Small businesses can cost-effectively analyze large data sets to improve their marketing and product quality and accelerate customer relationships. Leaders from every business sector must learn how to grasp its changes for the future as Big Data becomes the key basis of competition.
Big Data is for organizations of any size, with data management having developed into an important skill to competitively differentiate today’s market leaders from those that are no longer influential. Signals and Systems’ mid-2014 report found that the Big Data market is expected to total $76 billion by 2020, an increase of 17%.
Technically, Big Data refers to technologies and initiatives that are too massive for traditional skills, technologies, and infrastructure efficiently address.
More than 70 years ago, in 1941, the first attempt to quantify the volume of data growth known as the “information explosion” was used, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Big Data was initially a unique resource only for large corporations and statisticians. With the growth in the Internet, smartphones, wireless networks, sensors, social media, and other digital technologies, small businesses and companies of all sizes are now able to leverage this trend.
As Big Data grows, MSPs can even connect to SMBs in offering their services as they look for new opportunities. Markets and Markets predicts that third-party MSPs cut recurring in-house costs by 30-40% and can add as much as a 60% improvement in efficiency. Small businesses face a big problem today with finding data storage, due to the increased growth and data volume of devices.
MSPs can expand their cloud services as SMBs look for bigger and better data storage alternatives. This means new growth and partnerships for MSPs that choose to expand their suite of services.
In addition to expanding storage options, MSPs can look to analytics performance and database management. By helping small businesses better evaluate their data, SMBs can provide a streamlined recovery and backup system to ensure data is not cluttered on a user’s mobile device.
Big Data leaders and laggards
A.T. Kearney, a global management consultancy firm, and Carnegie Mellon University investigated the corporate use of Big Data in its first-ever Leadership Excellence in Analytic Practices (LEAP) July/August 2014 study. They divided companies into four categories: leaders, explorers, followers, and laggards. Here’s what the leaders were doing with Big Data.
An inclusive atmosphere: This begins with a hands-on, dynamic policy of executive sponsorship and mindshare about Big Data. This fosters team-building, cross-functional collaboration, and company-wide confidence in data-driven methodologies.
The need for speed: Leaders used approaches that focused on rapid experimentation, mobilization, and deployment. This was primarily through pilot programs and proof-of-concept modeling.
Forward-thinking: These policies bred innovation, growth, and better operational efficiency. While Big Data was used for reporting on past efforts, leaders focused on future endeavors. They evaluated risks. They studied costs and benefits and balanced the tradeoffs between them. Then they charted a course.
Building on Big Data
According to the IBM Institute for Business, 26% of companies see returns from Big Data after 6 months. 63% see returns after one year. 40% reported that they use Big Data to solve their operational challenges.
The world will become more and more reliant on data-driven metrics in the years to come, and businesses need to recognize that fact. Using the power of analytics can shift a company into high gear, while failing to do so could leave them stuck in neutral.
The new frontier of digitization is in your mouth. Taste is no longer an elusive metric; it’s a quantifiable piece of data that can inform business decisions.
There’s even an emerging niche for software that can make these data points actionable. Vivanda, for one, has introduced unique “FlavorPrint” technology, which uses machine learning algorithms that analyze aroma, taste, and texture variables to match a consumer’s preferences with any recipe, beverage, or food product. Using this technology, Vivanda provides data-driven, context-sensitive insights to the food and beverage industries, enabling them to reach an unprecedented level of personalization for their customers.
And while there hasn’t been much talk yet about how software like Vivanda’s can revolutionize the wine industry, it’s arguably the industry that can benefit most, because wine is all about aroma, taste, and texture.
Tasting notes are ubiquitous—and at this point parodic—in wine. Marketers love them, customers depend on them, and bloggers lampoon them. But what they really boil down to is a list of words describing an individual’s perception of a particular wine. And because perception, especially in wine, is subjective, this list can get a bit out of hand.
