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Is there a Future for Information & Insight? Yes, if we learn these new skills

Last week I had the privilege of presenting at the European Pharmaceutical Market Research (EphMRA) Annual Conference in Brussels. My talk was on the important topic of the future of the Market Research profession.

My invitation came as the result of one of the committee members seeing a question I had posted at the end of last year on several LinkedIn groups: Does your organisation need a market research department? And in the future?” Whether you are a researcher or a user of research data, the following summary of that presentation should help you underst and the need for us all to change the way we work with information and data, in order to increase their value to the business. Recent studies by both IBM  and Business Intelligence about the information needs of top management in general and marketing in particular give us some great clues about what they dislike and what we need to change.

Management don’t get what they need

Executives complain that their information currently comes from numerous, disparate sources, is rarely available in real-time, cannot be easily accessed without the help of IT, and anyway takes too long to customise it to their needs. The good news is that they don’t seem to get too much; in fact it looks as if they actually want more, but more of what they need.

Executives don’t get it in the format they need

Management currently get their information primarily via emails and spreadsheets, which I find shocking.  Why do we expect them to take the time to sift through all the information to draw their own conclusions? Are we still too scared to voice our own opinions, or to make recommendations? Only one in eight receive dashboards and yet this is their preferred medium. They want someone to have thought about their needs and then to provide a simple form that is easy to scan, interpret and take action on.

Marketing needs their data in real-time

It’s a hard time to be a CMO or head of marketing these days. They are being challenged more than ever before, to prove the ROI of their spending. They want more real-time information so they can take better informed decisions. They also need consistency so they can compare across channels and link sales back to individual campaigns and lead-generation efforts.

Marketing don’t feel ready to manage even more information

More than two-thirds of CMOs feel totally unprepared for the current data explosion, especially as it relates to social media. They also feel that they aren’t keeping up with all the rapid market changes, even when they have the money to do so.

The solution is as easy as ABC

Taking into account what management have said about their current information sources, providing what they need is as easy as ABC:

  • Accessibility to the information they need, where and when they need it.
  • Business impact so that what they receive enables them to identify and take the actions needed.
  • Consistency so they can compare across br ands, categories, countries or regions.

In addition to these three essential elements, it is important for us to ask the right questions of the data. As with good market research, getting the right answers depends upon asking the right questions (>>Tweet this<<). And we can only do this if we have a good underst anding of what the business needs. In order for us to increase the value of market research and planning in organisations, analysts need regular interaction across all departments and divisions.

For some companies, this has meant placing the experts in each business unit, but I personally feel that whilst it does increase their interaction with the business itself, they lose independence as well as integration across divisions. From my experience, the most valued market research departments are centralised  and individuals or teams have identified responsibilities by business or region. This frees them to give honest, unbiased feedback without the pressure of over-keen bosses to influence the analysis and results. Additionally, in order for market researchers to maintain the interaction needed to underst and the whole business, they will need to learn some new skills:

  • Socialising with both internal clients and external customers will provide analysts with a better feel for the business and how to support their needs. They must also accept to work more with social media data. Some claim it is not representative, but I beg to differ. From what one can read online, it is probably the closest an organisation will ever get to the true feelings of their customers.
  • Synthesising of both integrated data and the sharing of the knowledge and underst anding resulting from its analysis. Storytelling is such a hugely popular topic that I don’t think I need to go further on it, but the integration and synthesis of information from multiple sources will become essential. As the “internet of things” increases the flow of information into companies, someone will have to manage and make sense of it all and I believe that market research is the best equipped for this role.
  • Surprising management with exciting new ways to gather a better underst anding of customers. Technology is providing more and more ways to do this without even asking questions of our customers. Whether it is virtual reality, facial imaging and emotional coding, neuroscience and biometrics, market research now has a wealth of new tools available, so they need to reconsider how they gather their information. Whilst it means that they will have to get out of their comfort zone of st andard methodologies, the benefits in terms of surprise and delight of their management will more than compensate.

I concluded my presentation by saying that market researchers will have to become “Bionic” to encompass the three new areas of expertise that are necessary to meet management’s needs. These are:

  1. Methodological expertise, as well as project management and analytical skills
  2. Intellectual curiosity to synthesise information from all sources and generate actionable insights
  3. Improved communication skills to tell stories that influence business decision-making

Whether suppliers will take the first role alone or help with the second and third as well, will depend upon the client-side teams treating them as true partners and not mere information gatherers. Do you think this is possible in your own organisation? I would love to hear your thoughts either way. C³Centricity used an image from Kozzi in this post.

