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Self-service: From Checkouts to Analytics

Posted on: 07-07-2016 13:18:531163


Self-service. The name brings to mind the automated checkout tills now available in supermarket stores worldwide. Loved and loathed in equal measure, they bring a number of benefits to the stores and consumers alike. The same goes for self-service analytics. The benefits are exactly the same; they save time, money and resources. Traditional analytics, much like traditional retail models, are often highly time consuming and labour intensive. However, with the rise of self-service business analytics tools, this situation has changed. So without further ado, grab a basket and let’s shop.

Getting started with self-service business analytics - “Please scan your first item”

42,000 self-scan tills are now installed in UK supermarkets. Why the sudden rise in use? Love them or hate them, they are more cost effective for the store and significantly reduce queue times at the end of your shop. In the same way, self-service business analytics are far more agile than traditional reporting tools. They can unlock significant savings for businesses through cost effective use and the ease in which they are deployed.

The problem with traditional business analytics is that the process of creating reports consumes unacceptably large periods of time, either by IT departments or by the user downloading and manipulating the data in software such as Microsoft Excel. As so often required in many industries, especially those running SAP, traditional business analytics involves the users having to specify their needs upfront, create functional specifications that get sent to business analysts to translate into technical specifications. Programmers then develop the reports, and present the results back to the user – often weeks later. Even simple miscommunications between operations and IT can result in big time wastage and ineffectual data, and as the saying goes, the user often doesn’t know what they want until you give them what they asked for.

This is simply not good enough in today’s VUCA world. Organisations therefore need to look at new ways to increase the responsiveness and accuracy of responses for information, and become much more strategic about how they approach and harness the power of business analytics from an end-user perspective. For this purpose, user friendly, intuitive self-service tools are leading the market. As self-service business analytics puts business users in direct, complete control. Users can now adapt their analysis real-time in response to the information being presented; saving enormous amounts of time and effort. The user can instantly perform full analysis of value draining activities inside their business, tailored specifically to their individual requirements, with no need to produce up-front specifications or documentations before they really know what information they are looking for. 

Consider the purpose of the self-service checkout. It is designed to automate the consumer process in the simplest was possible. A truly effective self-service business analytics tool will be so easy to use that anyone in a business can generate reports, without excessive training. These tools also provide visibility of the entire business process flows at a glance, without silos or hidden issues. Much in the same way as you viewing your items totalling up on a self-service checkout screen.

Another benefit of self-service analytics is that this overview sits within a safe, supported architecture that ensures users can access a breadth of data, whilst upholding strong data governance. The technology is increasingly the control environment, rather than management. This is an important aspect that is driving the move to more agile, ‘scrum based’ teams where small groups of people own the responsibility of outcomes, not just activities.

Understanding self-service business analytics - “Unexpected item in bagging area”

It’s the one announcement every customer hates. There’s not a single other supermarket-related phrase that raises shopper’s frustration quite like being told that there is an unexpected item in the bagging area when there isn’t. Similarly, traditional business analytics can often be frustrating, potentially leaving the business exposed to missing critical information that could cause disruptions.

Whereas traditional business reporting is limited in its ability to provide context to the information it is presenting, self-service tools run the same risk unless they can provide insight as well as information. It is not good enough to simply provide self-service reporting. While this may free the IT department from the task of producing the 37th variation of a monthly sales report, it doesn’t help the business to learn anything new.  

Self-service analytics therefore has to go further. It has to provide insight that the business can act on before it becomes an issue. Unexpected or hidden disruptions can cause severe service issues and incur unnecessary costs if not identified early. Imagine the benefits from reductions in delays, risks and financial losses if these hidden bottlenecks could be easily identified and evasive action taken, well before they cause problems. You can only control what you understand and know to be true - and self-service business analytics can empower your team to identify and assess risks, understand root causes and take immediate action before any unforeseen disturbances can take hold.  

Self-service is all about empowerment and accountability, but with the controls in place to ensure that data is secure and processes are followed. Many IT departments shy away from self-service solutions due to a fear of chaos. Likewise, many people felt that self-service checkouts would drive up pilfering. Both prove to be falsehoods. 

Taking self-service business analytics further - “Take your items, receipt and change”

There are many financial benefits to be had by using self-service business analytics in an organisation. One is the dramatic increase in visibility it can provide throughout the entire supply chain, allowing people to take action early enough to ensure a better allocation of goods and products. Furthermore, using analytics in a prescriptive way to prevent future issues will guarantee stock levels to stay under control, and better management of batches means reduced dead stock, downgrades and reworks.

The key to analytics should be their content; it is not good enough to simply transpose data from an ERP system to a BI tool; this is akin to simply receiving the receipt for your shopping electronically rather than in paper form. The data is the same. It has to cut through the data to provide information, and from the information use intelligence to highlight insights.  

From shelf, to bag, to car, self-service business analytics gives total productivity and flexibility over business analytics processes. All in all, the result is increased profitability with minimal hassle.

What’s next for self-service? - “Here’s a voucher for £1 off your next shop”

The relation to the self-service checkout is intended to provide a simplified overview of self-service business analytics tools, but in reality implementing self-service business analytics is likely to be on the shopping list for many organisations this year, which could prove to be a highly disruptive trend for many. Research by Gartner predicts that by 2017, most business users and analysts in organisations will have access to self-service tools to prepare data for analysis, which only gives companies a year to implement this into their business model, train staff and define appropriate governance.

For more information on self-service analytics download our free eBook, Six Ways Self Service Analytics Can Help You today. Or if you have any specific questions about SAP self-service business analytics for one of our experts, please do get in touch via our enquiry form

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