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Information overload: Is your business making the most of its data?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software)

A fundamental shift from distinct digital sessions to fully online lives, means today’s consumers are continually connected via an ever-growing range of smart devices.

And this transformation is still progressing with the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the much-awaited arrival of Virtual Reality (VR) and the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), including subsets such as machine learning. This year alone we’ve seen the major tech players ramp up their strategies with Google’s CEO declaring its core focus is now AI, and Apple rumoured to be building chips that embed AI into multiple devices.

But as the technology around constant connectivity accelerates, it’s beginning to cause data overload, with 2.5 quintillion bytes of data generated a day since 2015. That’s an abundance of readily available information, created within the last two years alone.

However, few businesses are truly prepared to operate in this era of the always-on consumer, and navigating the data minefield will prove increasingly challenging as the May 2018 enforcement date for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) approaches. So what benefits can businesses reap from this mass of data? Why must they make managing it a top priority? And what is the secret to effectively utilising huge volumes of data from multiple sources?

Data is a core driver of business decisions 

Until recently data management may have been seen as a ‘nice to have’ that gave businesses a competitive edge, but with a series of high profile data breaches reported in the media and most UK internet users (92 per cent) concerned about data privacy, it is now a matter of trust. By 2020 digitally trustworthy companies are predicted to be 20 per cent more profitable than those who can’t demonstrate data supply chain transparency, as trust is a key influencer in attracting new customers and retaining customer loyalty. With the GDPR due to come into effect, providing consumers with new rights over the collection and use of their personal data, business have no choice but to step up and take control of their data.           

By having their data house in order, businesses are better equipped to deliver enhanced customer experiences and increased levels of engagement. Building an accurate, complete picture of the individual means businesses can determine how to best deploy insights to produce unified experiences and relevant interactions. In the digital world data is a core driver of business decisions, and those that have control of their data enjoy a strategic advantage over their competitors.

Today’s customers expect relevant, timely interactions, and according to a Gartner report, 80 per cent of consumers have chosen or recommended a brand that offers a personalised experience. Through machine learning, businesses can use consumer data to predict individual needs, delivering tailored messaging and personalised recommendations.

Domesticating data one step at a time 

Businesses frequently jump into data management without a clear strategy and quickly find themselves in over their heads, so a step-by-step process is vital. The first stage is to perform a data audit, understanding what data the organisation collects, where it comes from, where it is stored, who has responsibility for it, what it is used for, as well as what measures are in place to protect it.

A requirement of the GDPR is that data is only used for the purpose for which it was originally collected, and that it is deleted once it is no longer useful for that purpose. Therefore, the second step is for businesses to identify which data streams are business critical, and which are less important. Non-critical data should be removed to minimise risk, but this must be done securely to prevent unauthorised recovery. 

The privacy by design requirement of the GDPR, which requires all internal systems to be developed around the principles of data protection, may encourage some businesses to contemplate an entire rip and replace of their current systems. But there are sophisticated data management tools that can be implemented alongside existing systems and allow businesses to demonstrate privacy by design, meaning this extreme course of action is rarely necessary. 

Once businesses understand the data that flows through their organisation, and have removed information streams that are surplus to requirements, they can move onto the more exciting phase – maximising consumer insight for business success.

A single view is the secret to success 

The ultimate data-management goal for any business should be to gain a single, holistic view of the customer that encompasses activity across all channels. After all, consumers move continuously between multiple screens and devices and expect businesses to do the same.

But achieving this single view is challenging as businesses continue to work with fragmented data supply chains, where information is siloed by channel or device. When information is viewed in silos businesses often believe they are dealing with multiple customers when it is in fact the same individual interacting through a variety of touch points. This means they miss key parts of the consumer journey and prevents them delivering a seamless experience. 

Bridging these disparate data silos, and joining the dots along the customer journey can be achieved through the implementation of a central data hub that aggregates all available data streams. By pulling data into a central hub, businesses are able to bridge the gaps between online purchases, email interactions, social networking, and many more customer engagements. As a result, a unified 360-degree view of the customer can be created.

By combining all possible data points, businesses can create detailed profiles that allow them to understand the needs and context of the individual and drive action in real time, without compromising privacy. They can deliver a more relevant and engaging customer experience, build trust, and create long-term customer loyalty, ultimately boosting sales.  

With the enforcement date for the GDPR approaching, businesses have little choice but to take control of their data, but rather than seeing this as a tiresome obligation they should view it as the perfect opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the individual, and deliver relevant engaging experiences that will generate a loyal, valuable customer base. 

Lindsay McEwan, VP and Managing Director EMEA, Tealium
Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software

Lindsay McEwan has almost 20 years of proven strategic leadership and commercial management expertise gained within leading marketing and technology businesses.