In the Chinese language, characters are often created by combining multiple drawings that represent different elements or concepts to create a new meaning. Three wavy lines indicate a river or stream, while a large square represents a mouth or opening. Many have deeper thought embedded: the character for the root of a tree is also used for books – considered the root or origin of knowledge.
The character for crisis? It’s actually a combination of two other characters: danger and opportunity.
As the world reacts to the worst pandemic in a century, the business landscape is changing at a never-before-seen pace or scale. The leaderboard has been shuffled, and companies that were once giants now sit idly watching a challenging and confusing market pass them by. Up is down in a world where 777s sit empty in the Arizona desert, James Bond has been dethroned by the Tiger King, and toilet paper is more popular than Bitcoin.
Meanwhile, many companies and industries are transforming at a blistering pace. At the heart of these changes is digital transformation. A world forced apart physically has quickly embraced, not entirely by choice, the ability to re-connect digitally through video conferencing, e-commerce, and social media. Zoom, the popular video conferencing software, has seen its platform grow from 10 million to 200 million daily users in a single quarter. With rules of engagement changing overnight, opportunity is emerging.
Scour the headlines closely, and tomorrow’s winners from this global shakeup become quite visible today. More than just being in the right place at the right time, these companies are leveraging their data and the latest machine learning capabilities to not just build competitive advantage, but to do it on the fly in the midst of a maelstrom. And they’re lapping their competitors in the process.
It used to be that data was being created at an exponential pace. That pace has kicked further into overdrive. Sectors that had long resisted digital transformation are now finding themselves in a fight for their lives. Those that shift to digital communications, advanced analytics-driven forecasting, and digital delivery platforms are seeing their investments pay off beyond increased market share.
To put an exclamation on this point, in an economy where unemployment is rising by the millions, AI and data science-related jobs are now growing at an even faster clip than forecast before the pandemic. While former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen expects US GDP to be down by 30% in Q2, IDC, on the other hand, has just revised forecasts for AI and data science jobs to grow globally from 13.3% to 16%.
In the midst of this perfect storm of forced innovation, we take a closer look below at how various industries are adapting and responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Manufacturing and Supply Chain
With a rapid shift to drive-thru and take-out fast food, grocery delivery, and e-commerce everything, the entire supply chain is feeling the COVID impact. Many of the behind-the-scenes industries are changing places in the pecking order. Companies that washed linens for restaurants and hotels are taking a hit, while disposable take-out container manufacturers see orders surge. With families staying at home across the country, millions are filing for unemployment, yet home entertainment and toy companies are seeing unusual bumps in orders.
Further complicating and confusing issues are closed borders and the dramatic shift in traffic patterns and supply chains. Interstates and roads that were once clogged now sit empty. Each state seems to be addressing the crisis differently. High demand items like hand sanitizer are seeing an inpouring of new market participants from an unlikely industry – breweries and distilleries. Others, like GM and 3M, are being repurposed under the Defense Protection Act.
Innovators are taking note, and are quickly amping up their use of data and third-party sources to create new models to support decision making and automate operations. McLeod Software, for example, provides logistics and operational software for trucking companies. In order to amp up their users’ ability to make optimal decisions on which trucking routes to take, they reached out to StrategyWise to build machine learning models into their software. Now in beta, users are given guidance on which routes to take, based on weather, traffic patterns, prior route profitability, and a forecast of where the truck in question will be needed next, based on changing market conditions.
Manufacturers are quickly realizing that chemical and ingredient mixes that have historically been made manually can be dramatically improved by leveraging IoT sensors. Data is captured on mix patterns and sent to the cloud, where machine learning models recommend mixture rates that reduce raw material requirements and scrap rates – all while reducing the number of workers operating in proximity on the plant floor.
Drive-Thru Fast Food and Route Optimization
Many of America’s fast-food chains see upwards of 70% of their business in the drive-thru. One of America’s largest fast-food chains asked StrategyWise for help re-designing drive-thru lanes to better manage surging demand. Simulations created have already shown an increase of nearly 20% in throughput. These same approaches are now being leveraged to determine optimal food delivery routes and plans across thousands of stores, answering questions pertinent to delivering food efficiently and at optimal temperature and taste.
As more states pass stricter stay-at-home measures, consumer patterns on take-out and drive-thru are continuing to change. Machine learning allows route planning software to adapt and respond in real time to these ever-changing traffic conditions and delivery cycles.
AI in Power, Utilities and Energy Producers
Utilities have been faced for years with difficult decisions around when and where to repair or upgrade distribution lines. With employee health and safety now paramount, many construction and repair crews have been told to halt non-essential work orders. Traditionally, one of the challenges in managing power distribution spend has been knowing when and where to invest in equipment upgrades, where to perform vegetation management, and when to invest in preventive maintenance.
Just this month, StrategyWise launched its GridInform system to help utility clients make strategic improvement decisions with real-time data. Dashboards aggregate data from multiple databases and show in real-time a cost benefit analysis of waiting to make repairs and upgrades. By forecasting potential storm damage (underground lines are less prone by nature), outage durations, line accessibility, and vegetation growth, companies can obtain a holistic predictive understanding of each potential decision in repair and upgrades. Cost impacts are forecasted to be in the millions of dollars, freeing up resources for other critical initiatives, and allowing front line workers to avoid community contact until restrictions are eased.
Repair and Maintenance Crews
As COVID-19 grinds gears to a halt for all types of repair crews and front-line workers, data scientists have built machine-learning models to help management better forecast actual workforce needs. Whereas before a company might have used seasonal averages to staff positions, StrategyWise has been able to use AI and machine learning to analyze dozens of driving factors in repair and maintenance calls to dramatically improve accuracy rates in forecasting all number of issues, such as leaks in gas pipelines, or calls to a call center. In a time when companies are looking for ways to reduce extra workforce and exposure risk, optimization of staffing needs creates a compelling value proposition.
The world is unquestionably in crisis. In the midst of it all, we have a choice to focus on the danger, or the opportunity. The stakes are real, and we must take precautions to stay safe and healthy. Yet, at the same time, interstates have minimum speeds for a reason. How do we slow down to take care of the countless needs created by the crisis, but also not lose our ability to keep pace with the realities and demands of the changing market?
What changes in customer behavior are most likely to impact your business? Where have you created new pools and pockets of data that were previously uncaptured? What insights might these data hold in better understanding your customers and your market? What business practices are considered “sacred,” yet are highly antiquated? Could this be an inflection point where a company that has traditionally resisted change gives it a second thought?
We join with the rest of the world in hoping for a rapid resolution to this crisis. Our team joins digitally to watch and wait as new tests are introduced, ventilators are re-invented, and vaccines go into trial. This is an amazing time of humanity coming together to invent, re-invent, and innovate like never before. As digital and data enthusiasts, there has never been a more exciting time to explore all the opportunities our data have to offer us. We’ve all been presented with a crisis. Will we choose to focus on the danger, or the opportunity?
StrategyWise specializes in helping enterprise clients build data and AI strategies. To learn more about how to leverage your data to build game-changing competitive advantage, contact us today.