4 ways real-time data is disrupting the way we do business


Real-time monitoring and experience tracking have become buzz words in the digital era. Ostensibly companies that have access to this type of data ultimately have a greater understanding of their current and future consumers’ behaviour. If used effectively, this can inform business strategy resulting in measurable bottom line results. However, merely getting your hands on this form of data is not enough – it is about how it is contextualised and used across your business that makes the real difference.

We recently hosted a roundtable to discuss the future of research and customer insights with a group of industry leaders and identified four ways real-time data is disrupting the way we do business.

The value of real-time
There is no doubt that the real-time nature of mobile and social media has added value to the research process. Gone are the days of marketers having to sift through a thick wad of research that was commissioned several months ago.

As Steven Ambrose of Strategy Worx says, “The value of real-time data gathering comes into play when an organisation understands what business issue they are trying to investigate and the parameters of what they are looking for, within the context of the data, are clearly articulated. Then they can use it as an instant feedback loop – they can see the immediate reaction to a change they make, and there are less variables in play that could have caused this reaction.” In addition, real-time research tends to cut out the middle man (the interviewer), thereby reducing bias that can skew the results, and instead reaches out directly to the consumer who is choosing to use your product or service, or more importantly isn’t.

That said, the immediacy and volume of real-time data doesn’t automatically make research and its results better. Many businesses don’t know what to do with data or how to account for it in decision-making, according to Gordon Institute of Business Science Senior Lecturer, Kerry Stipp – and if that’s the case, more data simply means more to ignore.

Size doesn’t always matter
There is a school of thought that sample size is key when it comes to conducting sound research. However, what came through at the roundtable was that the first step in making good use of data in business is to concentrate on gaining insight from a sample, which is representative in terms of the type of people you want to reach and where they are situated – rather than finding a large, but convenient representative sample. It’s always possible from that point to overlay the data with other data sets; in fact, this makes the research much more valuable – connecting related and unrelated data to find something meaningful to solve the problem at hand, identify opportunities and discover new insights through the data connectivity.

Silos are a no-no
Speaking of things related and unrelated, it’s time to stop the habit of research being road-blocked in one department within an organisation. It is essential to break down internal silos and look at the touch points throughout the company that the research affects. It’s not at all useful to analyse data in the marketing department and then not have it impact what happens at the point of sale or supply chain within a business.

This is perhaps the very reason why C-level executives often don’t see the value of big data. They need to see how this data stream can solve problems and create opportunities in the same way that small real-time data can.. If the data gets stuck in a silo, it’s not going to be solving any problems.

And the concept of silos goes beyond company departments, too. Bruce Cayzer of Massmart believes that we can understand consumers best if we collaborate and share our best practices across our industries. He says, “Buyers and sellers need to have the same data in front of them, understand it together and work together to find real solutions.” Annalise Enslin from TNS wants to eradicate the idea of silos from the research process itself, explaining: “Silos don’t work and you won’t get exactly the same data from face-to-face interviews as you do from mobile or social media research. We need to think differently, find the business issue and tailor our research accordingly.”

So much data, so little time
We also need to think differently simply because of the number of people contributing to conversations in real-time, in a rapidly moving and changing space. As Dion Chang of Flux Trends says, we need to be agile in our business practices because you can start a project with one end goal and have that goal shift by the time the project ends. Clifford Warburton of BSG also feels there are a lot of unknowns and doing business today requires companies to be far more agile and flexible.

The starting point is to think about what your objective is and use it to frame the questions you want to ask, always understanding what your end goal is. Once you have this in place, contextualise the results and insights by making them meaningful and actionable across your business.

What is clear is that business is changing, and real-time research and big data are key elements driving this change. At the end of the day what is blatantly clear is that we need to be telling the right person, the right thing, at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way to influence behaviour and decision making.



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