Accelerating Business Intelligence with AI

Holly Baumgart, VP Information Technology, Sargento Foods Inc.
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Holly Baumgart, VP Information Technology, Sargento Foods Inc.

Holly Baumgart, VP Information Technology, Sargento Foods Inc.

1. Current market trends shaping the Business Intelligence Space?

Everyone is talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI). It is interesting because just two years ago, business intelligence was the hot topic. Now, trend listings all have moved to AI. To me, AI isn’t completely new. Web-based robotics and chatbots have been using AI for 20 years! AI’s capabilities are just increasing. The technology is changing how we rely on data and make decisions as the software learns from key drivers and market trends. Today’s business intelligence solutions are already using AI to organize data sets and make associations which highlight potential conclusions. For example, insurance companies can now analyze loan payments, like timeliness, and factor in other data which signal borrowers that are in danger of missing payments. I see this ‘trend’ being an incremental step improvement in the BI space for the next five years. Soon, it will be foundational.

Another area that has been exciting and a growing drive among business leaders is mobility. Having live data on the go to make real-time business decisions has been a popular topic lately. BI software has made significant leaps forward to allow for mobile dashboarding and visualizations customized for user experience on all types of devices. Imagine sitting in a customer meeting where you used to have multiple static spreadsheets or reports for various topics. Now imagine the same meeting with BI where you have the power to run multiple customer data dashboards in real-time allowing for faster and more accurate decision making.

2. How would 2018 pan out for systems that support large volumes of both structured and unstructured data?

I agree that the pace of change in BI solutions is staggering. When looking at all the players in the landscape, one can easily get overwhelmed. We are currently making improvements to our BI solution sets and implementing new technology. It is important to know that these changes will continue to happen frequently. We can’t look at the prior solutions as ‘failures or mistakes.’ They are part of the journey; journeys that will continue to change and improve many times over the years to come.

  Focusing on the customer will set the stage for how organizations need to use BI in the future  

Because of the increasing demand from our employees for data, we are investing in the BI space. This naturally comes with an investment into our people. BI talent is increasingly difficult to obtain and retain. We have done a nice job of recognizing interest and talent within our organization. Giving people the chance to learn and grow into these roles has proven far more useful than trying to hire expensive experts. We plan to help our teams learn more through the strategic use of consultants and partners. Investing in our people aligns with our values which as we look toward the future, gives us confidence we have the best talent.

3. Please elaborate on the challenges that the organizations will need to address related to visualization and data in order to fully take advantage of Business Intelligence.

One major challenge is how to use BI to draw conclusions and make decisions. Many organizations have created sophisticated business intelligence platforms only to realize that people aren’t using them. This has become an organizational change management effort. The technology comes with significant investment and yet requires business process changes to fully realize such an investment. I always recommend launching business intelligence solutions as part of a process improvement initiative. Companies can now use process adherence solutions to reinforce the utilization of such processes and underlying analysis.

We also strive to find a way to engage and inspire the user community to adopt data visualization. For example, creating a community where users can talk to each other, share ideas or showcase some of their work. This inspires adoption. There does have to be a unique advantage of using visualizations that gives the user something they didn’t have before. If it is meant to replace something the user had before, the technology must be better.

We have created a formal business intelligence group. This team reports into IT. However, it has a highly cross-functional nature. The goal of this group is to facilitate a BI center of excellence for the entire company. With voices from across the organization, we plan to develop a holistic BI strategy that delivers exactly what business areas need to easily make critical decisions.

4. What have been the latest developments in data discovery on the Business intelligence side and how will this lead to better decision making and more efficient processes?

I believe that AI will result in more efficient processes. Instead of employees doing data discovery and data mapping, it will be done by systems. This will result in real-time recommendations coming out of BI solutions versus having to have an analyst manipulate them. With the power of some of these advanced analytic tools, it gives the general user the ability to act as a powerful data analyst and statistician. AI won’t take the place of the data scientist today, but will certainly make these roles more efficient. This area continues to evolve quickly with the need for predictive analytics.

5. What are the major tasks for organizational CIOs at this point in time? Is there any unmet need in terms of Business Intelligence space that is yet to be leveraged from the vendors?

Leaders in the IT space are going to have to obtain talent that can manage today’s BI solutions while implementing those of the future. My belief is that this talent will be even harder to retain in the future. As a result, we have decided to start developing such talent within our organization for individuals with interest.

Other ‘tasks’ include exceeding business expectations for results. The key will be to quickly adapt to change in both business needs and solutions. For example: when a new functionality becomes available, having the ability to rapidly implement it.

Governance is also a huge consideration. In many organizations, IT is responsible for the integrity of both the data and the visualizations. It is best to put in controls in place before implementing the solution to prevent against degradation of the outputs. CIOs must address how to give users the freedom of their own data adventure, but safely make sure they don’t present bad results.

Regarding unmet needs, I feel that most suppliers claim it is easy to import data and get started quickly. I have rarely found this to be the case. It takes time to design, import and test datasets in any system. If suppliers can utilize AI and deep learning to cleanse, associate and test datasets with little oversight, that would be a win!

6. Advice for Budding CIOs

My advice is not to focus too deep into the technology. Learn the business area that you are supporting. The technology can and will change. The best BI people understand the business problems the company is trying to solve. Then they can design solutions that perform the best and most efficiently. Furthermore, focusing on the customer will set the stage for how organizations need to use BI in the future.

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