It’s high time to move past the digital Stone Age

Consumers have moved with the times, writes Nicholas Kontopoulos, and if we want to avoid extinction, our data and analytics desperately need to keep up.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I worked as an insurance underwriter. We had steam-powered computers, but they held only the bare minimum: clients’ names and their policies. If I wanted to know anything else, I had to do some digging.

First, I’d have to hunt through the entire building until I found the records room, then search through all the filing cabinets (remember those?) until I found the right drawer. Then I’d have to locate the right folder – get this – I’d actually have to read through all of it until I found the information I needed.

Talk about living in the Stone Age!

Thank heavens we’re past all that. These days, all our files are on servers we can access from anywhere in the world on devices we carry in our pockets. We have software that tears through gigabytes of data in seconds. We can get information, not in days, but in seconds.

Except when we can’t.

Data silos equal Stone Age filing cabinets

Getting data out of physical files and onto file servers was a huge leap forward.

But while we were doing that, we didn’t realise that we were recreating the digital equivalent. Our files may be online, but they sit by themselves in isolated silos. We have terabytes of data but in individual datasets scattered around the globe.

Working from inside the company, we understand why it is this way. All the different types of software, the multi-million dollar legacy systems, trying to stay on the cutting edge of the digital revolution – there are just too many parts and pieces to make it all sync up.

Our customers don’t understand how hard it is to pull their information from all the different places it resides. They don’t appreciate that some of their files are in one department while the rest of it is in another. They have no clue of what a huge task it is to coordinate between different teams to respond to them or to customize a solution.

And what’s more: they don’t care.

Digital Darwinism

Futurist Brian Solis coined the phrase ‘Digital Darwinism’; when technology and society evolve faster than an organization can adapt.

That’s what companies around the world face today: an evolved consumer. Our customers no longer accept the mass-market, ‘one size fits all’ approach of the past century. They don’t see themselves as a commodity; they want to be treated as unique individuals.

What’s more, they’re not content to sit there and take whatever we decide to hand them. They want relationships with the companies they buy from… and they want those companies to treat them as individuals, too.

We’ve got to evolve with the market. We’ve got to move our data out of scattered silos and into aggregated data pools. We need predictive analytics.

T-Mobile’s analytics machine

T-Mobile gets it.

They’ve made predictive analytics a strategic priority. By linking all their disparate datasets throughout the company, they’ve created a way that lets the organization have a personalised, one-on-one type of experience with their customers.

They’ve integrated all the different datasets from around the company into a centralised system that lets anyone in the company see a timeline of customer touch points. Every email, every customer phone call, every bill payment, every tweet – every single interaction between T-Mobile and a household is recorded, aggregated, and analysed.

So, for example, when the company’s social media team (the aptly-named T-Force) reaches out to a customer, they know what kind of offer the customer prefers, what media channel they primarily use, and even what time of day they’re most likely to respond.

When a customer reaches out to T-Mobile, they don’t have to explain to the customer representative what they’ve been through – the rep has their entire interaction history right there on their screen.

T-Mobile has created a true ‘customer journey’. They can respond as if they were a real human being having a one-on-one relationship with another human being. No wonder it’s one of the fastest growing and most admired telecoms in the world.

Does it sound impossible to do the same thing at your company?

Yes, getting data to speak to each other is a big task. Yes, it will take investments in both people and technology. Yes, it will require rethinking and restructuring how you organize your business around your customers and the employees charged with the delivering on your Brand Promise.

But what’s the alternative? Extinction?

Bottom line: adapt or die.

Nicholas Kontopoulos is global head of fast growth markets and marketing innovation, SAP Hybris.