The world is facing anomalous challenges in 2020. The initial chaos of rolling lockdown’s around the globe, followed by a brief return in some markets, then second lockdowns have occurred nearly everywhere.
Given demand forecasting is a challenge during normal business, this volatility has forced many businesses to treat forecasting as a core capability in their business operations. Remi AI, a demand forecasting and supply chain platform with clients around the globe, has been tasked with leading forecasting for our clients. At the time of writing, we are proud to list three of the Fortune 500 companies amongst our clients. Having these clients has shown us firsthand the impact this pandemic has on a multi-billion dollar supply chain, reliant on hundreds or thousands of seamless steps in the chain to employ thousands of people and run a profitable business.
For some of our clients, profitability is no longer the goal, it is simply about surviving until a degree of normality returns. Given the OECD has shown that retail generates at least 5% of most developed countries GDP, it is clear of the importance of the sector at both a macro and micro level at this time.
One client, an Australian office goods wholesaler, has experienced pandemonium this year as demand for the majority of the goods plummeted whilst others (such as tissues, face masks and soap) skyrocketed. Meeting their clients needs applied pressure from one end, as their suppliers put limits on how much stock they could procure as global supply chains adjusted. This was quickly followed by the first wave of lockdown, which resulted in a further drop in business for the majority whilst any frontline industry went in the other direction and increased demand. Remi AI formed a weekly (digital) response team with this client to allow for a nimble response to any further heaving adjustments in demand.
The above story is far from anecdotal or an isolated incident, as retail companies of all sizes have struggled to adequately prepare for previously unimaginable variations, which is broadly bucketed into two categories - some experience a drastic drop in demand. With many brick and mortar retailers being forced to shut, operate at reduced capacity, or operate within shopping precincts that resemble a shadow of their previous capacity, our clients have been forced to become even more vigilant about stock choices - both in terms of type and quantity. In the other bucket, other clients, (especially those in the electronic goods space), have faced hitherto unseen surges in demand that present a completely different set of challenges. A higher standard of customer expectation, tied with reduced loyalty in a market laden with alternatives means our clients can’t risk frequent stock outs for fear of losing a customer not just for this sale, but for life.
The Remi AI platform has gone from helping our clients accurately forecast demand for the short to medium term, to being integral to the COVID-19 response. We’ve written here about what businesses can do, but the longer the lockdown is drawn out, the further we wade into these uncharted waters. It is clear to us that while the correct route forward can seem nebulous, looking to data for your answers is key.
Eamonn Barrett, Partner at Remi and Head of Client Development noted:
“One of the most common questions I am hearing from clients and prospects lately is "how can we leverage the data that we have to take our business to the next level?". Clients are certainly aware of A.I it's potential, and I guess the pandemic has spurred adoption alongside many other technologies.”
As such, since early in the pandemic Remi AI has been exploring and drawing upon additional data streams. One of the more pertinent streams is the data on the spread of the virus from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Having visibility on the business ramifications of the virus in a city that is going into lockdown has helped us forecast the impact on a comparable city. As such, the Remi AI platform has been able to bring stronger accuracy to our clients forecast as COVID-19 moves around the world, vital for business continuance.
Remi’s CTO, Alasdair Hamilton, added:
“Having access to these data streams has provided a degree of confidence for our clients who are battling tumultuous business conditions. The John Hopkins data, in addition to the various streams we’ve already built into our forecasts, comes close to a complete picture of what short-to-medium term demand looks like. We’ve been working even more closely with our clients since the pandemic began, often meeting multiple times a week as any new information comes to light. It’s incredibly meaningful for us to do work that can help our clients stay in business at this time.”
In addition to the two core problems listed above, many businesses have responded to the pandemic by restructuring large swathes or their entire business online. The eCommerce arm of some businesses have leapt five years of digital transition in as little as two months. This obviously presents many challenges but also allows for great upside as the online space is so rich in data that analytics and Machine Learning-based solutions like the Remi AI platform can greatly benefit a business. Such platforms are a vital tool in the arsenal of any business at a time like this.
More to come.
NB: Due to confidentiality agreements Remi AI is unable to name our clients.