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Through Digital Catapult, BOC has been able to identify new technical partners and find solutions to complex challenges at an accelerated pace, while supporting wider digital transformation. The financial benefit has been significant, with efficiencies resulting in significant cost savings.

BOC is the largest provider of industrial, medical and specialist gases in the UK and Ireland. Many of its customers transact only a handful of times a year, often buying gas in small quantities on an ad-hoc basis. With limited purchase history and little online engagement, it has been difficult for the BOC team to get to know these infrequent customers to fully understand their requirements. With a customer journey that includes multiple touchpoints, there was plenty of data to work with, but no easy way to integrate and interrogate it across the business.

BOC was one of the earliest companies to engage with Digital Catapult with the aim of finding a partner within the innovation community that could provide a suitable solution to data challenges. The BOC team was looking for ways to obtain insight from multiple data sets and identify any gaps in service, enabling development of alternative business models to best serve customer needs, increase customer retention at a minimal cost, and develop new products, services and business models.

Additionally, with thousands of cylinders continually being moved around the country, there was also a need for BOC to better track these assets and improve control.

Engaging with startups and innovators

Digital Catapult scouted for startups and innovators specialising in AI and machine learning. From 30 applications, a shortlist of 12 went on to pitch to BOC during a demonstration day.

David Galloway, Head of Strategy and Analytics, BOC believes that “Our interaction with the businesses that took part was genuinely eye-opening. They generated so much valuable feedback, and the process was very objective. There was such a rich set of ideas and ideation going on – we would definitely do it again!”

Digital Catapult facilitated this collaborative process by providing access to facilities, technical support and valuable commercial expertise to all parties. The participating startups and scaleups were able to develop and showcase their ideas for consolidating and analysing BOC’s data, as well as augmenting it from external sources (such as weather, demographics and credit ratings).

This would provide a nuanced understanding of BOC’s customers that could be used to determine marketing and sales actions, as well as optimising operational activities.

Two finalist companies were invited to submit their proposals for a pilot collaboration with BOC, including their technology recommendations as well as their suggested commercial partnership model.

To support the final selection process, Digital Catapult’s team of technology and industry experts reviewed the two finalists’ proposals, looking at the technology stack recommendations, and putting together a report on how business needs would be met by each, the level-of future-proofing involved, and how each would be implemented. This would inform the BOC decision.

“Had we done things in the conventional way, we would have gone through a procurement process and written an RFP; then carried out some kind of evaluation, which would typically focus on the costs rather than technology capabilities” said David Galloway.

BOC appointed Datalytyx to deliver a pilot and begin rolling out some of these ideas (initial contract value c. £200,000). There were three main workstreams to the project.

Removing the need for manual counts of the four million or so cylinders in use in the UK and Ireland, scanned data can now be used to pinpoint locations, identify losses and anomalies to act on, and release a huge amount of resource across the business.

Monitoring cylinder movement between customers and filling stations, determining which of the millions of cylinders are available for filling and service, and managing stock for the supply chain in the morning has facilitated production planning to free up resources, optimise costs and ensure that customers get what they need, when they need it.

Providing the sales team with self-service analytics, consolidating data from multiple platforms into a set of live dashboards to provide live customer data and measure sales activity/KPIs, has helped to manage their performance and drive sales growth.

Digital Catapult provided expertise and resources to manage the pilot project, and by involving staff at all levels of BOC, contributed to the cultural change needed to deliver digital transformation. Digital Catapult also facilitated experimentation with machine learning, and supported BOC in developing a proof of concept that would have been impossible without this digital transformation taking place.

Leaving ‘data chaos’ behind

The BOC team built new data engineering capabilities, releasing data to create value, make it flow and do more with it. They can now put any data into a new data warehouse, having previously been constrained by systems in use. Using a pay-as-you-go model also means that the solution is scalable and cost-effective.

As well as having better access to data, BOC employees are appreciating the improvement in quality, engendering stronger internal trust. Having everyone use the same information is driving collaboration, easier decision-making, and increased data literacy. This has helped in sharing and consolidating best practice approaches, and data is now also being linked to the contact centre to drive customer communications.

Facilitating collaboration

For Datalytyx, the BOC project has resulted in a valuable new multi-year customer contract, and the addition of a major brand as a client. This is a good example of how Digital Catapult brings together leading technology suppliers and industry leaders in collaboration, supporting them with technical and innovation expertise and enabling experimentation with advanced digital technologies, such as machine learning.