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Woman working on a Surface device.As technology becomes more accessible to non-technicians, business leaders are taking more control over the tools and processes that affect their functional area.

Whatever the business outcomes they’re striving for, these leaders can make use of progressive customer-facing applications and good data to create actionable insights that support their needs.

In December 2020, Forrester Consulting conducted a study, commissioned by Microsoft, to look at business leaders’ attitudes toward business applications and analytics. Forrester surveyed 302 US-based business decision makers from a mix of roles across marketing, sales, digital, operations, analytics, and customer service.

One of the key findings revealed a gap between the value placed on analytics and its current usage levels. “Ninety percent of surveyed leaders said data and insights have an indispensable role in their organization’s day-to-day work activities, yet less than one-third on average are actually analyzing available data for insights across various use cases,” the study states.

This gap indicates a prime opportunity for leaders to gain an edge over competitors by moving more quickly to add data analysis capabilities.

The end goal is to better serve customers

As customers gain more knowledge about their purchasing options in the digital omnichannel marketplace, their expectations continue to grow even more sharply. The study found that 88 percent of business leaders said that “customer expectations for digital experiences with their brand have significantly increased in the past two years.”

As a result, businesses are looking to improve the customer experience. In fact, this was the top- reported business objective. In order to achieve it, the Forrester study cites two crucial areas of focus:

  • Modernization of customer-facing business applications.
  • Improvement of analytics capabilities.

I’ll focus on the second area here because I want to drive home the prime opportunity that’s available for those two-thirds of organizations that aren’t yet generating insights from their data.

The business value of data analytics and insights

A majority of the business leaders surveyed believe that analytics contributes to important general business objectives. Eighty-five percent cite analytics as key for driving business growth, and 86 percent say analytics is crucial for advancing business innovation.

However, the most important use cases for data insights are different depending on the specific department and business role.

  • Sales and customer service roles are interested in enhancing customer profiles. Here analytics can deliver a more robust view of the customer and help in personalizing communications and offers.
  • Marketing roles want to improve the customer journey. They look to analytics for insights on the customer lifecycle so they can do more effective targeting and choose the right channels.
  • Administrative and operations roles are looking for business improvements. They are drawing on insights to build business cases for financial investments and operational improvements down the road.

Again, in keeping with the trend of more accessible technology, business leaders see AI as an important component of modern insights. AI extends the capabilities of analytics by improving speed, power, and automation, and 89 percent of leaders surveyed believe that AI will have a positive impact on their organizations over the next one to two years.

The challenge of putting analytics into practice

Forrester reported on specific types of data that are being collected and analyzed by the organizations represented in the survey. For example, 45 percent were collecting basic demographics, but only 32 percent were analyzing the collected data. Preference data was often collected (by 43 percent of organizations) but even less often analyzed (by 25 percent of organizations).

To dig into the question of why organizations haven’t started using analytics, even when they recognize its value, Forrester named a few reasons: “The most common challenge is security threats, which can prevent or discourage decision-makers from working with customer data until they know the data will be managed in a secure and compliant way. Other common challenges include a lack of data scientists/analytics skill sets, and lack of data visualization capabilities. These are substantial issues as companies have troves of data available to them, but have limited capacity to use the data to generate and apply insights in a meaningful way.”

To explore these findings and more, I invite you to join us for the webinar Modernize your customer experiences and elevate your data strategy on Thursday, April 15, 2021, when speakers from Forrester and Microsoft will go into the study in greater depth.