The Data Little Secret
There's something about your data that no one is telling you. It's the unspoken secret that all of the data you're mining, warehousing, and databasing isn't exactly contributing much to the success of your company. We've all been convinced into thinking we must grab hold of as much customer data as possible. And we have complied. We have data everywhere. It's in repositories whose intent is to, as technopedia defines it, "keep different kinds of data together, yet separated by a database or other container.
Sounds fine and well until you begin to have so many databases and applications that it becomes difficult to find anything at all. All of that data sits in silos and isn't being maximized because it isn't being effectively integrated with other data across platforms to form a comprehensive customer profile. It's still bits and pieces instead of a detailed picture of customer behavior, preferences, demographics, and opportunities.
Customer data is the holy grail for most companies. The more they know about their customers, the better they can deliver products and services they know, not assume, the customer actually wants. With every single swipe of a credit or debit card, every online purchase, every website visited, and every Google search, customers leave behind data. This is the data companies want and will either pay for or go to great lengths and investment to collate themselves.
The company engine consists mainly of developers, marketers, and sales. These are the folks who need to know what products to design and bring to market; which marketing channels work best; and what sales pitch is going to close the deal. Without customer data, it's like throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks. With it, however, companies can be much more targeted in their approach - much more competitive and much more industry leading. They can reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and build brand reputation.
As we've tossed the paper in lieu of SaaS applications, demand for these tools has skyrocketed. Cloud computing spending is growing at nearly 5 times the rate of IT spending and is expected to increase to more than 6 times the rate through 2020. Of course, where there is demand, there is opportunity. Software companies have filled the gap to overflowing. There are apps for everything, not the least of which are CRMs, file sharing apps, collaboration software, sales force and marketing automation, database management systems, and enterprise resource management software. There are literally hundreds of possibilities that promise to do everything from improving productivity to boosting teamwork.
Preference for these tools are highly subjective and no one company will use the same set of tools. In fact, even within a single company, there are often departments who prefer their own apps instead of using what other departments may be using for the same purpose. Depending on a company's policies and governance, departments and individual employees may be free to sign up and use any app they find the most useful. SaaS management and SaaS contracts are complicated.
This creates a whole lot of unintegrated data, that is, data that isn't mapped from customer to marketing, from customer to research and development, from customer to sales. The data is there, but no one is talking to each other. Marketing doesn't have access to all of the potential customer data they could use to improve advertising performance. Sales doesn't know enough to target their efforts on a per-customer basis. R&D focuses on line extensions rather than innovating new products based on customer data.
Welcome to the Party, Middleware
Middleware used to be the go-to for software developers. It helped them connect systems so they could build better software. Today, however, middleware has reinvented itself. It's now helping companies bring together all of the disjointed data from across their enterprise and beyond.
Organizations recognize the value in all of the data they have scattered across the company. They want to leverage everything they have, even combining it with purchased customer data from third parties, to get ahead of the competition. It's not just sales, marketing, and R&D, either. Everyone from finance to HR wants a piece of the pie because this kind of data helps them plan and predict, forecast and analyze.
Middleware is coming to the rescue, offering data centralization unlike anything we've seen in the past. It promises to combine customer, marketing, sales, and infrastructure data to give companies what they really want - not just data, but unified data that tells a story so they can make smarter decisions to increase
The Singular View
It's one thing to have databases floating around containing fragments of usable data. It's quite another to have a singular view that paints a comprehensive picture. This singular view is prized material and it goes well beyond the customer.
Many companies are using this unified data internally to track employees and their software app utilization. Why is this important? Because all of those apps are costing companies money and many of the apps aren't being fully utilized. Either features aren't needed or employees are not using them as anticipated. Some licenses are being renewed every year even after an employee is no longer employed. Every app equals per-seat licenses that often automatically renew. Without a unified view of your internal ecosystem, you're losing money without even realizing it.
The singular view isn't only about the customer. It's about gathering all kinds of data so every department can be more efficient, more productive, and more competitive. The focus may be on the customer, but the internal efficiencies can help a company become more lean, integrated, and engaged. It's using all of the data you have at your fingertips to be a better company to customers, employees, and stockholders.
Predictive Analytics Is the Future
Data is just the beginning. What companies can do with that data is the future. Predictive analytics is the goal - to have access to unified data sets that enable decision makers to predict customer behavior so they can stay one step ahead. They can develop products ahead of demand - even creating demand. They stay ahead of the competition as well, making these data sets the most prized asset in the company.
Who owns these data sets? Often, it's middleware companies who do nothing but build these data sets with the intent to sell. Sometimes, it's the B2C companies themselves, using software to begin building their own data sets that become their own secret sauce. The data sets build on each other, gaining increasingly more customer and/or employee information. That singular view becomes more honed, comprehensive, and accurate - and it's all based on real-time information.
Predictive analytics help companies develop better products and deliver better services, but it also helps them be more efficient. They can monitor everything from those software app licenses and utilization to better understanding their employees based on their past performance and current behaviors. Companies can know how much they should be paying for Salesforce, for example, based on data sets with gathered information on what other companies have recently paid for the same features. It's like the Kelly Blue Book for cars or Kayak for travel. The data is there. Why not leverage it to inform decisions without all of the manual effort typically required?
It's in the Report
Reporting has always been important, but with all of these data sets now being tapped into, reporting becomes invaluable. Companies must have access to the data as well as be able to generate the reports on demand so they can make use of the data.
Getting reports from individual software vendors isn't enough because the problem of disjointed data will raise its ugly head once again. Remember: the goal is to unify data. Companies must find reporting mechanisms that can cut across every data set, every database, every data point in order to present an accurate picture of exactly what's going on. Gathering reports and then manually connecting the dots is inefficient, error prone, and ineffective.
Today's software is capable of automatically presenting that coveted singular view. It wraps a pretty bow around the data so business leaders can make predictions based on evidence, not gut feeling. Is your data integrated? Does it provide the predictive analytics you need to rise to the top? Middleware may be the answer and give your company the competitive edge it will require to remain viable in the coming years.