Think Big: How Design Plus Data Will Change Your Business

Is design thinking catching your attention? It should. Data insights not available before now can transform your business models and allow you to lead in your industry when you incorporate elements such as predictive, mobile dashboards and machine learning. This wave of change is forcing data architects to re-think and re-design how programs and applications must be built. To truly innovate, design teams need to push the design thinking envelope on almost every project.

“You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data.”
– Daniel Keys Moran, computer programmer and science fiction writer.

Since the invention of the first computer, the world has been on a digital light-speed journey – one that has seen massive change in how we interact with our world and with each other. Today, there are more than 2.5 billion[i] smart phones carried in people’s pockets – each more powerful than the ones used to run the spacecraft that landed the first men on the Moon.[ii] In particular, how we interact with and gain insight from data has gone through an incredible transformation. We have evolved from relying on simple historical reporting – from the days of simple reporting to now, where tanker.

The Way It Was

Reporting has always been a critical element for a business to thrive and we have been accustomed to seeing our reports – our data – in fairly standard and historic terms. Let’s take a straightforward quarterly sales report at a consumer retail company, for example. Simple data, like units sold, prices received, cost of goods, volume of shipments and so forth, would be gathered and stored over a three-month period and then used to generate a few charts and graphs. Conclusions would be drawn from this static data and the company would shift strategy based on the conclusions.

Perhaps the conclusions were accurate and maybe they weren’t. Regardless, that’s how it’s been done for a long time: based on the data available.

The Way It Is

Today, the capability exists to break down data into far greater detail, do it in real-time and through disciplines like machine learning and artificial intelligence, draw highly focused and accurate conclusions not at the end of a business quarter but at the end of each day, and, in many cases, as it happens.

IoT Changes Shipping Industry – Reduces Risk and Cost

A client that operates a fleet of tankers equipped with IoT sensors wanted to move beyond its basic data reports and drill deeper into the technical data gathered aboard its vessels. Optimus utilized elements from Microsoft’s IoT Suite, including Azure Data Factory, to create visually appealing reports and dashboards that contained information gathered from thousands of sensors throughout the fleet.

The results meant a far more in-depth data analysis than the company had been getting, delivering more accurate insight for more accurate business decisions. When it comes to tankers, a simple mistake can cost millions in terms of lost time, environmental disasters, financial penalties, missed deadlines and more.

Optimus solved the client’s existing problem while building a platform for continuous improvement with data analysis using Microsoft Azure tools. Because the data can be aggregated in the cloud, the client can analyze greater amounts of data over an extended period of time, thus further enhancing their shipboard operational analysis and implementing global cost saving efforts as a result.

Now, a business can make highly informed decisions immediately and adjust accordingly. Of course, it’s not simply analyzing a few traditional data points, like sales; it’s analyzing where those sales took place, in which store locations, even in which aisles or departments, at what time of day, from which shelf the customer chose a purchase, what the customer’s likely income level is– in other words, the more highly specialized the data, the more highly specialized and precise the conclusions that can be drawn.

Because it’s possible to generate highly detailed data and analyze it from so many different perspectives, every sector of the economy is making use of data analysis.

In the manufacturing sector, factory operations are being revolutionized[iii] by both big data and analytics. Sensors generate endless streams of data on the health of production line equipment, data that’s being examined by the minute for the slightest indication of a potential problem or defect. Conclusions are drawn and actions implemented immediately to avoid any breakdown and disruption in the production process. There’s a positive ripple effect to this: customers don’t experience delays and the company doesn’t experience a loss of revenue.

The virtually unlimited storage capacity in the cloud, coupled to highly sophisticated computer algorithms that can perform serious analysis in, literally, seconds, is placing tremendous demands on data architects. Programs and applications must be agile enough to allow for updates, added features and improvements without delay. This has meant developing new architecture that can not only run a program at lightning speed but can be altered or updated in the areas where it needs improvement, much like making incremental improvements to a car model but without re-designing the whole car every time.

Gone are the days of a monolithic software structure where data warehouses needed a year or more to be designed and several more months for data to be inputted. If missing data was discovered, it would mean an entire rebuilding of the program.

