What does the future of AI look like in the Enterprise?

ai

Blog by | George Brown, Jet Global

The Future of AI in the Enterprise

The business world is at an inflection point when it comes to the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI). While the technology behind enabling computers to simulate human thought has been developing, at times slowly, over the past half-century, the cost of implementation, readily available access to cloud computing, an practical business use cases are primed to help AI make a dramatic impact on the enterprise over the next few years.

With the potential use cases on the horizon for AI in business, as well as the investment dollars and rate of change currently propelling AI, one thing is clear: you’ll need to get your foundation in place sooner, rather than later, to take advantage of the benefits coming to the business world.

Enter business intelligence (BI) software. By building the foundation now with this readily available, accessible, and affordable software, businesses can prepare themselves for the future while also reaping the benefits of today. After a couple of years with inflated expectations for AI that have yet to materialize, businesses are beginning to ask themselves whether it makes sense to push through a costly implementation that won’t yield tangible results for 2-3 years – when really, they should be focused on implementing BI today, yield results immediately, and layer AI on top of your established  BI data to derive new insights and drive greater benefit once the technology matures/.

So how will BI software help set the stage for AI in your enterprise, and what possible use cases can be gleaned from the intersection of AI and BI?

How Can BI Software Help?

Regardless of where you’re landing in regards to Artifical Intelligence and Business Intelligence, one thing is true: you’ll need to have data to feed to both. Without data to act upon, there’s no ‘intelligence’ in AI or BI. There’s nothing to analyze, or apply a learning algorithm to – when it comes to any intelligence solution, data is the foundation upon which it must be built.

Thankfully, with the widespread of cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), data has never been more readily available in today’s business world. But the vast reams of data generated on a daily basis are presenting a new problem for businesses – what does it mean and which data matters? How should data be tagged, sorted, grouped and analyzed? Which problems do disparate data points speak to? And how can the data be collected across multiple touchpoints, from all retail locations to the supply chain to the factory be easily integrated?

Enter data warehousing. Data warehouses are a means of taking data points from disparate touchpoints (such as point of sale, CRM, inventory, and warehouse management systems), standardizing the data collected, structuring it to extract necessary insights, and running analysis. Enterprise businesses cannot survive without robust data warehousing – data silos can rapidly devour money and resources, and any business still trying to make sense and cobble together ‘business intelligence’ from multiple reports and inconsistent data is rapidly going to lose ground to those businesses with integrated data and reporting.

The optimized data warehouse isn’t simply a number of relational databases cobbled together, however – it’s built on modern data storage structures as the Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) cubes. Cubes are multi-dimensional datasets that are optimized for analytical processing applications such as AI or BI solutions. Cubes are superior to tables in that they can link and sort data by multiple dimensions, allowing for non-technical users to choose from any number of role-specific and highly contextual data points to uncover new insights and adjust tactics and decisions on the fly. Chances are good that your average non-technical sales agent or purchasing representative will have difficulty joining multiple tables together with a standard report, but with Business Intelligence cubes, all that is required is to drag and drop the metrics and dimensions that matter to them into their own personalized dashboards.

So how is the data extracted? By using Structured Query Language (SQL), the language used to manipulate and extract data stored in cubes. SQL was developed as a standard language to communicate databases, regardless of exactly which type of database was being used, and is ultimately the means by which data in a table is extracted, deleted, updated and managed.

Beyond data warehousing and OLAP cubes, which provide the technical foundation, there are a number of additional components that can help enterprise businesses address their data requirements”

Data modeling: Data modeling is a method of mapping out individual data sources across an enterprise and determining how they need to interact with one another to extract the most valuable business insights. Data modeling can be performed at the conceptual (high-level, related to business objectives), logical (mapping to each business function), and physical (how the actual dimensions, measures, and hierarchies are related within a data cube).

Analytics and reporting: Capturing, structuring, and storing data is good – but being able to analyze and report on it is the ultimate end goal. Business intelligence solutions are capable of providing simple, accessible analytics and reporting functions for end-users, empowering them to find actionable insights they need with little technical expertise (or formal data science training). This also helps business functions avoid unnecessary data logjams and giving them instant access they need to the data they so desperately require.

