Digital Trends

Enterprises Are Struggling To Take Advantage Of Customer-Facing Analytics

David Bolton • February 16, 2017

“We have access to all this data, why not give our customers access to these analytics as well?”

A recent survey of 400 senior business leaders by embedded business intelligence provider Jinfonet Software said that companies are struggling to align internal software requirements with customer-facing insights

According to the Jinfonet’s State of Analytics in 2017 report, business leaders see value in providing external analytics but only 26% of these leaders are actually doing it.

The explosion of data available to companies—both internal and customer-generated—has seen some industries keen to enhance a customer experience with analytical insights. The report said that just over a quarter of business leaders said that their company provided analytical insights to between 75% and 100% of their customers, although 43% of companies provided less than 25% of customers with any relevant or useful data.

A recurring problem is that the “customer”—in a business intelligence sense, at least—was always internal rather than external. Companies used business intelligence software solutions to be competitive in their chosen market but the increased access to customer-facing data has meant that the business landscape has changed.

According to Jinfonet’s director of marketing Dean Yao, the main stumbling block is that companies have been using monolithic analytic business intelligence solutions for so long that they are slow to adapt to the pace of a data-driven society.

“What good is data if it just sits there?” Yao said, in an interview with ARC at DeveloperWeek in San Francisco. “You have to use the data … and to be honest a lot of the data is unusable … So we are dealing with a lot more data—big data is a separate topic in itself—but with all this data, how do you manage it? How do you extract business insight from that data?”

In the past, companies relied on trial and error to make business intelligence-related decisions. Marketing campaigns would run for a few months and the data gathered would inform the company if it was doing something right or wrong.

Business intelligence was developed to be inward-facing, with data scientists analyzing that data to find trends and benefits that would give that company a competitive market advantage. That data is very non-obvious information and the tools needed are “notoriously complex,” Yao said.

Why An Internal Data Focus Is Not Enough

The availability of ready-to-use solutions—which formed the bulk of products on display at Developerweek—that companies can embed into their business intelligence practices has given these non-data scientists access to information that supplements rather than overrides the traditional internal focus.

“Right now, with the right amount of data, we can predict and forecast, find out what went wrong and make better business decisions that affect business immediately,” said Yao. “In the past, we could analyze data, it was just much slower. What ‘we’ have done is automate things and give tools to the masses.”

A pure internal focus is no longer enough for any business, said Yao. Customer service and analysis was the number one focus for business intelligence or analytics investment for business leaders in the (likely promotional) Jinfonet report, with an improvement in output, quality and performance cited as reasons why. Customer-facing service operations and product or competitive analysis also scored highly in terms of investment.

Only 20% of business leaders surveyed by Jinfonet said that their company did not have an internal business intelligence and analytics development team, which could explain why companies have found the external focus more of a struggle.

The majority of companies were either in the process of building analytics software applications to offer new insights and experiences or had plans to do so in the next 12 months. On the flip side, just under 30% of companies said that they had no plans to do so.

Source: Jinfonet Thought Leadership Survey

Source: Jinfonet Thought Leadership Survey

Over the last five years, companies have been able to access more tools and solutions to solve these challenges, Yao said. For example, startups have a laser-like focus on their external customer and will integrate software tools that are easy-to-use and provide the customer insights that they need.

Yao said:

When you have this widespread goal of easy adoption, self service, easy to use tools … then you are going to see more companies provide these tools to their end users … even companies that aren’t software companies. Take Fitbit. You buy a Fitbit and you go to their website and look at the analytics of your health performance … is that software their core business? No, they want to sell you a device. But that analytics definitely adds to the value in their product lineup.

Companies Need To Focus On The Customer

The challenge is to make sure that companies of all sizes understand the importance of a customer-focused system.

Consumer behavior has changed beyond all recognition, but companies have been slow to react. For example, the CEO of Macy’s told attendees at the recent National Retail Federation’s 2017 “Big Show” that the department store begun thinking about data and analytics two years ago. And Macy’s is by no means alone.

“What we are seeing is that commercial customers …. these enterprises, the profit centers … something happened and the light-bulb turned on,” Yao said. “We have access to all this data, why not give our customers access to these analytics as well?”

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