You wouldn’t say that a piece of chicken tastes or smells like anything other than chicken. But you might say that a glass of Zinfandel tastes or smells like any or all of the following: raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, cranberry, black cherry, briar, anise, black licorice, nettle, cinnamon, and black pepper. The level of detail in wine description is extremely fine, and a descriptor like raspberry can be further sliced into clarifications like fresh raspberry, dried raspberry, or raspberry jam. Wine descriptors go beyond the realm of the edible, too, with words and phrases like tar, wet cement, garden hose, and petroleum.
The database of words describing food may be immense, but wine’s is bigger. Accordingly, it demands powerful algorithmic technology to make it usable.
One company that’s taking a taste-targeted approach to wine is Bright Cellars. Started by two MIT graduates with a passion for wine and technology, Bright Cellars is a monthly wine subscription service that matches wine drinkers of any experience level with wines they’ll love. Subscribers take a quiz to determine their taste palate, the results of which are put through a propriety algorithm that uses 18 attributes to determine a suitable bottle of wine. After tasting the wine, subscribers give it a rating, which Bright Cellars uses to further narrow the list of bottles the subscriber might like.
It’s relatively rudimentary—essentially Pandora for wine—but it points to an emerging niche in wine. By digitizing taste, the wine industry can perhaps shed its pretentious label and empower the less informed of its consumer base to make better and more confident wine buying decisions.
The runup to the 2016 U.S. election is being covered in interesting new ways by the political media, with analysis of Big Data and real-time opinion polling offering journalists much deeper insight than ever before. The trend of “data journalism” is peaking as the media embraces advanced technologies that allow them to deliver a new breed of numbers-driven, fact-based journalism.
The tools being used for data journalism open up possibilities for fresh perspectives, more in-depth reporting, and new stories behind the numbers that have never been seen before. Traditional journalists are beginning to see how data journalism can complement their reporting, and the U.S. election is serving as an ideal testing ground. Political reporters are lapping up the improved data literacy and access to objective analysis, which is helping to make their reports more thorough and informative.
Consequently, American voters are becoming digital voters. They have access to real-time, data-driven information and public sentiment, which is empowering them with broader insight. They’re relying on this to help them make up their minds before they cast their vote, and it’s given many voters a renewed interest in becoming informed citizens able to make an educated choice.
However, the rise of data-driven journalism brings with it a potential pitfall for media organizations and readers alike. Digital information overload will bring about a fatigue around numbers if reporting quantity becomes more highly valued than quality. Having access to mountains of data is a huge benefit, but a reporter still has to be a journalist first to ensure they’re not getting buried under the numbers and missing the stories.
In other words, a political journalist still needs to be a politico, not just a statistician. They could fall into the trap of placing too much importance on meaningless correlations as indicators of voter sentiment, losing their grasp on what made them a great political reporter in the first place. As data gets bigger, this will become harder to resist. So they need to become experts in making Big Data small—rather than obsessing over the numbers, obsessing over figuring out what they really mean. In doing that, they have an unprecedented opportunity to make people more informed rather than simply overwhelming with them a series of conflicting data sets.
Some media organizations are already tackling the challenge of remaining relevant in a world of information overload. Using big data and visualizations, they are making great strides in making data journalism more accessible to reporters, politicos, and voters, which is proving its worth in giving political reporting a new lease of life.
Reuters’ Polling Explorer tool is an example of how this is being done, offering up customizable data visualizations focusing on the biggest talking points in the U.S. leading up to the election. It’s an entirely new scale of public opinion measurement, presented in a way anyone can understand and use, while enabling Reuters to usher in its own improved brand of accurate, fact-based, and timely journalism.
We can see the true potential of using real-time data analysis to measure up-to-the-minute public opinion in one poll on the most important problem facing the US today. Immediately after the Paris attacks in November, terrorism skyrocketed way above the economy as the number-one issue, rising sharply again straight after the December San Bernardino attack. For Reuters, this is just one of many examples of their greatly increased ability to find outliers in the data.
Reuters Polling Explorer runs on SAP HANA, an in-memory data platform that allows Reuters to access and analyze 100 million survey responses for quicker and more efficient reporting of public opinion.