Data visualization and dashboards: Analytics and reports are a crucial component of business intelligence, but if you’ve ever spent hours poring over a table of values trying to decipher exactly what the data is saying, you’re not alone. With data visualization tools, critical insights are displayed in rich graphical representations that are vastly easier for the human brain to interpret. According to a study by Aberdeen Group, organizations using visualization tools are 28 percent more likely to find timely information than those who rely solely on managed reporting; the same study also found that 48 percent of business intelligence users at companies with visual data discovery are able to find the information they need without the help of IT staff. Dashboards can easily assemble visualizations and reports into customizable displays by end-user or business units, giving individuals instant insight into KPIs that help drive better business performance from the bottom up.

Security, simplicity, speed – these are the three major benefits business intelligence solutions help to drive, and three critical measures of success in enterprise business. While artificial intelligence remains focused on helping computers glean insight entirely on their own, business intelligence is enabling entire organizations to gain access to the data they need to make rapid, informed decisions, and the importance of that in today’s quickly shifting business landscape simply can’t be overstated. In a survey of 2,600 business intelligence end-users, 91% responded that BI gave them faster reporting, analysis or planning, 84% said it enabled them to make better business decisions, and 79% said it improved employee satisfaction.

The Future is (Almost) Here

In the near future, AI algorithms will be able to be seamlessly applied to your existing data stores, unlocking further insight for your enterprise. As highlighted in this 2018 Harvard Business Review article, AI applications in response to business needs fall into one of three categories:

  • Process automation: The most common current application for AI in business is by automating systems and business processes. While previous incarnations of automation focused on exchanging information between systems, AI can level up this ability by actually interacting with the data like a human – either inputting or consuming as necessary. Today, AI ‘robots’ are able to analyze legal contracts and extract relevant provisions, update customer records across a number of disparate systems, and automate customer outreach in response to situational conditions. As these algorithms grow ‘smarter’, businesses will be able to automate even broader swaths of processes.
  • Cognitive insight: Cognitive insight is the ability to apply AI algorithms to vast existing stores of data to extract meaning and identify patterns. While BI software and data stores will undoubtedly provide the ‘diet’ for cognitive insight algorithms, as the algorithms learn, they’ll be able to apply those learnings to broader data sets, react to new data in real-time, identify potential data matches across multiple databases, or manage programmatic ad buying.
  • Cognitive engagement: Cognitive engagement refers to the human-interfacing element of AI – think automated chatbots, knowledge bases, product recommendation engines, and more. Cognitive engagement applications can be used to automate interactions between people and systems, either externally (for customers), or internally (for employers). Most current applications focus on internal engagement as businesses are still apprehensive about the relatively new applications – but, again, as AI development and implementations continue to mature, expect objections to fall by the wayside as businesses will find new ways of using existing data to drive meaningful automated interactions with human beings around the world.

Over the next few years, you’ll see artificial intelligence finally begin to live up to the hype we’ve been hearing about in the business world, and computers will help usher in a new era of productivity and profitability for enterprises on the cutting edge – but only if you have the foundation in place today, and that starts with business intelligence.

Don’t hesitate – ensure you’re setting up your business tomorrow for success today with Jet Global and allonline365. Contact us on  info@allonline365.com or  +27 (21) 205 3650.

www.allonline365.com

Building the ultimate Sales Dashboard

sales dashboard

We all know that data is the key to actionable decision making. In a fast-paced job like sales, you are surrounded by it. From gathering customer data to monitoring sales status to tracking goals, salespeople are collecting and using data at every possible minute.

The challenge with having all of this data at your fingertips is organizing it. Without the right strategy and business intelligence tool in place, you are not able to derive meaningful insights from the data you work so hard to accumulate. This is where sales dashboards have proven to be highly effective.

In sales, dashboards play a huge role in managing day-to-day operations, measuring performance, and adapting quickly to changing conditions. With a well-organized dashboard designed to meet a specific goal, a sales manager can take a glance at key metrics on a single screen and make speedy decisions based on facts.

If you’re looking for a better way to track your sales team’s progress and meet your revenue targets faster this year, Jet Global can help. Business Intelligence (BI) is our specialty, and we have had a lot of experience working with top-performing sales organizations and ambitious teams looking to get more value from their data.

To set you up for success in analytics, we have created a quick guide on how to create the ultimate sales dashboard. Keep reading for more insight on the sales metrics you should be tracking and the dashboards you should be using.