Microservices and Teams

Today, Optimus Information designs architecture so that updates, changes or improvements can be made to one area of a program or application without having to open up the whole program. By using microservices in our software development, Optimus has created functional teams whose responsibility is to just one area of a program. A team focuses only on its specific area and generates improvements without impacting other teams or resulting in an overhaul of an entire software product. Tremendous amounts of time are saved for our clients and the cost of updates or re-designs is driven down dramatically.

Optimus applies the same method to data gathering. By means of advanced tooling, our clients can store raw data, without pre-aggregating it, run a query on that raw data and have the answers they need in a matter of seconds. Previously, it would take weeks to get a result because the data would have to be assessed and compartmentalized as it was gathered and placed into structured environments before a query could be run. This is what we call modern data warehousing. The focus is on agility and speed.

Down the Road from Microsoft by Design

Optimus specializes in working with IT departments of companies that don’t or can’t spend the time and money to develop the cloud-based software architecture needed today. Optimus uses a suite of leading edge services, on the Microsoft Azure platform, that allow us to select exactly the right components to solve a client’s problem. We are physically located close to Microsoft’s Vancouver and Redmond development centres

Optimus is a Microsoft Gold Partner and, in that role, we work very closely with Microsoft on new product previews and trials that are in development, giving feedback that improves our customer’s end product. Optimus employees have often already kicked the tires on new Azure features before they are released. This keeps us at the forefront of rapidly changing technology but let’s us give feedback as enhancements are designed.

If you want to enhance and sharpen the results of your data analysis, we invite you to contact us. We are happy to explore some “what-if” scenarios with you to help propel your data insights – and your business – forward exponentially. Reach out and schedule a virtual coffee anytime.

How Cloud is Cooking Up Change in the Restaurant Industry

As more and more restaurant owners look for ways to cut costs, improve customer service and drive loyalty initiatives, application modernization including cloud applications, mobile apps and predictive data modelling are featuring at the top of their personal “must do” menus. Software companies and ISVs that serve the restaurant and hospitality industry are in a race to offer more, by migrating older legacy apps to the cloud and taking advantage of real-time data analysis tools to offer more features and functions to their customers – all while ensuring security and data privacy are still the “special of the day”.

Patrick Albrecht owns and operates four restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia. At one point, he says, he had tens of thousands of receipts, invoices, health department documents and payroll data stuffed into the various offices in his restaurants.

Born in the Cloud is Disrupting the Restaurant Industry

New “born in the cloud” restaurant applications are coming into the market. That is great news for restauranteurs. They will have a choice of vendors to select from – vendors who can offer new capabilities and new functionality that restaurant customers demand.

If you are a team supporting restaurant clients on an existing legacy application, you might need external help if you want to accelerate your own application modernization efforts in order to take on these new competitors.

Legacy restaurant applications, without an achievable plan in place to modernize quickly, are at risk of customer erosion.

By subscribing to [i] a cloud-based mobile app that could organize his overwhelming mountain of paperwork, he figures he’s now saving 2% each month in overhead costs from his four food operations. He can find any document in a matter of seconds and he can compare vendor delivery prices to determine who is giving him the best deal.

Albrecht is one of a growing number of smart restaurant owners who have embraced and employed some of the new cloud-based technologies to make operations more efficient and cost-effective.

Threats Abound

Restaurant chains and food companies that own various restaurant brands know how tough the business is. Competition is fierce, customer loyalty is fickle and profit margins are skinny. The difference between red and black on the bottom line is often as thin as the edge of a knife. Having the right information at the right time from POS, loyalty, vendor management and surveying systems is critical for owners who need to make decisions that can mean the difference between remaining in business and shutting the doors.

Social, Mobile and Data Drive Transformation in the Restaurant Industry

Cloud technology and third-platform innovation accelerators[ii] like social, mobile and big data are changing the landscape for the restaurant industry. Large chain firms and independent operators have experienced how mobile apps can boost business simply by making it convenient for customers to order, pay and review their experience, all with a smartphone.

For many restaurants, they have either directed their internal software developers to modify existing applications or they are looking to their existing POS vendor to do it for them.