The Digitalist Magazine is your online destination for everything you need to know to lead your enterprise’s digital transformation.
Read the Digitalist Magazine and get the latest insights about the digital economy that you can capitalize on today.
About John Graham
John Graham is president of SAP Canada. Driving growth across SAP’s industry-leading cloud, mobile, and database solutions, he is helping more than 9,500 Canadian customers in 25 industries become best-run businesses.
The lines between the digital and physical customer experience today are largely artificial. Customers shop in retail stores with their devices at the ready. They expect online-like personalization and recommendations in the aisles. They’re looking for instant gratification and better sensory experiences from digital channels. It’s an omnichannel world and companies must figure out how to live in it: delivering a superior customer experience regardless of the entry point.
Luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, for example, opened its first three retail stores with the intent of taking customers’ best online experiences and bringing them to life. “In the past, you had this brick-and-mortar experience, and you had the online experience,” says company president Uri Minkoff. “There were such great advantages and efficiencies that emerged with shopping online. You could get recommendations, see how something should be styled, create wish lists, access user-generated content. In the store, it was still just you and the product, and maybe a sales associate. But [unlike online] you had all five of your senses.”
Rebecca Minkoff’s new stores still stimulate those senses while incorporating some of the intelligence that online channels typically bring to bear. Each store features a large interactive screen at the entrance, where customers can browse products or order a beverage. Shoppers can interact with salespeople or they can make purchases on a mobile app without ever talking to a soul. Inside a fitting room, RFID-tagged merchandise is displayed on an interactive mirror, where customers can request new sizes or the designer’s recommended coordinates (a real-life recommendation engine).
The company has found that 30% of women ask for additional items based on the recommendations. It has also sold three times more of its new ready-to-wear line than it anticipated. “We were an accessories-dominant brand,” says Minkoff. “But we’ve been able to build this direct relationship with our customers, helping them with outfit completers and also getting a better sense of what they want based on what’s actually happening in our fitting rooms.”
Each piece of technology adds to the experience while capturing the details. Rebecca Minkoff’s integrated systems can remember a customer’s previous visits and preferred colors and sizes, and can enable associates to set up a fitting room with appropriate garments. On the back end, the company gets the kind of visibility into in-store conversions once possible only in digital transactions. “The technology gives us the ability to create the kind of experience each customer wants. She can shop anonymously or be treated like a VIP,” says Minkoff.
Build Around a Big Idea
Rebecca Minkoff’s approach is a bellwether. It’s not enough simply to provide continuity or consistency from one channel to another. Customers don’t think in terms of channels, and neither should companies. Rather, it’s about defining the overarching experience you want to deliver to customers and then building the appropriate offline and online elements to achieve that intended outcome.
As more goods and even services are commoditized, companies must compete on the experiences they create (see The ROI of Customer Experience). That means coming up with a big idea that drives the design of the customer experience. “Every great experience needs to have a theme,” says Joe Pine, consultant and coauthor of The Experience Economy and Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier. “That’s the organizing principle of the experience. It’s how you decide what’s in and what’s out.”
For example, Rebecca Minkoff serves as an image consultant to its Millennial customers, who expect personalization, recognition, and tech innovation, using a mix of online and offline techniques. To stand apart, companies must come up with their own unifying idea and then integrate data and systems, rework organizational models, and rethink key strategic metrics and employee incentives in order to integrate the physical and digital worlds around that idea.
Here are some examples of companies that have created a theme-driven experience using online and offline elements.
Nespresso: Imparting a Sense of Luxury
At the most basic level, Nespresso is a manufacturer of coffee and coffee machines. But the company has successfully turned what it sells and how it sells it into a very specific type of experience. Nespresso strives to impart a feeling of quality, exclusivity, even luxury in a host of ways.
The company has created the Nespresso Club, which maintains direct relationships with thousands of customers. Its customer service centers are staffed by 1,000 highly trained coffee experts who don’t just push products but offer advice and guidance as a sommelier might do with wine. Its 450 retail stores (up from just one Parisian in 2000) are called boutiques; the largely inventory-free showrooms are built around tasting and learning.