Pinpoint the purpose of your sales dashboard

It may seem a little bit simple but the first step to building a great sales dashboard is to identify who will be using this dashboard, how they will be using this dashboard, and what information they want to see. A sales rep might want a graphical dashboard that they can check daily to help meet their weekly goals. A sales manager might be after a more detailed dashboard to check top-performing sales reps every week. On the other hand, a sales VP might need just a simplified dashboard to show high-level revenue and sales every month.

Generic dashboards are not as effective as specific, tailor-made dashboards so make sure you are clear on the purpose behind your sales dashboard before diving in.

Sales metrics you should be tracking

A day in the life of a top salesperson orbit around meeting sales targets and quotas. From tracking phone calls to nurturing prospects to closing deals, sales teams are in a constant state of flux. Before building your sales dashboard, you need to identify your top goals and narrow down what KPIs and metrics are most important in reaching those goals.

Sales goals depend on who you are and what you do. A sales manager is going to have different goals from an inside sales rep. A go-getting sales manager might set a goal of increasing sales by 5% this quarter, and therefore needs to monitor both individual and team performance to track progress and identify their top performers. An inside sales rep’s goal is to reach a target of 200 cold calls per month, so they are focused on tracking sales activities and completing tasks: two very different goals, two very different dashboards.

A golden set of sales metrics and KPIs doesn’t really exist, as measurements differ from department to department. The general rule of thumb when choosing your KPIs and metrics is to tie back to your goal. If it gives you useful information and identifies areas for improvement, you should track it.

According to an informative article by HubSpot, sales metrics typically fall into one or more of these categories:

  • Activity Sales Metrics (Ex. # of calls made, # of meetings scheduled)
  • Pipeline Sales Metrics (Ex. Average length of the sales cycle, total closed opportunities by month/quarter)
  • Lead Generation Metrics (Ex. Average lead response time, % of qualified leads)
  • Primary Conversion Metrics (Ex. % of opportunities closed/won)
  • Chanel Sales Metrics (Ex. Revenue by the partner, Average deal size by partner)
  • Sales Productivity Metrics (Ex. % of time spent on selling activities or creating content)
  • Sales Process, Tools, and Training Adoption Metrics (Ex. Average  cost of training by salesperson)

The bottom line is that the ultimate sales dashboards need to be designed for a specific person with specific goals. A dashboard that tries to include all of these sales metrics is not going to be effective or particularly useful to anyone. It needs to be relevant, and easy to adjust.

Build your sales dashboard with business intelligence software

Once you have your goal and metrics identified, you’re ready to start building your sales dashboard. You may have these capabilities built into your CRM or ERP solution, but most of the time, they are not the most user-friendly tools. There are a ton of separate dashboard solutions out there to choose from, but we usually recommend you stick with a business intelligence solution that integrates with your current software, a for a few reasons in particular:

  1. BI software is designed for self-service reporting and analytics – that means you shouldn’t need a developer every time you want to build or alter a dashboard.
  2. Data consolidation will be automated, ensuring real-time information from multiple data sources. This is super important.
  3. BI software comes with lots of great pre-built dashboards and chart options to choose from.
  4. BI software gives you the ability to drill down into key information and apply calculations within the tool itself.

Once you have your BI solution implemented, you will be able to automatically pull any data into your dashboard and use it for decision making. You can create dashboards and reports to track sales performance, identify sales opportunities, create sales forecasts, analyze your pipeline, and more.

If you decide against a BI solution or separate solution that syncs with your ERP system, this will be a more manual and time-consuming process. This option means you have to build reports and dashboards from scratch and constantly update them, but there are Excel templates out there for that.

Create, visualize, and share your sales data

The purpose of a dashboard is to be able to make decisions at a glance. That’s why the most useful sales dashboards are easy-to-read and understand. Bi software includes a wide range of templates to choose from and charts to visualize your data. Pie charts, bar charts, line charts – any kind of chart you can think of – will help you customize the tiles on your dashboard to your personal preferences. That being said, you don’t want to overwhelm your user with too many fancy charts and clutter.

There are a few design conventions to keep in mind before diving into your dashboard. The first is simplicity and usability. Color, images, buttons, fonts, charts, numbers – every element of a dashboard should look and feel consistent with the user, so there is no confusion or issues with navigation. Another thing to keep in mind is that most of us read from left to right. You want these dashboards to lead to quick interpretation and fast responses, so putting the most pertinent visuals on the left will help. Just remember that everyone is different, so it’s a good idea to experiment a bit with these options to find what colors and charts work best for you and your team.