There’s just one problem: many of these existing applications were designed long before cloud, social and mobile were part of the landscape. Moving a legacy application into the cloud while taking advantage of new functionality AND ensuring that security and data privacy are paramount is tough to do.

It requires specific skills and knowledge. Few companies can say they are masters of all the aspects needed to modernize.

What to Expect with Application Modernization

Data Available on Any Device

Restaurant owners Matt and Dianne Kraft can now check restaurant sales on their mobile phone while sitting beside a camp fire on a family vacation. “We rarely used to take vacation,” Dianne admitted. “We needed to be at the restaurant to stay on top of everything. But now we can see exactly what is happening in real time; we can even monitor problems as they happen. For example, issues that used to be buried – like a high number of orders being returned – are flagged. We can simply make a quick call to determine if it is a kitchen problem or a server problem, and by working with our manager, get it resolved quickly before customer satisfaction is impacted.

The ability to use cloud to amass multiple points and sources of data is making an enormous difference in the restaurant industry today. Cloud enables data pools to drive data analysis, unavailable before now. Restaurants can profile their customers in fine detail and then design promotions targeted specifically at them. Many legacy apps can’t achieve this sophisticated level of analytics because they weren’t written with current analytic models in mind.

Roughly 60% of consumers are making a restaurant selection – and a reservation – based on what they find on apps like Yelp and OpenTable. Because these apps are using cloud technology, the data these restaurants collect can determine booking patterns, eating tastes, the age of their customers and even their income levels. That’s valuable information for restaurant owners, who can harness this data and use it to drive promotions, communications, messages and offers.

Some cloud-based apps alert a restaurant when a customer is in the area by using what’s called geo-fencing. This creates an opportunity to immediately transmit a mobile ad to that customer.

A POS Cloud Facelift Cuts Costs, Boosts Sales

POS systems are another instance of cloud technology reducing costs.

Application Modernization – Legacy Moves to the Cloud

A large software vendor designing legacy POS applications for more than 30 years turned to Optimus when they needed to modernize their legacy POS. With more than 40,000 global customers to support, their internal IT team not only did not have the time to do the migration themselves, they also did not have the specialized expertise that this migration and design effort demanded. The results? By partnering with Optimus, this client has:

  • Reduced time-to-market and hosting costs
  • Capability to scale on demand to respond to peaks and seasonal fluctuations
  • Rolled out their new cloud app without disrupting existing customers
  • A future-proof roadmap with proximity to PaaS for machine learning, IoT frameworks, Blockchain technology and more.

According to Restaurant Insider[iii], cloud-based POS works for any size of restaurant. Updated sales, inventory, customer feedback and other real-time data can be accessed from the cloud via a mobile device, anywhere. In other words, there is no need for costly on-premises servers, holding valuable and often confidential data.

But moving your legacy application to the cloud is not as simple as a “lift and shift”. You need to assess the code base, making changes to it to take advantage of cloud services while also optimizing the application so that it runs more efficiently in the cloud.

The right upfront efforts mean greater agility and cost savings while taking advantage of trends such as machine learning and blockchain.

Mobile Ready Everywhere

mPOS is a payment system which allows customers to pay by using a mobile wallet –  simply a smartphone that contains encrypted credit or debit card information. Such a system appeals strongly to tech-smart millennials, who control more than 30% of gross income today [iv] and who eat out frequently.

When a food company fails to keep up with the capabilities that modern technology can offer, they are at risk of losing clients and profits very quickly. These restaurants will look for software vendors who can help them.

Software application companies that have legacy applications and cannot quickly make the shift to the cloud will fall behind the technology curve. Their clients will either fall behind as well or abandon them for another vendor.

Plan for Success

Because modernization technologies for the restaurant industry offer so many opportunities that you can take advantage of, it is vital to talk with a company that works in this space every day, delivering custom-tailored solutions and driving cost savings for clients.

Optimus Information delivers cloud-supported application development for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Optimus works on the leading edge and provides your company with full software development and testing, mobile development on any platform, and business intelligence designed to suit your needs and wishes.

Contact us today for more information and let us show you how we can employ our skill with cloud technology to drive your business forward.

