, and who owns and controls it?”

Understanding the answers to these questions will help the brand create a strategy for accessing the data it needs to serve customers better. Most South African brands have a wealth of transactional data at their fingertips – the next step is to start gathering and leveraging data about the customer context and journey more effectively.

The point is to start with the customers: what do we know about them and how do we serve them better? They should look at specific questions – “We have customers who purchase from us twice a year. How could we entice them to double their purchases?” – and seek equally specific answers.

A focused approach is the key to reaping an investment from customer data.

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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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