Why Business Intelligence Belongs in Every Corner of Your 3PL Business
Foreword and introduction by Chris Brennan, Director of Innovation for Hall's Warehouse and also the President of the HighJump 3PL Customer Advisory Board
Even as little as 25 years ago, business intelligence was a completely different art. The tools of the trade were essentially networks of relationships through which members kept each other apprised of trends and happenings. Still today, the power of mutual benefit drives information flow, but now the enormous volume of data available to provide intelligence and drive decision-making forces the question: "Where do I begin?"
An ideal Business Intelligence solution should help a business RISE:
Within these elements, it’s possible to capture a baseline of what the right BI solution can do for an organization:
Report: Running reports is nothing new in the BI game—some main differences today compared to a generation ago is the speed at which data flows and the massive volume it takes up; the complexity with which the data is interconnected belies challenges that surpass technical know-how, and, like a generation ago, while many of the same graphs, tables and charts are used today to inform business, the fact that so much of it can be automated, or generated with just a few clicks, underlines the reality of how easily data can be made available today and in such volume that a good BI solution requires an approach that simplifies reporting and intelligence sharing in order to keep pace with an ever-growing volume of data in business.
Example: In the world of labor analytics, the acquisition of data from multiple labor engines and efficient storage of this data to allow fast, cost-efficient retrieval remains an elusive and important goal for our industry. A read-out that shows a full day’s work output is an essential measurement to have when analyzing how productive a team is and where opportunities might reside for additional productivity uplift.
Inform: Information becomes insight only when people know about it! Arriving at insights in a vacuum does little to help the entire business achieve collective goals. While running a query or looking at a data visual or graphic is a key step to arrive at insight—distributing the knowledge once a discovery is made needs to be easy and nearly automatic. So a good BI solution will allow you to control who has access to information so that distribution of knowledge happens with a few clicks. In this way, peers and bosses stay informed across the business whenever newly gleaned insights are available for consumption; curating and distributing these insights should add no additional burden to the business.
Example: Staying in the world of labor analytics, a good BI solution will inform managers whenever resources “free up” on the warehouse floor allowing new work to get done. In a similar way, the right BI solution can recommend which resources are ideally suited for certain work tasks and which resources should partner-up with others in order to strengthen skillsets and performance in the operation.
Simplify: BI tools are meant to clarify and simplify problem resolution—but this doesn’t mean problems suddenly become simple to figure out just because a BI solution is available. A good BI solution will allow for flexible interconnect with other systems, the last thing a BI solution should do is to make problems more complicated to solve than they are. Part of simplifying a problem involves leveraging human intuition at the right time during the analysis; once a good BI solution has rendered a unique angle on a problem—or helped to illuminate the issue differently for all to see, human intuition can push the insights to their logical conclusion while finding other insights along the way, perhaps in unexpected places. The marriage and importance of both technology and intuition is a major driver in finding value with BI.
Example: Visual storyboards can help with learning and with coaching the best performance from a team. Either with dashboard views or real-time infographics or overlay maps that show the route a truck delivery takes, or a path taken in a warehouse to pick an order or do a replenishment, good BI visuals help simplify the task of getting to the root of problems because managers and teams can create stories with data and collaborate over pictures and graphics to augment details and to enrich discussions and analysis.
Empower: The goal of BI is not to bog people down in a flood of data—rather, a good BI solution is supposed to liberate. Putting the “I” in BI means delivering curated and intelligent value to empower business and to make workers more confident when making decisions. The confidence factor cannot be understated. Better decisions can happen when data aligns to provide confidence to whomever needs to make decisions.
Example: When quoting deals, a sales manager can arrive at a price quote with confidence that the quoted rate is sufficient enough to earn a profit. Many times, sales teams quote new business at a rate that seems attractive, but after a couple quarters it becomes apparent the true scope of work was not accurately depicted at the time the contract was put together. A good BI solution can help sales teams forecast profits and manage exceptions as work is happening so that quoted price never falls short of the potential or forecasted costs in the deal.