In my December column, we examined the life cycle that organizations go through to transform data into action: data, information, insight, strategy and action. This month's column focuses on the insight aspect of the life cycle. Insight provides the key metrics with which organizations can monitor and evaluate themselves. At the end of the day, most people simply want to know what is working and what is not working. Insight allows organizations to develop the key metrics and the key reports utilizing the right communication vehicle (dashboard, portal, e-mail, cell phone, etc.) to understand what needs improvement, further investment or a complete overhaul. From a customer intelligence (CI) perspective, insight means understanding what is driving customer demand, loyalty, purchase size, repeat purchases, visits/traffic or satisfaction. Insight helps evaluate sales, service and marketing strategies that drive profitable customer acquisition and retention.

Several guiding principles can help you develop a competitive insight capability at your organization. As I am writing this directly after Thanksgiving, let's use the Thanksgiving meal as a recurring example to see how you can drive loyalty to your Thanksgiving guests. This column, of course, assumes that you want your guests to come back.

Design for the Unknown

Many organizations focus on specific reports as the end goal of their insight initiatives. Though reports can act as objective criteria to show your stakeholders the quality and power of the information you have provided, reporting requirements tend to only answer the business questions of the day. Tomorrow those questions change and the reports become obsolete. Inflexible data architectures do not answer the questions you don't yet know you have. The art of insight design is understanding what is not being said during requirements gathering, what information is needed even if not directly asked for and structuring the information in a way that answers the business' future questions. Reports rarely answer questions; they only create new questions.

Each year there are radical changes in your Thanksgiving guest list. Trying to create the Thanksgiving feast schedule solely based on the last year's issues or challenges is not good enough. People move from the city to the suburbs, single guests become engaged and married, married couples reproduce adding new guests to the list. Your analysis must be based on the constantly changing needs of your customers, or you risk serving dinner too early, too late or with too few seats.

Design for the Process

The purpose of insight is to deliver the right information to the right person at the right time in order to facilitate a decision-making process, avoid an issue or capitalize on an opportunity. When designing your reports or information delivery vehicle, map the vehicle to the business process. Make sure that the sales manager understands win/loss ratios when he/she is creating the forecast. Make sure time to market statistics are available when the marketing director is planning the next quarter's campaigns. Then train your stakeholders and users to use the information in conjunction with their business process, not a specific day of the week or time of day.

At Thanksgiving, it is crucial to keep tabs on the hors d'oeuvres. An up-to-date inventory of shrimp, dip and M&M's is essential to make sure that empty plates are not on display (creating hungry, irritable relatives) and that you transition from appetizers to the main course seamlessly without long wait times.

Segment Your Users

Not all users behave the same. Users are quite varied in their analytical skill sets, data savvy and technology sophistication. Further, users vary in how often they need information, the level of detail of that information and their need to move from information to action. Customer intelligence programs make sure that dashboards support key segment executives so they can evaluate their business while analysts crunch every single transaction looking for critical customer behavioral trends. Tools, training and support must be tailored to each user segment.

User segmentation may be the most crucial aspect to a successful Thanksgiving meal. Seating your turkey- and stuffing-focused guests too close to the vegetables could result in product consumption delays. Seating football fans with easy access to views of scores will also avoid dominoes of people having to continue to move out of the way in order for guests to see the newest highlights.

Data and Process Education, Not Tool Education

It is obvious that training is important for any technology adoption plan. However, the way we train for customer intelligence systems has drastically changed over the years. As the tools have become more standardized in their graphical interfaces and our users have become more computer savvy, there is less need for us to train in the tool itself. Sophisticated users tend to figure out how to perform a specific function or use a specific feature. To correctly leverage a customer intelligence system, users need to know which information will fulfill their requirements, the oddities in the information and where the information came from (data education). The next step is for users to understand when the information is to be utilized and where it can make an impact (process education) in their daily business lives.

To make sure the Thanksgiving night runs smoothly, everyone must be educated on the process and when they will be needed to participate in the process. Most of us know how to use forks and knives and will recognize the turkey when we see it. However, we need to understand when we are supposed to gather the dishes, get chairs from upstairs or downstairs or serve coffee.

Manage Your Insight Environment, Don't Let It Manage You

Insight environments from OLAP to reporting to statistical analysis have never had the sophisticated technical management tools such as the database or the extract, transform, load (ETL) tool that other aspects of the CI environment have. New software from organizations such as NOAD enable usage monitoring, version control, environment migration facilities and impact analysis. These tools increase the quality of your applications.


Telecommunication organizations are becoming the most sophisticated users of customer information. These companies are starting to understand customer preferences, price points, product preferences, win-back challenges and retention at a level far beyond many other industries. This insight allows marketing to invest in and divest of expensive marketing programs, products and bundles that can increase overall corporate profitability.

Travel and hospitality seem to be continuing to increase and test their understanding of customer preferences. United is experimenting with offering cheap upgrades to first and business class and Hyatt offers a smorgasbord of food or drink when platinum members check in.


Healthcare is continually challenged by a regulated industry with mountains of information. The industry continues to struggle with how to get the right information to the right person during key customer/member life cycle events. The process is clear and well-defined, but the information is not yet available, squandering opportunities to increase loyalty.

The way we use and leverage insight and analytics has changed over the last five years. With the data becoming more available and easier to access, our sophistication with how we deal with our user base must increase. Realizing that not all users are created equal (just like customers), that training goals have changed and that the link between data and business process is no longer an option will increase the effectiveness of your customer intelligence insight system. It will also ensure that the turkey is fresh, the gravy is nearby and your sister won't take the last bit of stuffing.

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