Scholarship 2021 Winner
As a growing Canadian company, Surex wants to encourage students to follow their dreams when they pursue their education. As a result, we launched our scholarship program to give back to the community and held our third annual scholarship run this year! We had 4 topics to choose from and they all stemmed from the pandemic and how it had an impact on online shopping, business intelligence, small businesses, and the insurance industry.
We are thrilled to announce the winner of our 3rd Annual Surex Scholarship is Ms. Cindy Chen from Scarborough, she wrote her essay on the topic of BI. Cindy has an impressive education resume where she studied at McMaster and Western University for her undergraduate degrees and is now a Master's student in the Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences program at Columbia University. Wow!
Post-graduation, she hopes to work as a Data Scientist focused on algorithmic responsibility, a growing field concerned with fairness and bias in automation. Congratulations Cindy and thank you for participating in our 3rd annual scholarship program, we hope you achieve your dreams!
Thanks to her impressive essay titled “The Growing Value of Business Intelligence Today.”, Cindy has won and will be awarded $1,000!
We'd like to thank all who applied for our scholarship as we appreciate the time you took to write your essays and submit your ideas. As this is an annual scholarship, we encourage you to please apply again next year.
For more details about our scholarship page, please visit www.surex.com/scholarship
The full essay, “The Growing Value of Business Intelligence Today.”, by Cindy Chen is below:
What is the importance of business intelligence, especially for those businesses that have had to adapt to the new reality now?
Buzzwords like “big data” and “artificial intelligence” have become overused in the corporate zeitgeist –it’s hard to find a new product or service that doesn’t tout those very labels as a competitive advantage. However trite they may be, data nonetheless derive immense value to businesses. The field of business intelligence (BI), defined as the analysis and insights derived from data to guide business decision-making, helps organizations discover and forecast patterns among their customers, operations, and other macro factors affecting their business. Informed management decisions leveraging various data sources like historical sales, web traffic, and even weather can help minimize costs, maximize sales, better target customers, and build a stronger brand. The myriad benefits that business intelligence provides render it a business necessity rather than a luxury, and the importance of this discipline has only grown stronger over the pandemic.
Deft navigation of BI helps identify emerging customer and industry trends as quickly as possible, enabling businesses to be more responsive and adaptable to change. If a company recognizes consumer sales patterns that suggest a departure from stasis, whether that be increasing frequency for certain search engine queries or rising company-level or industry-level sales, companies that predict these changes earlier gain a head start in developing comprehensive business strategies to respond to those changes. That way, businesses capture as many sales as possible at the peak of a fad without being oversold and garner a reputation for being well-versed in current consumer tastes. The dominant rise of “ultra fast fashion” is a perfect example of the value of BI in competitive success; smaller companies that leverage customer and social media data to predict fashion trends are beating the lead times of fast fashion titans like Zara and H&M and capturing their customers (Nguyen, 2021). Conversely, organizations that accurately predict falling demand at the end of a product or service’s life cycle thanks to BI can maintain lean inventory, proactively wind down a declining service, or make pricing decisions that avoid substantial discounting to clear merchandise. In turn, they minimize their costs and avoid significant losses.
Of course, business intelligence is more than noticing trends and automatically acting on them; one of its most useful capabilities is adding context that helps decision-makers prioritize and make the best, informed choices. Using BI to break down success indicators such as profit margin, run rate, and return-on-investment (ROI) into whatever desired level of granularity, management can see a full picture of their potential decisions’ implications. After all, businesses have resource constraints that limit the scale and number of initiatives they can take on at once. BI can uncover which initiatives are lucrative and feasible to execute immediately, which ones should be a longer-term focus, and what ideas should be abandoned. Just because a firm detects a steady sales lift in a certain part of its business does not mean that it’s worth investing in its growth; BI helps us consider the minimum ROI that it would yield and make comparisons against other parts of the business and industry, ensuring that management considers all risks and makes the best decision.
