Big Data on the Brain
I seem to be doing a lot of research and writing about Big Data and related issues this year. I am taking a lot of briefings from emerging analytics companies too, and I see it all as net good because the emphasis on data and analytics is really an emphasis on information -- and that is an economic indicator of sorts for me.
The thirst for customer information tells me that more companies are working to discover new things, especially customer needs, and that is a backup indicator of the increased emphasis on making money as opposed to keeping it from evaporating. There's nothing wrong with the latter, especially as it concentrates on things like customer retention and loyalty, but in the last five years, that emphasis has reflected the depressed economy. That's changing.
You could argue, as I have repeatedly, that the subscription economy is an especially rich place to look for examples of companies using data and analytics to understand customers and to do a better job of meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations.
Customer Data Interrogation
I saw that in spades at PULSE, a user meeting held in San Francisco last week by Gainsight, a company that focuses on customer success management, or CSM -- what we might also call "customer retention management," but CRM is already taken. Much as I like Gainsight, though, I think it still needs a better story about its use of social media, and I expect that's coming.
I've also recently spoken with or have plans to speak with companies like Mintigo, Ayasdi, and Causata, and several others. They are all emerging analytics companies with different approaches to getting information out of data, which will be very important over the next few years as companies seek noninvasive approaches to gaining customer knowledge.
Think of it like an Xray, sonogram, CT Scan or MRI of your customer base. How cool will it be when you can really interrogate data to discover hidden information about your customers instead of the tired and less accurate approaches we have today?
I am also working on a paper that I hope will be published this summer in Europe on the differences between data, information and knowledge. That's something else I've been passionate about and that I have written about before. We're way too casual about interchanging these words when they really have specific meanings. That mixup can cause fuzzy thinking about how to handle data and secure it, which is the meat of the issue for me. I'll keep you posted.
Less a Challenge Than an Opportunity
The surprise of the spring for me is that for some companies, the days of using data effectively for information generation -- and ultimately knowledge development -- are here already.
In a bit of research that I did for Lattice-Engines, a sales and marketing predictive analytics company, I interviewed five CMOs about the issues surrounding Big Data. These individuals include Mike Volpe of HubSpot, Greg Ott of Demandbase, Grant Johnson, who left PegaSystems just as we were going to press, Peter Mahoney of Nuance Communications and Julie Roy of Kyriba. The slightly edited transcripts are contained in an e-book that you can download here.
Most significantly, everyone in the group said that Big Data is less of a challenge for them than an opportunity. They've all embraced Big Data as a tool they can use to drill into their customer bases to understand people and organizations, develop measures and metrics that they can use throughout the business, and operate more effectively.
To me it's no surprise that all of these companies are growing rapidly and gaining new followers at fast rates -- and those followers include investors. Perhaps Volpe of HubSpot said it best when he told me how much the investors appreciate HubSpot's focus on data and analytics -- to the point that board members introduce other portfolio companies to HubSpot to help them learn about "how we use analytics and how we use metrics to run the business." Enough said.
So analytics plus data, information, and knowledge are a happening thing. They represent two of the three legs of a stool holding up the front office -- social being the other -- and I suppose you have to add mobile to complete the picture. However, it is refreshing to see that we've at least started moving off the social dime.
It will always be important -- but curiously, the emergence of analytics, while taking some of the spotlight off social, gives it greater context. Social is the data generator, in many cases, and analytics is the consumer of data and producer of information. Intriguingly, though, knowledge is still in the eye of the beholder.