Online, the focus is on efficiency and service. Customers who prefer digital interactions can order through the web site or mobile app, which offers the option of courier delivery within a two-hour window. The company also recently introduced a Bluetooth-enabled coffee machine, which when paired with a smartphone app, can track a customer’s usage, simplify machine maintenance, and as Wired pointed out, enable remote brewing.
Success didn’t happen overnight, but today Nespresso is one of Nestlé’s fastest growing and most profitable brands, according to Bloomberg.
QVC: Using Online to Complement the Experience
The theme that has driven television-shopping giant QVC’s customer experience for decades has been “inspiration and entertainment.” Traditionally that was delivered through the joy of spontaneous discovery while watching the channel.
Matching that experience online has been difficult, however. At a digital retail conference in 2015, QVC’s CEO explained that in the past the company had failed to deliver the same rich interactions online that it had developed with its TV audiences, according to Total Retail. So the company decided to rethink its use of digital tools to focus on complementing the experience it delivers through TV screens, according to RetailWire.
For example, after enticing TV viewers with products, QVC introduces the next step in the buying journey—“impulse to buy”—in which viewers are spurred on with televised countdown clocks or limited merchandise availability. Online, the company has been experimenting with second-screen content (for instance, recipes that compliment a cooking product being sold on TV) to further propel purchases. The QVC app features the same item that is on-air along with a prompt that reveals all the items featured on TV in recent hours. On Apple devices equipped with Touch ID, customers can check out in less than 10 seconds with the fingerprint-enabled “speed buy” button. The third phase—“purchase and receive”—is complemented by a simple and reliable online browsing and purchasing platform. The last stage—“own and enjoy”—is accompanied by follow-on e-mail communication with tips on how to use products.
Last year, the company reported that 44% of total QVC sales came from online channels (up from 40% in 2014), and nearly half of those were completed on a mobile device. In fact, QVC is currently the tenth largest mobile commerce retailer in the United States, according to Internet Retailer.
Domino’s: Focusing on Speed and Convenience
Domino’s Pizza built a fast-food empire not necessarily on the quality of its pies but instead on the experience of getting hot food delivered quickly. What started out as a promise to deliver a pizza within 30 minutes to customers who phoned in their order is now a themed experience of efficient food delivery that can be fulfilled a number of ways. Domino’s AnyWare project enables customers to order pizzas from their TV, their Twitter account, their smartwatch, or their connected car, for starters. The Domino’s app features zero-click ordering functionality: Domino’s will start fulfilling the usual order for customers who opt in 10 seconds after opening the app.
Domino’s Australian stores are piloting GPS tracking whereby employees begin working on an order only when the customer enters the “cook zone”—a dynamically updated area around a given store that results in the customer arriving to a just-prepared order. The tool builds upon previously developed GPS-based technology for tracking delivery drivers, according to ZDNet. And the company that came up with the corrugated pizza box and the Heatwave Bag to keep pies warm is now building the DXP—a delivery car with a built-in warming oven. All in the name of the fast- and hot-food delivery experience.
Mohawk Industries: Using Social to Streamline Customer Interactions
Mohawk Industries grew to become a US$8 billion flooring manufacturer by relying on customers to visit its dealers’ retail locations to see, touch, and feel the carpet, hardwood, laminate, or tile they planned to purchase.
Today, instead of waiting for customers to find Mohawk, it has redesigned its experience to find them. It has adopted new technology and reworked its sales processes to reflect that new focus. The company’s 1,200 sales representatives have access to a 360-degree view of each customer, complete with analytics and sales tools on their tablets, enabling them to capture and follow through on leads generated through social media engagement.
By analyzing online discussions in real time, representatives can jump into the conversation and help customers find the product they may be searching for and direct the consumer to a retailer to finish the sale. In one episode, a woman was posting about her interest in a particular leopard rug on Twitter. Mohawk’s team surfaced the tweet, passed it on to a channel partner who contacted the woman and closed the sale within two minutes. Today, the company boasts an 80% close rate on sales started and guided in social media and has made $8 million on 14,000 such social leads. Mohawk Industries expects an increase of $25 million in sales year-over-year, thanks to its new customer-centric approach.
