No one said forecasting was easy.
Getting caught in the rain might look romantic in the movies, but the reality of being battered by an unforeseen downpour when you’ve dressed for sunny weather isn’t always so idyllic. As anyone who has ever arrived to work umbrella-less and soaked to the bone can attest to, the ability to forecast the weather is a pretty crucial part of everyday life. We tend to put a great deal of faith in the predictions made by our local weather forecaster, even though some research shows that weather channels, like the BBC in the UK, only correctly predict the next day’s weather about 50% of the time (Michael Fish included).
Good forecasting is important enough for the wellbeing of our cashmere jumpers and our suede shoes - now think about how integral it is to the successful running of a B2C organisation. Businesses need to be able to predict customer behaviour with some degree of certainty in order to know how much stock to buy, when to launch marketing campaigns or where to build brick & mortar stores (just to name a few examples).
Luckily today’s technology has allowed us to build tools that can help organisations do a better job of forecasting - tools that will be much more accurate than the weather report. After all, exactly how precise can meteorologists be when the only real metric they have is ever-shifting weather patterns? Businesses, on the other hand, have years’ worth of customer data they can plug into a forecasting tool and glean insights from.
What are the current business forecasting tools available?
Companies like SAS and Oracle were quick to get in on the action when technology made business forecasting a feasible solution. Products such as SAP ERP forecasting and EPM Cloud are comprehensive, offering complex configurations and numerous deployment options that enable large enterprises to forecast with high degrees of accuracy.
It’s great to invest in such extensive products, but the learning curve is known to be steep – and installation complex – so deploying a solution like this works best if you have a team dedicated to ongoing software management. Corporations and larger businesses are going to be fine with an enterprise platform like these ones, however many of our smaller clients often come to us frustrated by the lack of lighter-weight options, asking things like:
"I just want to get to a simple answer quickly - are there fit-for-purpose forecasting tools for SMEs?"
After spending time interviewing our clients about their current forecasting needs, the resounding conclusion is that many SMEs are eager to find another option that gets to a practical answer without needing to be heavily customised. They don’t want to get bogged down by configuring models or hit a barrier with hooking up systems – they want a tool that gives a good answer quickly and gives them time to get on with it!
Good news: we've made one.
Datamine’s development team has created a new forecasting app called WeekAhead, an application designed to help businesses get to a purchasing or production decision with minimal setup. We recognise the value of enterprise-level forecasting tools, so we’re trying to take the best of what clients get from those products and create something that “just works”.
WeekAhead has a number of different offerings beyond forecasting, including Advanced Production Scheduling (APS), allowing businesses to turn their forecasts into recommendations for when to actually go to production. This tool can span across virtually any industry or product – if it’s a loaf of bread you’ll know when to bake it; if it’s a train you’ll know when to run it; if it’s a widget you’ll know when to build it.
Once you have your forecast and know when to go to production, you need to order stock or ingredients from your suppliers. We’re building a way to do consolidated ordering into WeekAhead, meaning you can quickly and efficiently place orders with your suppliers – no matter how many stores or locations you operate. This streamlines operations, making it easier for businesses to interact with suppliers.
Add to that having central visibility in a consolidated platform, and struggling businesses will finally have access to levers they can pull to change how things are managed across their organisation. In other words, a tool that “gets the right product, in the right place, at the right time”.
Though WeekAhead is different to other established tools on the market, industry experts believe it shows promise – Datamine was recently awarded an R&D grant from Callaghan Innovation to pursue this project, and the next step is to build it into a platform of tools and data products. After a year in the making, we’re ready to get our clients testing out the application.
WeekAhead is still being tailored to the feedback we’re receiving from our beta testers and clients - we’re looking for the right balance of accuracy and flexibility that will best suit our customers. If that means removing configurability at little cost to accuracy, then that’s what we will do!
I want to be a beta tester!
Has this piqued your interest? We’re eager to help SMEs and other small businesses that are looking for a simple forecasting solution and want to be a formative part of determining the future direction of WeekAhead. If your business ticks one or more of the following boxes, you know where to find us:
You're in need of a fit-for-purpose forecasting tool
You're excited by the prospect of paying a reduced price as a beta tester (that would remain the same even after the product goes public)
You're eager to partner with a reputable and innovative company for your analytics needs now and in the future
Forecasting isn't easy - but we also believe it shouldn't be purposefully overcomplicated.
We’re very excited to share this tool with like-minded organisations that see the value in simple, accurate forecasting. Send us an email or give us a call to learn more about WeekAhead and how you can get involved.
In the meantime, enjoy the following video of a weather report map going awry in Phoenix, Arizona - for once, let's hope their forecast was incorrect.