 

[i] https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/223562

[ii] https://www.idc.com/promo/thirdplatform/innovationaccelerators

[iii] https://upserve.com/restaurant-insider/benefits-cloud-based-restaurant-pos/

[iv] https://www.michaelhartzell.com/restaurant-blog/how-restaurants-can-use-mobile-payment-technology-to-increase-profits

Game Changers: The Role of Big Data in the Future of Credit Unions

In 2002, Billy Beane was the manager of the Oakland Athletics in Major League Baseball. Oakland was a small market club with a similar sized budget and it struggled to be competitive.

Because Oakland didn’t have the money of big market teams like the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers, Beane knew he couldn’t hope to attract the high-priced talent – the superstars – to play in Oakland.

Enter Paul Depodesta, aged 27, an economics graduate from Harvard, with an analytical mind and a love of baseball. His arrival on the doorstep of the Oakland A’s gave birth to data analysis in professional sports.

He analyzed player stats, using computer algorithms, and his results allowed Oakland to sign inexpensive players that other teams dismissed. The A’s were propelled into the stratosphere of success, thanks to big data.

The A’s finished the 2002 season with 103 wins, the same number as the New York Yankees – but with a budget about a tenth the size.

This is the “secret sauce” in data analytics: the ability to take substantial amounts of information – in the case of Oakland, endless baseball player statistics – look for patterns and capitalize on what is found.

Credit Unions, Machine Learning and Data Analytics

Credit unions in Canada are rapidly embarking on the same exploration. Using machine learning and data analytics, these financial firms are finding ways to improve service to their clients while, at the same time, discovering nuggets of information from the vast amounts of data they collect, that can then be turned into business opportunities.

Virtually every customer transaction within a credit union is electronic, and the amounts of data being collected are staggering. The need to analyze this information is what drives credit unions today to embrace machine learning and data analytics.

Matthew Maguire is the Chief Data Officer at Co-Op Financial Services, a California-based company that operates an interlinked system of ATM machines throughout the U.S. and Canada. He argues that machine learning and data analysis are critical for mid-sized credit unions as they work to reinforce current customer relationships and build new ones.

“Data is coming in from different places and the challenge is… how do you make it all connect?[i]” he said.

Credit unions are moving quickly into data analysis. Through machine learning, which unearths customer transaction patterns by using algorithms, credit unions are learning a great deal about their customers and are designing strategies to capitalize on that in order to drive sales.

But, for credit unions, data enables other capabilities. Patterns of fraud can be easier to spot and shut down through data analysis.

When a client invests with a credit union, regulations require the client to complete what’s called a Know Your Client form, which essentially draws a profile of risk tolerance and investment objectives. If the client’s portfolio strays from that profile and becomes riskier, big data can alert the financial institution and the problem can be corrected before any monetary loss accrues to the client – or to hundreds of thousands of clients.

Chris Catliff is the president and CEO of Blueshore Financial, a B.C.-based credit union with more than $3 billion in assets. His vision of the future of credit unions is predicated on the power of data analytics in combination with machine learning.

He envisions the day very soon when a client approaching a branch receives a text message saying the client is already checked in at the branch. As they walk through the door, their customer profile and picture pop up on a screen [ii] at a concierge desk and they’re greeted by name.

Blueshore’s ATM machines will respond to a customer’s biometrics and offer a transaction based on a pattern of previous transactions. Up-sell opportunities will present themselves, so staff can suggest options – situations that might never occur without data analysis.

Service, he said, “has to be electronic transactions with the introduction of superior, human touch at various critical points. It’s high tech and high touch.”

Explore Your Data Potential

Like the members they serve, every credit union is unique. It is imperative for a credit union to work with data specialists who can marry the individual needs of each credit union with high levels of expertise across big data, data analysis and machine learning.

One of our strengths here at Optimus is our track-record in the areas of data gathering, analysis, machine learning, dashboarding and data visualization, through which we help our clients tailor data mining and analysis to their business goals.

At the end of the day, it’s all about staying competitive and, like the Oakland Athletics, reaching the pinnacle of success by embracing and employing new strategies to achieve that success.

 

[i] https://www.pymnts.com/big-data/2018/credit-unions-big-data-authentication-aml-kyc/