Try a New Perspective on Business Intelligence: How to get More Impact & Answers

Last week I presented at the first Swiss Business Intelligence Day. It was an inspiring conference to attend, with world-class keynote speakers opening the day. They included Professor Stephane Garelli from IMD, Philippe Nieuwbourg from Decideo  and Hans Hultgren from Genesee Academy.

After such an illustrious start, you can imagine that I was more than a little nervous to present my very non-IT perspective of business intelligence. However, the presentation did seem to go down well, so I want to share with you some of the ideas I talked about. Not surprisingly, with my passion for customer centricity and always with the end-user in mind, I took quite a different perspective from that of the majority of IT experts who were present.

BI should Collaborate More

With the explosion of data sources and the continuous flow of information into a company, managing data will become a priority for everyone.

statistic id forecast big data marketThe Big Data market, which more than doubled last two years, is forecast to triple in the next four, according to Statista. BI will have to exp and its perspective, work with more varied sources of information and exp and its client base.

In the past BI was inward looking. It ran data-mining exercises, reviewed corporate performance, developed reports and occasionally dashboards. It was, and still is in many organisations, mostly concerned with operational efficiencies, cost-cutting and benchmarking.

How business intelligence fits into the data world of businessThe above plot is my own, simplified view of how BI fits into data management within most organisations today. The other three quadrants are:

  • Competitive intelligence (CI) uses external competitor knowledge to support internal decision-making. Although BI is sometimes considered to be synonymous with CI because they both support decision-making, there are differences. BI uses technologies, processes, and applications to analyze mostly internal, structured data. CI gathers, analyzes and disseminates information with a topical focus on company competitors.
  • Investor Relations (IR) uses internal data to get external people, such as shareholders, the media or the government, to support and protect the company and its views.
  • Market Research (MR) on the other h and is mostly outward looking. It studies customers’ behaviours & attitudes, measures images & satisfaction, and tries to underst and feelings & opinions. That information is then used, primarily by marketing, to develop actions and communications for these same customers.

The four quadrants, even today, usually work in isolation, but that will have to change with this new data-rich environment in which we are working.

BI is Ripe for Change

 

According to a recent (Jan 2014) Forbes article, BI is at a tipping point. It will need to work in new ways because:

  • it will be using both structured and unstructured data
  • there will be a consolidation of suppliers
  • the internet of things will send more and more information between both products and companies.
  • thanks to technology, data scientists will spend more time on information management & less time on data preparation. At present it is estimated that they spend 80% of their time on data cleaning, integration and transformation, and only 20% on its analysis!

Google glass provides access to business intelligence

In February GigaOM echoed these thoughts, claiming that we are not in BI 2.0 but rather 4.0. They said the volume of data and the number of people now exposed to it, makes data availability to everyone essential. No longer does BI involve only the CEO and IT specialists, it concerns everybody.

Google glass provides access to business intelligence
Google glass, as tested by Virgin
, is a good example of this. It delivers real-time, on time and relevant information to Virgin’s hosts and hostesses, to meet, greet and advise its passengers. Their customer support team can accompany their VIP guests and warn them of delays and gate changes as they happen. Google Glass enables them to get out from behind their desks and interact more with the guests they are trying to please.

BI must Deliver More Synthesised Knowledge

According to a recent Business Intelligence report on management’s opinion of their data, they are currently frustrated. They say that it comes from many disparate sources and is rarely if ever available in real-time. They can’t easily access it without the help of IT and it takes too long to customise it to what they need. What is particularly interesting in the findings, is that management were not saying that they don’t need information; in fact it actually looks as if they want to have access to more data. BUT more of it in a way that makes it easy to find what they want, when they want it.

Another finding from the survey shows executives’ thoughts about data delivery. Currently they are getting their information primarily through emails and spreadsheets. I find this shocking that today we still expect management to take the time to wade through all the data in order to draw their own conclusions. Less than one in eight of the C-suite is getting dashboards, which is their preferred medium (>>Tweet this<<). They also want mobile delivery so that they can access information on the go.

This study provides us with a simple plan to satisfy their needs and to help us meet our own challenges of data abundance. This is what we should prioritize, since we can no longer continue to do what we’ve always done in the same way we’ve always done it. The BI priorities are as simple as ABC; accessibility, business impact and consistency (>>Tweet this<<).

