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By Neil Herbert, Director of Analytics & Insight at SAP

It should go without saying that data is the single most important part of any business, with an unrivaled amount of data being generated – more has been produced in the last month than the whole of the 90s combined, for instance. Being able to analyse and use the data intelligently to improve an organisation’s bottom line in terms of revenue and profitability, cost-cutting and risk management is becoming ever more important for business owners, no matter what industry they operate in.

A critical part of getting the most value out of a company’s data lies in the ability to identify trends and act upon them swiftly. And in an area that is as fast-moving as data, analytics and business intelligence (BI), nothing could ring more true. In line with this, SAP is looking at the major trends in analytics and BI that C-suite executives are going to need to keep abreast of:

  1. Getting the basics right should remain the top priority:

This may sound like a misnomer of sorts, but the basics – such as IT operations analytics, performance monitoring and management reporting and network consumption – can be surprisingly difficult for companies to get correct. What this means is that it is vital to go back to raw data in order to be able to convert it to value in the digital transformation journey. By focusing on the basics and getting them right, it will then be possible for organisations to grow into advanced analytics and fully enjoy their value in impacting the bottom line.

Analytics and BI have once again been pinpointed as the top priority for CIOs in the Gartner 2016 CIO Agenda Survey, illustrating the real importance of building them into the business model to streamline processes and align goals. The ideal result is marrying BI and analytics with business imperatives, but although BI is regarded as a top priority, less than 10% of employees make use of it. A priority for companies going forward is therefore going to need to be effecting a shift in mind-set. SAP HANA, the in-memory database management system, is helping in this area and will continue to do so. Most importantly, it enables self-service BI by allowing business users to make use of the data without the need to ask IT for basic reports or queries.

  1. Data quality is going to become increasingly important:

Without quality data, organisations will not be able to make effective business decisions. Many C-suite executives continue to make decisions based on gut feel and experience; however, the repercussions if they get it wrong are too risky, so there needs to be a greater move towards using analytics to make business decisions.

As such, executives need to be able trust in the data that they have to give accurate and relevant insights that will enable them to make those judgements. They also require this key information – such as revenue, sales and costs – at the click of a button and on the move. SAP believes in providing solutions that intuitively meet these needs and SAP S/4 HANA, the company’s enterprise resource management suite, allows executives to see the vital key performance indicators (KPIs) that drive the success of the company and make important decisions in real time. It also enables different levels of reporting and using the toolset as needed by different employees across all levels of the business.

Ethiopian Airlines, for instance, selected seven or eight main KPIs including flight and passenger information. These were placed in a simple dashboard that executives could access and use to make decisions in real time.

  1. The move to running businesses in cloud is going to be a sprint rather than a jog:

It is becoming more imperative for organisations to run both core and non-core business functions through the cloud and in line with this, companies are going to make the move to housing everything in one place faster. The advantages of the move speak for themselves, as using the cloud improves data governance, streamline processes and manage risk.

Those organisations hesitant to make the shift to full integration will quickly find themselves on the backfoot as investors increasingly insist on the cloud as a term of investment. Although Africa has been the one anomaly in making the move to the cloud and has been slower to adopt that Europe and the rest of the world, there is a growing wave of companies – particularly in West Africa – that are successfully adopting the platform. Cloud turns businesses into lean, mean efficient machines so it is going to become non-negotiable for companies to run in cloud if they want to remain competitive.

  1. The rise of predictive analytics in Africa depends on tying it to fundamental business processes:

Predictive analysis has not yet seen widespread adoption in South Africa or the rest of Africa. Currently, retailers and consumer credit businesses are the only ones really getting it right – but there is huge potential for organisations that are able to link predictive analytics with a process or KPI that adds fundamental value to the business.

An example would be a sugar farmer using predictive analytics to cut down on losses by being informed of the optimal time to cut and harvest sugar cane based on weather, or using historic data to calculate when a tractor is going to break down.

Importantly, predictive analytics can also help businesses target the right customers for their products or services and create relevant content that will help improve the chance of a sale. The potential of predictive analytics can therefore not be underestimated, but its future success across the continent relies on being able to tie it into essential business processes and SAP has created a platform to help achieve that goal.

  1. Business Intelligence Competency Centres (BICCs) will become more prevalent

Making BI a more strategic part of any business can only happen if it is tied to the bottom line – and setting up a BICC serves to align BI with business process by measuring effectiveness. Unless a company has a BICC, it is extremely difficult to deliver the right level of analytics to the business; setting one up allows an accurate assessment of data quality, which allows the formulation of a customised strategy to meet the company’s needs.

A few years ago, SAP started inviting customers to developer centre zones in Europe to jointly ‘dream’ about the possibilities around data and analytics. These events quickly became known as Dreamzone events, and are used to explore analytics and BI and how it can be incorporated seamlessly into businesses to improve business processes and results.

The events aim to drive awareness of the role that analytics and BI can play if it is married with business imperatives. When this is done effectively, BI and analytics has the power to change the world – just look at self-driving cars or drones delivering goods. If organisations focus on harnessing BI and analytics and business processes, the potential is unlimited.

In related news, SAP Africa recently revealed that its Skills for Africa initiative has added 101 students to the digital workforce.

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