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The pandemic experience has been a mixture of high’s and lows for many industries since it began in the UK in March, leaving us all in a state of uncertainty with new rules, regulations and guidelines being imposed . The steps businesses have had to make as they navigate this pandemic and transition to a post-COVID world will be pivotal in determining which businesses will  survive and thrive.

Improving Operations 

Being able to navigate in a post-COVID world begins with surviving in our current climate. To navigate through this pandemic, businesses must focus on improving things operationally to improve their financial position. With the end of the Government Furlough Scheme at the end of October, many businesses have been and will continue to use redundancy as a way to repair their profit margins. However, redundancy doesn’t decrease the work to be done and will likely increase the pressure on the remaining workforce. 

The CIPD’s UK Working Lives survey shows that, in January, two months before lockdown, about three in ten UK employees said they had too much on their plate in a normal week. This has remained fairly consistent through April, May and June. Four in ten (39%) key workers reported too much work between April and June, compared to one in four (24%) non key workers. An unmanageable workload is a problem to take seriously, as it is likely to compromise service quality and employee motivation, and if left unchecked, may reduce productivity and give rise to sickness, absence and burnout. So what can be done to alleviate it?

By analysing their data, businesses can identify where they can fine-tune their operations and can turn to automation to release the pressure. Research conducted by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) found that about 60 percent of all occupations have at least 30 percent of constituent activities that could be automated. According to their analysis of more than 2,000 work activities across 800 occupations, the activities with the highest automation potential were predictable physical activities 81%, Data Processing 69%, and Data Collection 64% which could include the automation of your sales reports or your P&L sheets. Advances in data management, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are making a new age of automation possible and could help businesses to counteract the impacts of a reduced workforce. 

Customer Behaviour

The pandemic has accelerated the shift of off-line processes to on-line and consequently, we have entered the digital transaction era. Electronic payments have evolved from the restrictions of e-commerce thanks to social distance imposed in-app ordering systems. Digital data is a lot easier to track and understand than it is to track customers that come into a store with cash. This shift from cash to electronic payments means we have more opportunities for insights than ever before on customer behaviour. A recent study from Veam found that more than half of IT staff in retail (51%) believed that digital transformation is how they plan to transform their customer service. However, it also means more opportunity for confusion. The increase in the variety and the volume of data and fragmented transactions makes it difficult to manage and understand all of the information businesses are getting. 

What companies need is a way to organise their data to gain the valuable insights that are within it. A data lake can help businesses to organise that data and make it available to people within their organisation. By collating all of the various data sources together into one place, businesses can create a single customer view allowing them to understand the various touchpoints a customer has interacted with before, during and after their purchase. With the help of data scientists, businesses can drill into their data to look for patterns that can predict customer behaviour, even during our uncertain climate. A data warehouse and a BI system modelling on top of this can help you to more easily report on that data and gain these insights daily which can again be automated giving visibility across the organisation.   

Remote Working

The most popular statement of 2020 is likely to be, ‘Can anyone hear me, am I on mute?’. While working from home for months at a time was once an uncommon occurrence, the pandemic has forced the adoption of remote working for many businesses. Despite the nature of these circumstances, organisations large and small are realising that jobs we used to assume had to be done from an office can be done remotely. Remote working has removed the geographical restrictions for many job roles and helped companies to rethink the need for physical offices altogether. Many companies, including Deloitte, Twitter and Facebook, are closing some offices and moving to make certain roles permanently remote. This means that businesses will have to rethink their communication and data strategies. 

The evolution of technology has greatly supported businesses ability to operate efficiently during this period and innovative products and concepts have allowed us to continue working to the same, if not higher standard. In particular, the usage of cloud infrastructure has enabled team collaboration and security to be unimpacted by the shift in our location. A recent survey of 250 IT leaders carried out by IT asset management firm, Snow Software, found that 82% had increased their use of cloud in response to the pandemic and the shift to remote working. This shift to the cloud means that data extraction and processing require re-engineering to cater for the new cloud-native world. 

