Through its Engine Health Monitoring Unit, Rolls Royce can track the state of the thousands of components it has in operation no matter where they are in the world. The company builds sensors into its aircraft, helicopter, and ship engines with the goal of gathering data from various parts and systems within the engines themselves. The company’s engines power the aircrafts of over 500 airlines and more than 150 armed forces.
Apple’s developers put their creative thinking skills to use in a new health app, called ResearchKit. According to the Advanced Performance institute, ResearchKit allows researchers to “create studies through which they collect data and input from users phones to compile data for health studies.” The tool is able to track many health-related data points, including a user’s average daily step count, a user’s wellness after chemo, or the progression of a disease.
Given the near-countless examples of ways in which data-driven insights are helping renowned businesses (and humanity as a whole), it almost goes without saying that big data and analytics give a business a multipurpose toolbox. They are recasting everything from pricing strategies, customer insights and product innovation to supply chain management. And, like flocks of migrant birds, they do it without paying much attention to national borders.
But something is preventing companies from seeing the full value of big data and analytics and, therefore, from adopting the technology that will make these insights possible. In fact, according to a report by Ernst and Young, only one third of businesses are using them for strategic decisions.
Could this gigantic murmuring of starlings become a new language companies can use to know themselves, their audiences and their companies better, regardless of geographic location? Yes. But first, they need to embrace these tools, and better understand their value. Otherwise, the world will turn without them.
According to Artigas:
Big data technologies are mature technologies from both a technological and market point of view. Today, most companies are familiar with the concept of big data, recognize the value it has, and [know] how it may be an important factor for business success. However, it is true that the adoption of these technologies is slow, since the transformation to big data is not only a technological transformation, but also requires a cultural transformation of the company. It involves a change in the traditional working methods, putting data at the center of all decisions, becoming Data Driven and moving from reactive to predictive companies.
Spencer Stuart’s survey of US-based marketing executives supports Artiga’s perception about culture transformation. As the graphic above shows, among the more significant obstacles to big data adoption are the lack of investment in technology and the ability of senior team members to leverage big data tools for decision making.
So, how can companies enact that transformation?
“The key for companies to adopt big data is…not in the IT department,” Artigas said, “but in the areas of business [leaders], and for them it is crucial to learn how to identify use cases that are built on real business problems. I believe that more than ever, companies are aware of the need to accelerate their transformation to big data in the next five years if they don’t want to find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”
But why, exactly? What benefits may convince those executives in the areas of business to invest time and effort in catching up with the technology? Let’s take the hype out of big data and find out.
Big data technology helps companies make more informed business decisions by enabling marketers to substitute generic information about broadbrushed groups of consumers in particular locations to detailed information about individuals anywhere. I asked Artigas how analytics can give us this unique perspective of individual consumers in all the markets in which we are active.
“Marketing is without doubt one of the disciplines that has benefited most from the digital transformation and the arrival of big data. The availability of real-time data with consumer information means that traditional marketing, whose main axis was the product or service—which had to be pushed towards the consumer—has changed completely and shifted to a consumer-focused marketing based on listening to the customers, adapting and anticipating to their needs.”
That knowledge gives marketers a real competitive advantage; at the same time, it adds value to customers.
Understanding the customer is the basis for good marketing, and big data helps us in six key points: personalizing the product, understanding and optimizing the shopping experience, improving customer service, optimizing operational efficiency, generating predictive analytics, and implementing the decision-making [process] in real time.
Marketing strategies based on big data are the future, and it is necessary to implement this new way of understanding the business and its opportunities as soon as possible. Data-driven marketing is here to stay.
Now that the advantages of big data are clear, some may be wondering about the best way to cash in on those advantages:
Mark van Rijmenam is the founder of the big data platform Datafloq, and a top-10 big data influencer according to Onalytica. I turned to him for advice on how can global marketers reap all the benefits of these technologies. Here is what he recommended:
Marketers have a tremendous opportunity to really create products and services that customers want if they start using their big data. Combining multiple data sources, internal and external, as well as structured and unstructured data, which I like to call “mixed data,” is the best option for marketers to truly get to know their customers. Creating a 360-degree customer profile will enable marketers to create personalized products and services that will help them create a competitive advantage.
I asked Mark van Rijmenam if the fact that a company is trying to expand abroad makes any difference in terms of strategy.
“In fact, it makes the approach I suggested even more relevant,” said van Rijmenam. “Especially with customers across the globe, it is important to gain a true understanding of each individual customer, since they have different preferences in different regions or countries. The usage of mixed data to obtain this information becomes even more important for marketers that want to grow their business across borders.”
I wanted to put the same question to the people who are tasked with designing the analytics of the future, so I wrote to Sharon Sputz, director of strategic programs at Columbia University’s Data Science Institute. I asked her what’s next on big data and how the technology is fueling global marketing. The Columbia expert, whose background combines experience in business strategy and technical research, also focused the issue on personalization:
Currently the emphasis is how to shift marketing strategies from generic to personalized using large data sets to understand and predict individual preferences. Our researchers are developing new methods and working on new algorithms to achieve better predictions. Concerns and emphasis are also in the area of ensuring privacy and transparency while enabling better algorithms.
Companies may have been dragging their feet over big data, but numbers alone speak volumes about what’s going to happen in the following years: Forbes reported that, for a typical Fortune 1000 company, a 10 percent increase in data accessibility will increase net income by $65 million, while “retailers who leverage the full power of big data could increase their operating margins by as much as 60 percent.”
If an online, non-representative poll can be a great input to marketers’ creative thinking, just imagine the effect of 10 terabytes of data—the minimum required for analytics. Big data may well be the lingua franca that marketers need to make of their businesses a virtual tower of Babel—all the way up until the last floor.
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