Getting Full Value from Technology Investments

If a company wants maximum value from its technology investment it needs to recognize the characteristics of the technology and adapt the organizational DNA.
Customer Experience

In 2014, companies spent more than $2.8 billion in new technologies to support their analytics capabilities, according to Forbes. A Computerworld survey reports that companies increased their spending by more than 12 percent. Still, many marketing executives are not seeing the ROI they hoped for. Experts agree that the problem lies in the approach to organizational adoption of the technology innovation.

The world of viniculture experienced similar adoption hurdles when it had to innovate on the low-tech cork. Cork had been the definitive closure for wine bottles for centuries to keep the right elements in and ensure undesirable elements, including oxygen, were kept away from the precious liquid. However, as the supply of high quality corks dwindled, demand for wine increased. Environmentalists exercised pressures, and alternatives had to be explored to preserve the bottle's content. Innovation: A screw cap lined with a composite to seal bottles-the Stelvin cap. However, adoption was slow and response mixed because of the romantic legacy of the benefits of cork.

In recent decades, marketers saw a similar evolutionary path in the innovation of supporting technologies: better interactions with customers enabled by CRM, campaign management tools, centralized branding, and asset management. Despite the obvious benefits of these tools, the success around their adoption was checkered. Some companies enjoyed huge, game-changing success while others suffered dramatic failures.

Of the defining tactics that drove the outcome, three were paramount: adoption of new business processes, new techniques, and-in some instances-new talent.

The latest addition to this list is Big Data platforms. Volume, voracity, and variety of unstructured data now available to marketers are growing rapidly thanks to the popularity of social media, mobile devices, and a multitude of communication channels. Leveraging traditional data warehouses and marts designed to manage and analyze structured data (e.g., CRM, transactional and operational data) were not up to the challenge, hence the introduction of tools such as Hadoop, Cassandra, and Aster Data.

At a recent industry event, I ran into a financial services client who lamented this exact problem. He talked about the cycle-time to analysis, struggles of his team, lack of data handling tools, and other features typically found in well-established data platforms. This led to a discussion about how to radically rethink the approach to generating and using insights, and how technology innovation is integrated into the business culture.

While new technologies can store and retrieve data at high speeds, they don't perform well for complex analytics requiring integration of data across multiple sets and writing multi-variable ad-hoc queries where you don't know the query arguments. Even SQL-skilled professionals are unproductive because of the different approach the code uses to control the data.

If a company wants maximum value from its technology investment, Big Data platforms included, it needs to recognize the characteristics of the technology and adapt the organizational DNA:

  • Evaluate how employees would use these platforms and work with vendors to ensure the capability of these systems: Insights should be developed in the Big Data platform and ported to the traditional data warehouse for further analysis and integrations with structured data
  • Introduce resources to train teams to become the Big Data practitioners. An engineer who understands SAS may not be a natural fit: Data scientists must balance technology skills, statistics, computer science, and business knowledge
  • Embrace a data-driven culture that leads to exploration across the company to identify, engage with and experiment with the Big Data

Years after its introduction, the Stelvin cap finally shook its image of being associated with mass consumption wines. A walk down any respectable wine shop today you will see ranges from young to serious whites, young reds, and yes, serious reds under a Stelvin cap. The wine industry has recognized that Stelvin topped wines can lead to even better fruit, structure, and fragrance than cork because of the characteristics of the cap. This understanding led to changes in the way wines are made to take advantage of these characteristics.

Purchasing the right marketing technology is only the beginning. Long-term business value comes after the organizational foundation of change and innovation has been laid and the romance of legacy benefits has been put to rest. Only then can the benefits of marketing technology be achieved.