by Sarah Custer
“Predictive Analytics” is a very popular buzzword right now. Many are talking about it as the next big thing for their businesses, and some in MPS are hoping it will be a silver bullet for automated supplies replenishment. I was recently preparing for a presentation about supplies management and predictive analytics and realized, like many things in our industry, there are varying definitions and opinions on the exact meaning.
In my search for an applicable definition, I realized that some of the current buzz around predictive analytics, MPS and supplies management remind me of one of my favorite childhood movies, “The Wizard of Oz.” More on that later – first, we should align on a definition.
“Predictive Analytics describes any approach to data mining with four attributes:
1. An emphasis on prediction (rather than description, classification or clustering)
2. Rapid analysis measured in hours or days (rather than the stereotypical months of traditional data mining)
3. An emphasis on the business relevance of the resulting insights (no ivory tower analyses)
4. (Increasingly) An emphasis on ease of use, thus making the tools accessible to business users”
You probably agree this definition makes sense, but you’re wondering why in the world it reminds me of “The Wizard of Oz.” To start with, the “Great and Powerful Oz” wasn’t really a wizard at all. He didn’t have magical powers or a crystal ball. He was simply a man behind the curtain.
By definition, predictive analytics is a very practical process that doesn’t require a crystal ball and wizard to execute. It’s the analysis of data behind the curtain that a select few solid managed print programs out there are already using for automated supplies replenishment.
More specifically, effective and profitable MPS programs are using algorithms to predict specifically when supplies will run low and will send them just as they are needed. Too early or too much results in lost profit and too late results in customer dissatisfaction. In order to predict in this fashion, analysis must be done “rapidly” to adjust on the fly to a number of variables present in the devices themselves and the print environment.
I’ve heard many resellers say they backed away from automated supplies replenishment in their MPS offering because it was just too difficult to manage to. In doing so, they opened the door for lost profits and a less than desirable end-user experience. This led to opportunities for competitors to offer a better solution.
Sometimes all a reseller needs in order to get started on the right path (or “the yellow brick road”) to a successful automated supplies replenishment practice is support from a few traveling companions. There are good options out there for resellers interested in doing so, whether it’s fully outsourcing to a trusted infrastructure provider or pulling together the needed set of resources to execute internally.
Regardless if it’s home grown or outsourced, there are a few key ingredients it must have. First, it should allow for the anomalies of each and every model to be recorded and incorporated into the algorithm for supplies management. Additionally, the program should be able to accommodate the rapidly changing print behaviors in environments to ensure supplies arrive just in time. Finally, and maybe most importantly, users must have visibility to the automation at work either via an online portal or mobile app.
And lastly, in my Wizard of Oz comparison, is the ability we’ve all had all along to achieve our goals. Just like Dorothy always had the power to return home and the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow always possessed the courage, heart and brain they were seeking; we have the ability to use predictive analytics in our MPS programs – in fact, some of us have been all along and didn’t even know it!
While complex, there are options to build or outsource a dependable automated supplies replenishment program to support your MPS efforts. In the words of Dorothy, “If you ever go looking for your heart’s desire, you don’t have to look any further than your own backyard.” Or, maybe the backyard of a really good business partner. …
Sarah Custer is Director of Services and Solutions – Supplies Network. Sarah joined Supplies Network in 2001 and has held several positions over the years; advancing through the ranks within the sales team before taking on the role of MPS Program Advisor where her expertise and leadership were key to accelerating MPS growth. In 2012, Sarah was promoted to MPS Solutions Manager leading a team of Solutions Advisors responsible for MPS engagements and ultimately equipment sales and related services. Currently serving as Director of Services and Solutions, Sarah leads a team of MPS Solutions Advisors, Equipment Advisors, Contract Coordinators, Fulfillment Analysts and a Technical Operations team focused on break-fix service and software solutions. Additional responsibilities include providing critical direction and design of program enhancements and vendor integrations. Sarah received a M.B.A. and a B.A. in Management from Webster University.