Bringing data science to the frontline at Ballance Agri-Nutrients
For Ballance, their data science journey was motivated by the opportunity to use data to generate genuine value for the business. Here was a progressive company that had already made the transition from its core business of fertiliser manufacture, supply, sales and advice, to offering digitally enabled, science-backed products and services.
Ballance could see the value of a recommendation engine in speeding up the product selection process and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of frontline interactions. The company also felt that its data on customers’ purchases and interactions had a significant role to play in designing successful intervention strategies to enable it to retain the right customers.
But capturing data, and being able to wield its predictive power, are two very different capabilities.
Proof of Value is a concept very dear to us at Ignite. It’s the first step in our approach to Data Science for a reason: without proving value, we can’t help our sponsors within a business to sell the ideas and concepts to their operating areas. And without buy-in, data science is an uphill climb.
Working with the Ballance team, once we have proven value, data science is made a reality by integrating it into core digital processes. The initiatives began with the end in mind, focussed on what the MVP would look like. Knowing this from the outset allowed the team to design algorithms for a specific purpose, rather than just to test hypotheses.
In developing a product recommendation engine, we sought to integrate it into the core, customer-facing “MyBallance” platform. In the case of customers at risk, this meant delivering the output of the model directly to the nutrients specialists (frontline sales team) via their mobile business intelligence solution.
With members from both Ballance and Ignite, the team has delivered an analytics platform leveraging R and Microsoft Machine Learning Server, providing:
The Proof of Value approach has allowed the team to win the hearts and minds of the executive leadership team, to the point where they compete for ideas to be prioritised in the backlog.
“IT implementations are complex, and often underestimated – Ignite consistently bring a high standard of work to projects, that always come in on time and budget. I also enjoy working with Ignite, and they will never hesitate to go the extra mile.”
Since our partnership with Ballance commenced, we have targeted:
The product recommendation engine looks to deliver an estimated 9% productivity gain for Ballance’s nutrient specialists. A large part of this success is attributed to the thoughts and ideas of the end users – in this case of the nutrient specialists – throughout the program, to help deliver, test and learn from an effective Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Though it wasn’t part of the original brief, the solution has brought the additional benefit of reducing the induction time for new starters, by giving them the ability to produce quality recommendations that leverage the experience of the entire business.
Ballance looks to leverage this productivity gain and the customers at risk of churn model to implement proactive customer intervention programs. For the market that Ballance operates in, the challenge is not the volume of customers lost but the value that goes with them.
The team at Ballance is now maturing the use of the data science to enhance their operations and we have worked closely to upskill their own data science team, something that is part of the vision we are pursuing – a future with amazing analytics platforms, operated and developed by even more amazing people. Ballance continues to put data at the heart of helping the farming community to be more productive, profitable and sustainable.
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