Transforming information into insight
strategy+business|Winter 2020
Focus on six organizational elements to build a world-class data and insights capability.
Anil Khurana, Roger Wery, and Amy Peirce

As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, one leading global engineering and technology services company found itself well-positioned to meet unprecedented challenges. The firm had kicked off a digital transformation project in 2019, including investing in a data and analytics program equipped with advanced tools. For example, it enhanced digital collaboration among engineers using next-generation design software, it automated resource allocation based on skill sets, and it offered business reporting on executives’ mobile devices.

A few weeks into the crisis, it became clear that in several major countries in which the company operated, engineering and construction were likely to be considered essential services. The chief information officer began scenario planning. He determined that supporting remote work would be critical in the weeks and months that followed and asked regional leadership and IT teams to accelerate training programs for remote working and the recently launched digital tools. He also asked for a cybersecurity assessment to highlight vulnerabilities and risks and had his procurement and telecommunications teams contract for additional bandwidth. As a result of these moves, employees were able to seamlessly deliver sophisticated infrastructure and architectural designs to their customers.

Other companies struggled to keep pace with the rate of change. It took the leaders of one global automotive components manufacturer nearly a month to obtain the information and insights needed to make critical staffing changes at various facilities; they later struggled to understand their suppliers’ readiness to restart production. Elsewhere, consumer goods companies lacked the ability to read signals about changing consumer preferences during lockdowns, such as increased demand for kitchen tools and home gym equipment. Some automakers had insufficient information about the financial health of their Tier Two and Tier Three suppliers, hindering efforts to accurately assess risk to assembly operations worth billions of dollars.

Although responses to the crisis and the success of those responses have been varied, a common theme has emerged: Business leaders need an effective way to capture, receive, interpret, and act on information, and to add predictive power and agility to their organization. By ensuring streamlined data availability and using advanced analytics in combining new sources of data to develop proprietary insights, leaders can reveal crises before they wreak havoc, uncover competitive pressures before they threaten market share, and surface opportunities before they become someone else’s advantage. Now is the time for companies to invest in and enhance these data and analytics capabilities as part of their broad digitization efforts.

Many companies have recognized this urgency. For example, in a PwC study that surveyed more than 1,600 supply chain executives and decision-makers in 33 countries between October and November 2019, 63 percent of Digital Champions — companies ahead of the curve in supply chain excellence — reported that they had already implemented an AI and advanced analytics platform, and another 24 percent said they were piloting such software. (It is worth noting, however, that Digital Champions made up just 9 percent of the overall sample.)

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