BI needs to Provide Simplified Access

Information should be provided where and when it is needed and in such a way as to have most impact on the business. This means making it easy to review, and quick and simple to draw conclusions. This is why the number one dem and from business is dashboards.

Dashboards have the advantage of imposing consistency (>>Tweet this<<) so no time is lost in underst anding what the information is showing. With the availability of more information, comes the challenge to make it available to more people. And more people will also mean more and different needs.

Business Intelligence data warehouses are like a tree of knowledgeTo underst and the accessibility challenge I find the tree is a great metaphor for what we struggle to achieve. The roots can be compared to all the different sources of information we have at our disposal. The trunk is like all the integrated information that is reported in dashboards and the branches, twigs and leaves are the different data warehouses we create.

Whilst a one-page overview is sufficient for management, others will need greater granularity. Therefore we need to make information available at different levels of detail. My experience suggests three types of information sharing.

  • The leaves are like data warehouses where the raw or nearly raw data sits
  • The twigs are the information repositories where analysed data and information resides
  • And the branches are the knowledge libraries where the integrated actionable insights sit

What I have learned from setting up numerous data warehouses, information repositories and knowledge libraries, is that it is not easy. Not because of any technical complexity, but because of winning the needed  internal support for the project and getting the essential acceptance for global access to the information. It takes more than technology, it takes a culture change in many cases too, and this is the real challenge. Stopping the “information is power” mentality means finding ways to counter the opposition who claim  confidentiality of their own data whilst also requesting access to everyone else’s. In addition, even if people need information, they will generally not make the effort to go looking for it, if there is an easier way, such as by asking someone else! All these issues need to be resolved for an integrated database project to succeed.

Business Impact

One way to encourage the culture change mentioned earlier, is to demonstrate the business impact of what you are providing. The desired impact won’t come by delivering spreadsheets, it will come from dashboards (>>Tweet this<<).

So how do you summarise a company in a one-page dashboard, especially those which are present in multiple categories, globally? Well, often the simplest way is not to try to cover the total business, but rather the top categories and markets that would cover 70% – 80% of total sales. In most cases this would be sufficient to underst and the main priorities for management.

Of course at category level each business unit should be able to get access to more detailed information, as should the regional presidents, if you are working in such a complex business environment.

The real power of dashboard information will come from data integration, where both internal and external information are synthesised, for a holistic view of the business. I have worked on several projects that combined internal information with consumer data for a complete business report. The consumer information came from promotions, call centres and CRM activities, and was combined with market research on product and communications performance, to provide a solid base of consumer underst anding. This can then be presented alongside the more usual financial information that executives are already receiving. Having a complete overview of the business has far more impact than individual, silo’d summaries and enables management to make decisions more quickly and easily.

Increase Consistency

Another challenge when setting up and integrating databases, is in the harmonisation of their master data. When you are working with consumer data, this challenge can be multiplied by ten if not one hundred. For example, consumers will talk about a pizza, without specifying the br and, sub-br and, variant, flavour, packaging and size that would be used by the business to define it. So you have to find a way to translate what the consumer is saying, into the products as recorded internally.

The consistency of the master data will even increase in importance and complexity, with the expansion in available data sources. In addition, the fact that more people will get involved, will confound things even more, since their needs will differ.

Asking Better Questions of the Data

Accessibility, business impact and consistency are vital to the success of the new BI’s data management and usage, but I feel the urge to add one more thing. That of asking the right questions of the data. Although BI is used to asking questions, I think Market Research (MR) are the real experts in questioning. Therefore they should be involved in ensuring integrated databases are combined in such a way as to permit easy extraction of whatever level of information is required, or whatever perspective might be taken.

For example, BI is used to running forecasts. Those usually start from a review of past data and current reality to develop forecasts based on complex algorithms. They will do this within their teams with perhaps input from finance. MR on the other h and, is more likely to work from societal trends and develop plausible future scenarios, brainstorming across the organisation to gather a wide array of perspectives. Both perspectives are complementary and combined, they make a powerfully readied organisation.

Making more data more accessible to more people will certainly help this question development, as I think getting the right answers depends upon asking the right question, don’t you?

These were just a few of the ideas I shared at the Swiss BI Day in Geneva. How do you see business intelligence adapting and changing as a result of the increased information availability happening today?

C³Centricity used images and graphs from Statista, Microsoft and Virgin in this post.

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