Answering market demands is no easy task considering mounting competition, supply-chain complications and complex regulatory environments.
HVAC suppliers and wholesalers are in the enviable position of providing essential products throughout the year. However, manifold pressures on the industry, and business in general, call for new methods for making sense of it all. Business intelligence (BI) can help.
What Is Business Intelligence?
Business intelligence is a family of technologies that let organizations capture and analyze current and historical data. The modern corporate landscape means HVAC suppliers have enormous amounts of data available already from:
- Industry research
- Fleet vehicles
- Connected machinery
- Branches and subsidiaries
- Invoicing and payment systems
- Sales and marketing teams
Businesses may not actively collect data from every potential source throughout their supply chains or departments. Tracking fleet-vehicle telemetry requires a not-insubstantial buy-in before any meaningful information can be gleaned.
However, most organizations probably capture data from at least some of these sources. Business intelligence software is typically cloud-based and highly collaborative. It provides tools that surface this valuable information, analyze it, make meaningful observations, generate actionable suggestions, and make the results visible and digestible for stakeholders.
Several closely entwined goals of BI can be rendered down to these fundamentals:
- Study past trends
- Make predictions
- Use gathered insights to improve current practices and processes
- Render collected data into a format that is easy to understand, present and share
BI requires appropriate software and hardware to function. It might incorporate cloud dashboards for sharing and collaboration, machine-learning analytics, extract transfer load (ETL) tools for cleaning data, predictive modeling and reporting from cyber-physical systems like sensors.
Business intelligence products can help HVAC distributors and wholesalers better serve their customers and understand which processes are working.
Ways HVAC Distributors Can Use BI
Business intelligence tools are already making a competitive difference for companies throughout the HVAC industry. Companies should familiarize themselves with the most common applications and use cases for modern BI tools.
These are some of the most common business-intelligence tools that may be of interest to HVAC distributors:
- Data-mining and visualization tools: Powerful KPIs allow data from many vendor systems to be mapped in dashboards. Use visualization to track company progress toward goals and study the effect of process changes in real-time.
- Embedded business intelligence: Embedded business software interfaces with process portals and related applications to enhance the detail and frequency of reporting, provide predictive analysis and more.
- Location-based intelligence: This BI tool captures and analyzes geographical and spatial data. It can identify new sales territories and expansion opportunities or design facility spaces based on historical traffic and ongoing needs.
- Machine intelligence: Good business intelligence tools provide the means to study incoming machine and fleet data. Connected warehouses, distribution hubs and fleet vehicles contain troves of operational data. BI can anticipate breakdowns and maintenance needs and identify opportunities or liabilities among machine fleets.
Business-intelligence software is a cloud-first product. Some leaders remain wary of the cloud due to security concerns. However, this technology has matured rapidly — and 95% of respondents in a 2017 poll indicated they’d adopted it in some form.
Here are some additional ways the HVAC supply chain is making itself more efficient, adaptable and responsive using business intelligence tools.
1. Reveal Consumer Trends
Small companies can easily track which products are popular or not across their inventory. Scale becomes a problem, though. Larger distributors, and those with big catalogs of products, need a way to study consumer patterns in real-time and inform future manufacturing and procurement decisions.
Over time, BI becomes even better at observing product churn and helping keep in-demand items in stock. Technology makes it easy to ensure the correct inventory is on hand at the right time.
2. Flag Sales Opportunities
Another use for business intelligence platforms is studying which products tend to be sold together and making suggestions on related purchases. This is based on general trends or the customer’s current buying patterns.
Consumers dread the upsell, but it’s an opportunity to save customers another order and further lost time. There’s nothing to lose by making product recommendations based on BI insights.
3. Improve Interdepartmental Communication
It’s easy for HVAC suppliers to forget to close the communication loop between the sales team and the distribution and supply chain teams. BI can help by ensuring each party has relevant, up-to-date, neatly ordered data that accurately reflects the state of the organization.
BI can help sales teams better understand how to meet the needs of consumers. For example, BI systems facilitate analysis and understanding of recent orders, manufacturing and product-quality data, and supply-chain trends, making them accessible to the sales department. As a result, teams comprehend consumer needs and the company’s capacity concerning demand and can communicate effectively with prospects.
4. Boost the Effectiveness of PR Efforts
Having a more empowered sales staff — with a more complete understanding of customer needs and how they relate to manufacturing capacity — is a key to better PR results.
Sales-team managers can work with marketers and others to study ongoing BI insights and generate new PR campaigns. They can use data to identify correlations between myriad variables, such as:
- When customers are likely to place orders throughout the quarter or year
- What kind of messaging has proven successful for PR teams in the past
- What types of promotions or product-combination deals might spur additional sales
A fully featured BI system will integrate well with the digital tools marketers already rely on. Best of all, BI delivers insights that help marketing teams continue iterating on their messaging and the timing of their promotions.
Business Intelligence Is an Ally for HVAC Distribution
Ultimately, distributors use BI systems to fine-tune every detail of their enterprises — and this is just a sampling of how that can be done.
Distributors for essential products like HVAC components don’t take a day off, and neither can their digital tools. Business intelligence is a cloud-first, data-driven solution that unifies data streams and leverages them to improve everything under the company’s roof.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine discussing the latest industry innovations and trends.