Customer Experience Design: Where to Begin
Developing a unique, valuable, and relevant customer experience that combines the best of offline and online capabilities is a huge undertaking. All corporate functions, including marketing, customer service, sales, operations, finance, and HR as well as product or business lines—all of which typically have competing metrics and agendas—must buy into the experience and collaborate to make it happen. And the ideal mix of digital and physical components will vary by company. But there are some best practices to get companies started on their own journeys.
Start at the Top
Without leadership buy-in, changes will not happen. “Customer experience is not a feature, it’s not a shiny button. It’s a concept that sometimes is tough to grasp. But we believe that if done right, it will keep customers loyal. And so we put a lot of effort into it,” says Kevin Scanlon, director of total customer experience at tech company EMC. “That’s why having that top-down support is paramount. If you don’t have it, you’re spinning your wheels. It’s going to give you the resources, the focus, and the attention that you need to design that consistent experience.”
To demonstrate its commitment, every VP and above at EMC has a customer experience metric as part of their quarterly goal.
Begin with the End in Mind
Companies can take a page from the design-thinking approach to product development, starting with the experience they want customers to have with their company and then putting in place the people, processes, and systems to make that happen across various touchpoints. Uber didn’t start by buying 1,000 cars. It started with a completely new customer experience it wanted to deliver—straddling the digital and physical—and then built the organization around that. Uber ultimately leveraged people, process, and technology to bring that to life, but it started with a unique customer journey.
Design for the Customer, Not the Company
To date, most corporate processes have been designed for internal efficiency or cost savings with little consideration for the impact on the customer. Companies that want to design for consistent experiences have to reexamine those business processes from the customer perspective. In order to deliver a standout and consistent experience, enterprises must bring together an assortment of data from a variety of systems—including POS transactions, mobile purchases, call center activity, notes from sales calls, and social media.
The average retailer has customer data in more than a dozen different systems. But it’s not just the front-end customer-facing systems that need orchestrating; back office systems and processes, from your supply chain to fulfillment to customer service, must be designed to deliver the intended experience. For example, Nespresso has to orchestrate a number of back-end and front-end systems to offer customers premium courier delivery within two-hour windows.
Put Someone in Charge
Companies that are truly invested in creating integrated, standout customer experiences often create a centralized function that can bring together the people, processes, and technology to bring them to life. Sometimes there is a chief customer officer or head of customer experience. But unless these people are really empowered, they’re toothless.
EMC’s Scanlon is empowered. He heads up a function that has been transformed from focusing on product quality into a centralized customer experience center of excellence staffed with 60 full-time professionals. The center has translated into “more focus, more energy, more insight to our customers,” says Scanlon. “And we can deliver that insight to our internal stakeholders, which trickles down to our account teams and lets them have more meaningful conversations that benefit our customers—and benefit the company over time.”
Centralize Customer Data
Even if there is no central customer experience function, there needs to be a central data repository and analytics system: a digital foundation that everyone can use to improve their piece of that experience. EMC’s customer experience group has a data governance function that maintains a single source of customer truth. “They’re able to pull all relevant data sources into one location and get past the typical customer data challenges,” says Scanlon.
Invest in People
Companies that care about the customer experience invest in the people who deliver it. Human beings are the clearest signposts on the customer journey. Companies must hire the best, train for desired outcomes, and reward based on experience metrics: for being brand ambassadors and for going above and beyond on behalf of the customer.
Rethink Metrics and Incentives
One major bank was having trouble driving adoption of its online banking tools. The customers that used the tools loved them, but the tools weren’t getting traction. The problem? The branch managers had no interest in promoting digital banking. They wanted to drive as much traffic as possible to their physical branches because this was one of their key performance metrics.
