What Does the Future of Business Analytics Hold? A Key Decision Maker From Retail to Health Care

Any major event with substantial economic impact and unprecedented shifts in market expectations naturally accelerates change—but a “major event” may be an understatement when history looks back on the global COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the U.S. and the world since early 2020. Not only is the pandemic causing serious health issues and dramatic loss of life, but its economic impact has been devastating for so many.

However, despite lockdowns, business closures, job losses, supply shortages and other events that directly impacted companies of every shape and size, there also came opportunities that are almost certain to remain a lasting part of the way things operate as we start to recover from the pandemic. Remote interaction (RI), artificial intelligence (AI), big data, a dramatic increase in e-commerce, a rise in entrepreneurial intensity, the re-analyzation of workplace culture—and even drones delivering to the front door—are just some of the things that are likely to be permanent in the new normal.

To get a greater picture of what to really expect, we asked the experts—members of the faculty from each of the nine undergraduate business majors at the Whitman School— to share their insights into the future of the post-pandemic business landscape.

Business analytics has played a key role in easing the transition to supporting customers remotely in everything from retail buying habits and product distribution to health care and daily work habits. E-commerce certainly wasn’t a brand-new concept before the pandemic, but it has rapidly expanded over the past year as companies transitioned to online and consumers demanded access to the goods and services they needed. Although it took 25 years for e-commerce to reach 11.3% of retail sales, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that e-commerce sales increased from 11.3% to 16.1% of total retail sales in only the first six months of the pandemic.

According to Associate Professor of Management Information Systems Don Harter, director of the M.S. in business analytics program, the increase in the use of e-commerce is most likely permanent. Business analytics will continue to play an even greater role in making product recommendations to online buyers, adding upward pressure on sales, he says. Management of e-commerce inventory and distribution will continue to be dependent on analytics to minimize delivery time and costs.

“If a retailer needs to expand warehousing, for example, analytics identifies potential locations for new warehouses,” Harter explains. “Retailers also will continue to use analytics to select warehouses that have the right products, and the shipper that will deliver in the shortest time at the lowest cost.”

Retail certainly isn’t the only area in need of business analytics. Throughout the pandemic, analytics has transformed the approach to health care using demographics to determine groups at high risk for COVID-19, and various medical and educational institutions have developed diagnostic and technological advances that can diagnose and detect COVID-19. (For example, Brooklyn-based NeuTigers developed CovidDeep, a neural network-based wearable sensor that can detect COVID-19 infections.) The use of neural networks, which, in simplified terms, mimic the design of the human brain in order to recognize patterns and make decisions, is just one example of the important advances in technology that have transformed health care during the pandemic, according to Harter. Such medical breakthroughs will most certainly create a demand for professionals trained in analytics, as well as analytic specialists who can assist organizations to successfully transition into a post-COVID-19 world.

While the history books are not quite yet closed on the pandemic, there are many glimmers of hope and the certainty of change on the horizon. Those who intend to succeed in a post-COVID-19 business landscape will need to plan, adapt, accept and learn from both the painful and the productive lessons they’ve witnessed—all while being open to innovation, entrepreneurial intensity, data-driven decisions and the resiliency needed to continue to thrive.