With the move to permanent remote working, adopting cloud infrastructure is the best solution to manage data in a post-covid world. One lesson all businesses have learnt during this pandemic is the importance of being agile and Cloud-based data infrastructure enables businesses to be more agile and benefit from greater flexibility. Hosting your data servers in cloud systems like Microsoft Azure allows businesses to increase and decrease the capabilities to suit your business instantly. If your customer base or your workforce grows in a post-covid world, you can add another tier of RAM, memory and processors without the need to acquire more on-premise servers. Where the data is stored, processed and accessed.???  BI platforms are increasingly positioning their cloud product at the forefront of their portfolio to align with these market changes such as Qlik’s SAAS offering which is a subscription in the cloud that  takes out the worry and stress of hosting a server. This allows businesses to reduce the total cost of ownership and pass on a majority of security and infrastructure management to the vendor while focusing on what matters, driving the business, analysing the data, and making informed decisions.

Safety First

The first lockdown concluded with the Eat Out To Help Out Scheme to reignite customer confidence, however, this was then counteracted with a 10 pm curfew and threats of a second wave. In a Post-Covid world, it may be difficult to regain customer trust and make everyone feel safe. Track and trace and repeated government data errors have caused many to question the reliability of data and be more cautious about giving over their personal data. Customers need to be reassured that their data is being stored safely and companies can only achieve that by being transparent about the processes and policies they follow regarding personally identifiable data. 

Keeping sensitive customer information secure from theft and vulnerability in our digital world is not as easy as putting a lock on the file cabinet – especially with the widespread adoption of cloud computing. The issue many companies face with securing data is the lack of understanding about where their sensitive data resides. Companies that do not have set policies to systematically and consistently categorise their data, and consequently, they don’t have controls in place to ensure that all categories of data are handled appropriately. There is also a user education dimension to this problem – users need to understand the sensitivity of the data they work with and their role in keeping it safe. In many cases, this involves educating users about what not to do.

Decision Making

In a post-covid world, the way we use and access data is likely to change, particularly with the potential shift towards permanent remote working. Data needs to be able to be accessed, analysed and understood by people from their homes, not just their meeting rooms to enable companies to remain agile and make better decisions after the pandemic. However, most employees are not good at interpreting and making sense of data, and reduced interaction with colleagues can make it even harder to learn or ask questions quickly of others. A few years ago, The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) assessed the data-interpretation and problem-solving skills of adults and found that the United Kingdom ranked 17th out of 23 countries participating. This shows that businesses need to prioritise upskilling their workforce to enhance their levels of data literacy. Furthermore, in 2020, Experian found 8 in 10 businesses see data literacy as a core competency necessary for all employees in the next five years. However, businesses should aim to reach that goal in a much shorter period to drive efficiency. 

This drive towards data literacy for all is likely to advance the adoption of self-service data analytics, moving businesses away from the guided dashboard reporting approach. Success of this strategy has already been proven by companies like GymShark who developed data literacy across the business through self-service data science. They provided easy tools with pre-configured workflows to allow everyone to safely and accurately explore their data from databases, local files, reports, dashboards, and workflows. Technologies such as IBM, Qlik and Power BI are a few of these players that are filling this role by adding features powered by AI and machine-learning to easily draw insights from data sets allowing users to see the full picture. Users at any expertise level can get the answers they need using natural English phrases such as “show data” and “generate dashboard” to create visualisations and features like InsightBot make the software do all the work and spot relevant changes in the data for you. Furthermore, not only can self-service analytics systems aid businesses to make better data-driven decisions for their current position but using planning software can help businesses understand the ramifications of all potential scenarios. As we move forward in a post-covid world pressure may be placed on businesses to remain agile. Planning Analytics allows you to build different scenarios to see the implications on your business in a flexible way that can be done collaboratively with other teams. 

Recommendations

The changes on all industries as a result of this pandemic means that there will be clear winners and losers in this race to a post-covid world. It is more important than ever for businesses to begin to take control of their data and understand how it can be utilised as a tool to take them further. The adoption of automation, clear and transparent data policies, cloud infrastructure and self-service analytics will help businesses to gain a competitive advantage, improve data literacy in their workforce and become a torpedo during our digital revolution era. To better understand your data position and how to equip your business to navigate a post-covid world, contact Tahola today.

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