The pandemic ushered in unexpected fluctuations between supply and demand, especially at the beginning of 2020 when lockdown orders and outbreaks led to manufacturing shutdowns and consumers staying at home. In this case, analyzing sales and cost data in the early aughts of the pandemic would help a business proactively spot demand and supply challenges, thus discouraging a business from investing in travel-related inventory or services and encouraging them to explore growing areas such as camping gear (Bryant, 2020). BI also aids businesses in deciding whether it’s worth pivoting merchandise or services during the pandemic, what is the most profitable way to evolve, or if closing is actually the best option. Likewise, the explosive popularity of video-sharing app TikTok during the pandemic since many were stuck at home meant that a viral video could inspire sharp demand for a product seemingly overnight, as was the case with old-school roller skates (La Sala, 2020). Using BI to flag the soaring popularity of certain search terms or social media keywords such as “roller skates” can help a business dynamically price in-demand items to maximize profit. Afterward, in forecasting the costs of ordering this inventory, BI also helps companies decide whether they should order inventory before competitors do or abandon this initiative if this investment does not meet or exceed internally defined hurdles such as a minimum ROI rate. Furthermore, as more consumers opt to shop online due to physical store closures and consequently form new shopping habits, the business analysis of digital data sources like search data and customer journeys (such as how long someone stays on a webpage or how they click through the business’s website) become increasingly crucial to distill new consumer trends and online sales opportunities (Mullen, 2021). Even now, as we are more than a year into the pandemic, BI continues to play a vital role for firms to track the next trend in this pandemic as well as the slow recovery out of it.
In similar vein, BI can help derive extremely granular insights that unlock a new level of customized targeting for businesses. Leveraging geospatial and historical data, businesses can isolate regional consumer patterns and customize store inventories, marketing strategies, and pricing accordingly to optimize profit and customer satisfaction. An organization might notice that certain types of items or services are more popular in certain cities, with certain types of customers, or only at certain times of the year. These findings help companies make critical decisions about their service or merchandise offerings, site closures, changes in a site’s format, and how they allocate investments to improve the customer experience. For instance, if BI helps us predict a seasonal or unusual spike in customer demand, then a company can ramp up hiring or develop adequate marketing strategies to address that demand when it finally arrives. With lockdown rules varying by state and even by community, business intelligence offers pertinent geographic nuances that help physical businesses to continue weathering the pandemic. Likewise, BI can help distill customer data down to the individual, subsequently analyzing someone’s unique traits that drive their purchasing behaviour, to uncover the most effective and efficient approach to target that individual. This could take the form of choosing where to place ads, what types of promotions to send them and through what avenues, and what items a business should recommend to that customer to efficiently secure a sale. Amid the increasing adoption of online shopping during the pandemic, the wealth of data available to be collected is unprecedented (though it should be done responsibly) and the ability to pinpoint these granularities is particularly important to differentiate from competitors’ messaging (Miranda, 2020). Not leveraging BI in this new reality of increased consumer data and challenging competitive climate could seriously threaten a company’s long-term viability.
Beyond sales and customer insights, BI can also enhance and elucidate operational performance and productivity. Understanding whether the business is achieving key performance indicators like on-time delivery and sales productivity on a daily or monthly basis, as well as on a site-specific or regional level, helps companies more accurately gauge star performers, customer satisfaction, sales pipelines, and employee productivity. Accordingly, companies have clarity on where their strengths lie and more importantly, areas of improvement. During the pandemic, BI helps businesses gain clear and exact insight into their performance. A company might sense that business has slowed during the pandemic, but BI helps pinpoint exactly how much, in what ways, and the implications of those findings. Perhaps business has declined 9% year-over-year, but the overall industry has declined 20%; in that case, the company is performing better than average given the challenging circumstances of the pandemic. Alternatively, a firm might observe fewer customer visits or inquiries, which initially seems to portend declining business, but if customers are spending more money per visit to minimize their exposure to Covid-19, sales dollars might be higher than before. There is an abundance of insights that BI can help uncover to help businesses understand their performance, priorities, and next steps.
Overall, the many uses of business intelligence make this discipline a valuable and growing tool in business success, which the pandemic has only underscored. So long as businesses are willing to invest in the infrastructure of capturing, storing, and analyzing data, they can glean important insights about the market, their customers, their internal operations, and their best path forward in today’s competitive landscape.
Bryant, M. (2020, 11 Jul). ‘Everyone wants to get outside’: boom in camping as Americans escape after months at home. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/11/camping-glamping-coronavirus-americans
La Sala, C. (2020, 27 May). Roller skates are the latest TikTok trend we never saw coming. Yahoo!News. https://news.yahoo.com/roller-skates-latest-tiktok-trend-212717573.html
Miranda, L. (2020, Dec 8). With the spike in online shopping comes a spike in consumer data. What are retailers doing with it? NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/spike-online-shopping-comes-spike-consumer-data-what-are-retailers-n1250349
Mullen, C. (2021, 5 Aug). Six in 10 consumers say pandemic permanently changed their shopping habits. Bizwomen: The Business Journals. https://www.bizjournals.com/bizwomen/news/latest-news/2021/08/six-in-10-consumers-say-pandemic-permanently-chang.html?page=all
Nguyen, T. (2021, 10 Aug). Shein is the future of fast fashion. Is that a good thing?. Vox. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/22573682/shein-future-of-fast-fashion-explained