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Channel Proliferation and How To Survive It

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Last week, I attended the Gartner Data and Analytics conference.  Apart from the fact that it still amazes me how many Business Intelligence software providers it is possible to get in one room, it’s a very impressive event because of Gartner’s focus on future trends; you are encouraged to come out of your day-to-day work mode, and in some cases your comfort zone in terms of the new concepts being presented, so you can think about the future.

There were several trends, or sub-trends, that emerged to varying degrees – the ubiquity and power of cloud-based technologies, and of APIs, the development of event analytics, the plethora of visualisation tools to layer over, and join up, different data sources.  But perhaps the most interesting was with human-focused technologies.

Now, Gartner, being the type of company that will use ten words when one will do, actually groups these technologies as “Transparently Immersive Experiences”.  What, you may ask, does that mean?

Gartner says that Transparently Immersive Experiences are those that “introduce transparency between people, businesses and things. This relationship will become much more entwined as the evolution of technology becomes more adaptive, contextual and fluid within the workplace, at home, and interacting with businesses and other people”.  I take that to mean, broadly speaking, that these are developments that make it easier to interact with computers and technology using natural behaviours, like talking, or moving, or just thinking, rather than using a keyboard and a computer.

These would therefore include things like the Connected Home and Gesture Control, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Brain-Computer Interfaces, and Voice-Activated, or Emotionally-Activated Computers.  All of which sounds interesting and valuable, but perhaps mainly because most of it is 5 years or so away, so it sounds cool and innovative, and ever so slightly out of reach.

What was interesting was that the some of our more innovative clients have, quite independently, and much more practically, picked up on these Transparently Immersive Experiences.  Our clients also follow development practices for future technologies that take people out of the day-to-day activities, either by running formal Innovation Labs, or more informal, ad-hoc projects to investigate these tools in short timescales, or in a single Sprint.  But the key is that they are given the bandwidth outside of BAU work to experiment and try new things.

What’s more, in terms of developing working prototypes, these innovation teams or methods can get a very long way in a short space of time.  Which goes to show that some of these applications are perhaps not the 5-10 years’ away that the futurologists might have us believe.

The projected market, and applications, for this sector, is huge.  Conversational User Interfaces, for example, will become a key way of communicating with customers as people become more comfortable with this form of technology.

However, what does this mean from an Insight point of view?  On the face of it, it seems that there is comparatively little change; voice becomes another channel, perhaps, and most analytics systems are well versed in measuring searches, whether typed, predictive, and in some cases, voice searches.

There are obviously voice or natural-language question response applications for analytics and related tools themselves, and we are starting to see some of these emerge, at least as proof of concepts, if not as production-ready versions as yet.

But I think the development of voice and gesture control methods will help drive a more fundamental change in how we measure behaviour.

There is already an emerging trend for event-based analytics, which records any customer interaction or behaviour wherever that may be. This is an evolution of the concept of the more traditional channel-based analytics where you simply track activities by channels linked to particular tools (web analytics, social analytics, email and CRM management).

Given the multichannel world we live in, if you want to understand the full behaviour of the consumer, you then need to join your different data sets up to get a complete picture of the individual customer.  This requires well designed analytics, and specialist skills and tools to link the data up within your environment.

The more consumers use “transparent” interfaces, where an interaction could take place anywhere, or anytime – in some scenarios, literally as the thought enters into the consumer’s head – the more complicated this traditional view of channel-based analytics will become.

In this “uber-channel” world, a different approach will be needed.

And this is where event analytics comes in.

This approach, or measurement philosophy, starts with the customer, and tracks each interaction by an individual, regardless of the channel it occurs in.  On that basis, the channel effectively becomes just another variable or dimension, rather than the defining boundary of what can be recorded.  Different channels will of course have different sets of variables associated with them, but given database limits are effectively now endless, we are no longer constrained by the number of variables that can be recorded.  This means any event analytics environment is focused, almost by design, on the customer, and so will be able to measure interactions when there are tens of channels, rather than a few.

This is not to say that event analytics has all the answers, and there are some significant challenges, particularly around customer recognition, and data privacy and compliance that event analytics still needs to tackle, which is perhaps the main reason why this approach hasn’t developed more quickly, and is still a couple of years away from being mainstream.  But these data privacy issues need to be addressed anyway, especially given the GDPR across Europe, and at least event analytics needs to tackle these challenges head-on.

But, as shown by both the Gartner conference and the innovation approaches that our forward-looking clients use, interface proliferation, whether that’s via voice, gesture or other methods, will continue and be valuable for consumers.  So, Insight analysts and data strategists need to think about how best to set up their environments so they are ready for these developments.

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