Business leaders must identify trends in consumer behavior and human interactions. Can big data help them stay one step ahead?
Johann Vorster, CEO of Clover and an EY alumnus, believes we are entering a new phase of doing business: “I think if you ignore big data, it’s at your own peril. It’s moving so fast, in terms of technology, how to get real-life information out of big data. It must be the next disruptor.”
Johann’s South African-based company, Clover Industries, began as dairy cooperative but today offers a variety of consumer products, including tea, mineral water, cheese and fruit juices. Clover has partnered with IBM to take a lead on incorporating data into the life of the business.
“We believe we will be the first in the world to be able to handle big data in a way to daily assess stock levels, promotions, effectiveness, pricing and so on,” Johann explains. “We are bringing in not only hard data, but also soft data. We use weather predictions. So, for example, we need to know when there’s a hot day coming, and where must the stock be for us to not run out of product on the shelf. All of this starts to happen automatically over and over again without human intervention.”
Big data or big judgment?
Johann’s instinct has been to embrace new technology, but he found it took all his persuasion skills to convince investors it was worth a leap of faith. His willingness to take a risk with big data is an example of getting the best out of an evolving technology. In fact, Clover has more plans to embrace change.
“We’re working on a plan similar to what’s happening in the airline industry, where all of our machines in our factories will be connected to one database in Germany,” says Johann. “Instead of doing repetitive or routine maintenance, they would monitor all of the machines and tell you, down to a bearing level, that that bearing needs replacement within the next 24 hours.”
Automation is not the enemy
Automation is not the enemy and can be the ally of prosperity, famously wrote US President Lyndon B. Johnson. For business leaders who have the right instincts and are prepared to take risks, this may be true. It can feel differently for an anxious workforce, though. The CEO of Clover believes managing the transition to automation and how it will impact workers is a key part of the job. For him, people are still at the heart of any business. He says, “I think gone are the days of traditional factory workers. Those people will all need to be retrained to bring a different role to society. It’s a very important part of our business to look a little bit into the future of what mankind is going to look like 5 to 10 years from now.”