How collaboration strengthens business resilience

Birmingham City University

This article is part of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce’s Raise the BAR (Business Adaptability & Resilience) Campaign, sponsored by Western Union Business Solutions. For more campaign content click here. This campaign provides Chamber members with a platform to share learning and inspiration on this agenda. All views and opinions expressed below are those of the author only. 

By Professor Julian Beer, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Birmingham City University

Today’s economic and political environment is creating a new level of uncertainty and an array of challenges for the region’s businesses both big and small.

At Birmingham City University, we position ourselves as the University for Birmingham, delivering applied research and business solutions that deliver real-world impact. Whether through our extensive portfolio of applied research or the innovative approaches employed by STEAMhouse - our centre for creative innovation - we support the regional and wider economy with insight, technology and systems to strengthen the adaptability and resilience of business and organisations.

Business modelling sector trends

Having a clear understanding of sector developments is key for any business, which is why the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) reached out to Birmingham City University to develop a model that would forecast the economic condition of their sector.

The project was funded through the Knowledge Exchange and Enterprise Network (KEEN) and paired economics graduate Nyssa Patel with Dr Erez Yerushalmi, Senior Lecturer in Economics, who created a model that could accurately predict trends and shifts in the economy based on current data.

The model uses sales data from the Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI), coupled with additional key variables, to forecast what is likely to happen in the next 12 months and beyond. The report from the model allows BMF members to plan for changes in their sector and also for any uncertainty they may face in the near future, such as Brexit.

“The new forecast will help BMF members and others to plan for the future,” says John Newcomb, CEO of BMF. “The model incorporates a number of lead indicators to signal future events that will impact our markets and makes it possible for merchants and their suppliers to forecast their customers’ requirements more accurately.”

Reducing waste through forecasting

Central England Co-operative approached Birmingham City University to help them manage risk and maximise profits by building a system that suggests stock requirements based on the weather.

“We see this as an ideal opportunity to work with Birmingham City University and use its knowledge base, business partnerships and digital skillset to help Central England Co-operative grow as a business,” says John Armstrong, Head of Information Technology at the company.

When the weather changes, retailers risk losing millions through low stock levels, wasted goods and disappointed customers. According to the Met Office, even a four-degree rise in temperatures can lead to different buying habits.

Salameh Abu Rmeileh, Assistant Lecturer in the University’s School of Computing, worked alongside BSc Computing student Norman Farrow-Butler to develop machine learning intelligence that will directly inform Co-op’s stock-taking systems. The system compares live and forecasted weather data with shopping basket data from Co-op’s customer purchasing databases to predict which items need to be stocked and made accessible depending on current and future weather conditions.

The artificial intelligence can identify correlational trends between the items purchased at any store and the weather in that area, allowing Co-op to maximise profits by only ordering what is needed and improving the customer experience by maintaining the availability of high-demand items. As it utilises machine learning, the system will continue to adapt to changing trends, providing Co-op with a live view of customer needs in relation to varying weather patterns.

The increased accuracy of inventory will also help Co-op meet their environmental targets by reducing food waste.

STEAM thinking to solve complex logistics

It’s not only through research collaborations that Birmingham City University can support businesses in meeting the challenge of adapting to changing environments.

Earlier this year, Balfour Beatty Vinci (BBV) asked for the University’s help in developing solutions for efficiently moving people, plant and materials around HS2 construction sites to minimise the impact on communities.

Traditional construction methods won’t work for the scale and complexity of HS2. The project will necessitate: 

  • Over 10,000 site workers travelling to and from work each day;
  • Thousands of deliveries to sites along the route needing to reach the correct site, tracked and managed within a time window;
  • Thousands of pieces of machinery and assets needing to be in the right place at the right time.

Working with the team at STEAMhouse, the University identified that the ideal platform to help solve BBV’s challenges would be through a STEAMlab, hack-style events that bring together individuals from different disciplines. They’re high-energy, creative and collaborative events, with opportunities for new solutions to be fast-tracked or funded for the next stage of development.

Two of the early outcomes from this piece of work have been new thinking on a cultural development model that integrates community engagement, skills development, technology adoption and recruitment strategies to create a working culture intrinsically linked to the communities that BBV will be working alongside. Another outcome has been a traffic congestion management system utilising intelligent monitoring, data analysis and social media to model traffic flow and impact in real time. This will be able to inform residents of alternative routes or public transport solutions.

Interested in collaborating with Birmingham City University to solve your business challenges? Visit and complete our contact form.