The other thing to keep in mind when building your dashboards is how you will access and share them. If you’re creating a sales leaderboard dashboard, for example, you want every member of the team to be able to view this dashboard from anywhere with an internet connection, easily.

www.allonline365.com 

Resource Credit | Jet Global 

Excel for inventory management is risky

inventory management

Almost every small business starting out relies on Microsoft Excel to manage separate business functions. It’s an excellent business tool that is free that everyone already knows how to use, so why not use it for inventory management?

When it comes to inventory management, spreadsheets can be used for everything from manually updating when shipments arrive and are shipped out, to determining what items are in stock, when to replenish, and how much to order. Excel has plenty of valuable features capable of handling a start-up business’ inventory, as long as you put the time and energy into developing an effective governance strategy and template.

While it’s not uncommon to start with Excel for inventory management, it is important to remember that these templates are designed for a small number of products and limited variants. Excel works best when used appropriately and can negatively impact a business if relied on too much in situations where other tools would work better.

Using Excel as a low-cost inventory management solution

Inventory management templates are effective when setting up your inventory. If you have ever done a desperate Google search looking for a free inventory spreadsheet template, you know that there are a ton of options from which to choose. A basic template should include key columns like product numbers, product names, item descriptions, item price, cost or value, item stock, quantity to reorder, quantity sold, time to reorder, etc. Ultimately, you create your template based on your inventory management needs.

Unfortunately, the more columns you have, the more difficult it is to keep up with everything. And this brings us to some of the major risks (and stress) that come with keeping track of your supply and demand with Excel.

Here are five risks of using Excel for inventory management:

1. Making Mistakes

It is easy to make mistakes in Excel, but hard to find errors on sheets of numbers and data. To avoid them, you will need to have strict management, proper organization, and regular auditing practices in place for your inventory management spreadsheets. This can be a time-consuming and mind-numbing process, but it’s really only the way to stay on top of human error.

2. Out-of-Date Information

Excel is not a real-time inventory management solution, so you will never be able to see the real inventory value at that moment. When using Excel for inventory management, it’s important to make sure that it is updated as often as possible to avoid issues like overselling a product that you cannot then backorder.

3. Inaccurate Reporting 

One small mistake in a formula or miscalculation can have a huge impact on the rest of your numbers across multiple worksheets. You can use a few simple Excel formulas to calculate information automatically for total sales and total profit, but when it comes time to make recommendations based on that data, you need to be constantly checking and rechecking your calculations for accuracy.

4. Data Consolidation

One of the biggest issues people have with Excel is not being able to analyze historical data. It might not be a big deal in your first year of business, but as you grow and expand, the data you collect from multiple sources is gold. With it, you can track your sales based on the period for better inventory optimization in the future, etc. It’s certainly possible to manually consolidate your data, but it’s time-consuming and laborious – and there are easier ways.

5. Data Loss

Even though Microsoft has made huge improvements to Excel in the cloud, users are still infamous for saving spreadsheets to their desktop and forgetting to save it to the cloud or OneDrive. While this can be avoided with a strict set of rules and backups in place, it still causes a lot of complication and uncertainty to those involved in planning management.

Reap the benefits of a dedicated inventory management solution

The bottom line is that Excel does not work with medium to large inventory volumes.  Hundreds of columns are too complex, time-consuming, and difficult to keep up-to-date manually. If you have a growing inventory of products or want to handle multiple location tracking in real-time, a dedicated ERP system with inventory management capabilities will be necessary to save time and money in the long run.

We know that it’s hard to make informed decisions and grow your business without the right technology in place. Jet Global specializes in providing reporting, analytics, and budgeting solutions for Dynamics 365 Business Central ERP customers. With Dynamics 3365 Business Central, you get a dedicated inventory management system that grows with you, managing your sales, inventory management, accounting, and operational processes in one platform. With Jet Global, you get fast flexible dashboards and financial reports in Excel online. No more manual data consolidation. No more out-of-date information. No more risk.

Using Excel will allow you to cut costs at first, but eventually will result in too many inefficiencies and chaos. A better ERP and reporting solution will eliminate all of the risks included above and give you the tools you need to grow and be successful. For more information on Jet Global and the benefits of their solutions and how they integrate with Dynamics 365 Business Central, contact us on  info@allonline365.com or +27 (21) 205 3650.

www.allonline365.com 

Resource Credit | Jet Global