The solution was to change the compensation approach in order to reward employees for the entire customer experience, including online banking adoption. Branch managers were measured on online and offline customer behavior in their regions. That became a single and critical KPI, and it boosted the desired behaviors and improved overall customer satisfaction.
Create a Single View of the Company
For years, companies have talked about the importance of understanding the customer. And that remains true, particularly when it comes to delivering a valuable customer experience online and off. But successful customer experience design is just as much about giving customers a clear understanding of the company through coordinated experiences that deliver on the brand’s theme and bring it to life in various ways in bricks and mortar, through devices, in online interactions, and everywhere in between. D!
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a classic hype cycle phenomenon. Besides forecasts of high growth, it is capturing a large share of interest and overall mindshare.
One thing is clear: The elements of the IoT are here to stay. Once we get past the definition of IoT, which is commonly referred as sensor-based devices and machine-to-machine communications, businesses can open themselves to enormous potential.
When trying to understand new things, I prefer to embrace them as a part of my daily life. When tablets first emerged, I didn’t go anywhere without my trusted iPad. In fact, I sometimes leave my laptop home knowing that I can do most of what I need on this device. And based on that experience, I took my own advice when it came to wearable technology recently – and the results were eye-opening. I’m now onto my second-generation wearable device, showcasing just how quickly this is all changing.
But first let’s jump into the time-travel machine back to February 2015. I was attending the MIT/Sloan School Sports and Analytics conference in Boston, and it seemed that everyone was mentioning wearable technology. The buzz was verified weeks later when I attended the IDC Directions Annual conference, where wearables made the short list of technology ubiquity. A year later, I returned to the MIT/Sloan School Sports and Analytics conference in Boston a little bit wiser. At that point, I invested in a Fitbit and started tracking my own personal statistics for exercise, sleep, and more. Needless to say, the geek in me was in full force as I wore both a Fitbit and a sports watch at the same time. I didn’t want to miss anything, and my middle-aged eyes appreciated the help.
One of the benefits of working for a tech company is the opportunity to adopt new technology in every aspect of my life. My employer, SAP, kicked off a new wellness program, incorporating wearables in how its employees track their health and wellness. I took advantage of this opportunity, replacing my sports watch with a second-generation Fitbit and consolidating two devices into one.
My wearable journey is certainly not complete yet, but it’s become integrated into my life in a very nonintrusive way. Just as my tablet has become an extension of me, so has the wearable device. I even exchange screen shots of my results – such as when I rode my first charity JDRF bike ride over the summer – to friends so we celebrate our achievements.
Very soon, our interactions with the IoT and wearable will become the norm, and we won’t think twice about it. But at the same time, it’s becoming a big business. Market watcher CCS Insight sees this as a US$14 billion market growing to over US$40 billion by 2020. All of these devices will generate even more data, making Big Data bigger than anyone could have predicted.
All of that data will generate increased demand for applications – especially analytics – to understand, interpret, and use this information. And if you think about it, my Fitbit app on my phone is really a personal business intelligence tool and the ultimate example of the consumerization of IT.
Not surprisingly, tech leaders such as SAP talk about the fusion of business-to-business (B2B) and business- to-consumer (B2B) into what some call “business-to-business-to-consumer” (B2B2C). The proliferation of wearable technology is a great example of this. The market for applications and solutions will increase exponentially – supported by cloud-based delivery and unprecedented demand for the infrastructure to deliver real-time intelligence and much more.
Wearables are indeed the new black as it becomes mainstream and part of society. I’ll come back shortly with a further discussion of how we can apply this technology in sports and analytics. In the interim, I need to head to the gym to get my 10,000 steps and the fitness equivalent to make my Fitbit – and me – happy!
The Digitalist Magazine is your online destination for everything you need to know to lead your enterprise’s digital transformation.
Read the Digitalist Magazine and get the latest insights about the digital economy that you can capitalize on today.
About Fred Isbell
Fred Isbell is the Senior Director of SAP Digital Business Services Marketing at SAP. He is an experienced, results- and goal-oriented senior marketing executive with broad and extensive experience & expertise in high technology and marketing. He has a BA from Yale and an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business.