Blackmores ramps up digital efforts for greater insights, efficiencies

Blackmores ramps up digital efforts for greater insights, efficiencies

AI and ML to improve product development, processes

Tijn Tacke

Tijn Tacke

Credit: Blackmores

Australian health supplements firm, Blackmores, is deploying a new cloud-based infrastructure to maximise the use of data for business insights and to install stronger foundations for future innovation.

Blackmores was founded in the 1930s by naturopath Maurice Blackmore, when Blackmore opened the first health food shop in Australia in Brisbane, Queensland. Today, Blackmores is an ASX 200 company with a market capitalisation of $2 billion.

The company's digital transformation continues with the move to lift and shift to Dynamics 365, according to Dynamics Platform Lead at Blackmores, Tijn Tacke.

Essentially, Blackmores’ 24-month transformation has seen the business embrace cloud through Dynamics 365 and Office 365 to make information more accessible to teams and utilise the systems to form robust and trusted digital foundations, Tacke told CIO Australia.

The transformation has enabled Blackmores to create innovative new solutions to support its staff and accelerate growth, he said.

“There’s a broader global IT strategy within Blackmores to migrate to the cloud, to support growth around the world and deliver continuous improvements for the organisation.”

Dynamics 365, for example, is being used to capture enhanced data on Blackmores’ customers, by enabling business units to share and receive enhanced insights through a digital feedback loop.

“For the Dynamics team, previously we were using an Oracle solution,” he said, explaining it was running traditional on-premise software which required a lot of administration tasks and was hard to integrate. 

“There was a lot of low value work just to keep the systems running, so with moving to Dynamics 365 we’ve removed a lot of that burden. It’s now all the responsibility of Microsoft, and we get the benefits of always being on the latest version and having the integration across all of our other systems because most of our workload is now in the cloud, either Azure of Office 356.”

Across the business, Dynamics 365 is being used by up to 150 people and the company is already seeing clear wins since the transformation, he said.

“When we moved to Dynamics it was an opportunity to have better integration across all of the systems and unlock information that was in all of those systems.

“There was an initial proof of concept done with the sales team, but since then we’ve drove it out to other user groups in the system,” he said, including the advisory group (which are the naturopaths that provide advice to customers) and also used by customer service.

“It’s really now an overall system that’s used across the business.”

At the same time, bespoke Power Apps - an additional product available within Office 365 - have been created to meet the performance needs of specific stakeholders.

Using PowerApps as a platform has allowed the business to develop a tailored solution for Blackmores’ unique needs, without the drawbacks and overheads of traditional bespoke development.

“Power Apps lets you create very specific user experiences. When you think about a system like Dynamics or other systems, they’re good for when you’re behind the computer in the office, but they’re not necessarily giving you the most focused experience when you’re out in the field or if you need a particular task.

“Power Apps allows you to create a mini application that sits on top of Dynamics or any other system, and really gives the user a targeted experience to get a particular task done,” he said, giving the example of coaching. 

“A sales manager helping a sales rep in store to observe and record what they do well and don’t do well, and then using that information to coach them.”

By using a Power App, staff now has the ability to quickly look at the data they need, get any additional data required, and use as a point of discussion with the sales rep, he said.

He said the company is eyeing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to ramp up the efficiencies and knowledge of the sales reps.

“One of the benefits that we have now with Dynamics is the data. A lot of data from the business is going into Dynamics and it’s easy to get data out of other data sources and use them within Dynamics.”

The idea is to give sales reps - out in the field talking to customers - the ability to maximise the use of data for greater business insights.

“Customers will ask them random questions like, ‘What’s the status of my last order for a particular product? Or is this product safe for pregnant women? One of the things we were thinking about from a sales perspective was to give sales reps access to a mobile app with a bot in it. And they would ask that bot questions.”

The bot would use AI to ascertain the intent of the question and then work out which system it needs to go to to get that bit of information out to the sales rep in the field. Additionally, he said AI and ML are being explored for new product development  in the form of Project Lucky, he explained. 

“A large part of product development is providing claims to support a particular supplement. This is scientific evidence that a particular supplement is effective against particular conditions. As well, this is quite a manual process, so there’s a lot of opportunities there to optimise that knowledge. 

“It’s a lot of knowledge work that the team needs to do. They need to analyse a lot of data, and then get the bits of information from a particular claim. We’re looking to machine learning and AI to provide a smart search to help them scan large volumes of information and quickly get big data” 

The use of AI and ML will improve product development and overall processes, but also reduces time to market, he said. 

“Digital transformation is about getting users to have access to information they need, and enabling collaboration across teams and countries as well.

“Old school you have all of these different systems, all of these different sources of information, so how do you present it in an easy to absorb way to users - and allow them to collaborate across those data sources. That’s key - and so is removing any inefficiencies.”

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Tags BlackmoresAIOffice 365articifical intelligencemachine learningDynamics 365MLbusiness transformation

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