4 min read

Real time analytics is a watchword for the tech and marketing industries (or mar-tech if you like terrible neologisms). But it simply isn’t delivering the impact it should for many businesses today. Research by Harvard Business Review Analytics Services, done with support from SAS, Accenture and Intel, found that while businesses are spending more time and money on real time analytics, they’re not seeing the impact they want. So, although 70% of enterprises who took part in the research say they have increased spending on real time analytics, only 16% said they’re actually very effective in using real time analytics across different channels.

Clearly something isn’t working. We’re seeing a big gap between expectations and effectiveness.

And, like everything in tech, it probably isn’t the technology’s fault.Real time analytics research data

All of the data here suggests that we’re all thinking about real time analytics in a way that is far too abstract. We’ve set expectations about what ‘real time analytics’ can and should do and set about building projects that should, in theory, support the business.

We’re thinking about real time analytics in a way that is far too abstract.

But therein lies the problem – the data indicates that we’re all thinking about real time analytics from a business perspective, not a customer one. Of course, all of the capabilities listed above are ultimately about supporting the customer in some way. But the thinking is backward. Customer touch points should be at the forefront of every business’ collective mind when exploring real time analytics. Anything less is never going to be as effective as you want it to be.

Read next: Why your app needs real time mobile analytics 

Joining the dots between real time analytics and customers

Of course, it might be that there’s something unspoken here. It’s not so much that we’re thinking the wrong way round, but instead that the data is simply saying that bridging the gap between analytics and customers is hard.

And it is, of course.

It’s hard because it forces us to change the way we work and organize. We might even need to rethink who should be driving the data strategy.

Teams need to talk

Arguably, there’s not quite enough alignment between different teams – marketing on the one hand, data, and development are all dependent on one another, but they’re possibly not working together in the way they should. CTOs, CIOs aren’t working closely enough with CMOs. You can’t build an analytics strategy without properly understanding all the customer touch points – what they are now, and what that should look like in the future.

Real time analytics is a ‘full stack problem’

It also needs to be thought of as a ‘full stack problem’. By this I don’t mean that it’s down to your full stack developers to solve (although they might be involved). Instead it’s a problem that takes in every bit of the software stack. It’s no good having an incredible vision if you haven’t built the analytics capabilities into your front end. If your platform is old and held together with a bit of string, it’s going to be difficult to fully realize your data-heavy dreams. This was something flagged up in the research with 70% of respondents claiming legacy systems were making data integration a huge challenge.

Similarly, there’s no point talking about self-service analytics if you’re not going to build an internal tool that’s actually usable. Integration is fine, but then you need people to actually use the data – and to know why they’re using it. Whether you build an awesome tool in-house or find a perfect analytics solution, you need to be confident people are going to actually make use of your real time analytics you’ve finally achieved.

Start from customer touch points

Putting the customer first is, however, the first rule of real time analytics. Start with the key touch points for customers. That might require an audit of the current situation as well as some creative thinking about what might work in the future.

Starting with these touch points is also crucial for how analytics is shared and used internally. As I’ve already said, there’s no point having highly available analytics if stakeholders don’t actually know what they’re doing with the data that’s there. This means every stakeholder needs to work backwards from every point they may influence the customer – whether that’s a button, an email, a piece of content  – and consider how and what data is going to be most useful to them.

Real time analytics takes time

Although research suggests that implementing real time analytics is challenging, we maybe just need to accept that some of these things take time. They are a mix of technological and cultural issues we need to untie and work through.

It can be frustrating – especially as the next few years will probably throw up new innovations just as we think we’ve cracked this one. The important thing is that collaboration and communication is key, as well as making sure everyone understands who the customer is and what they want to achieve.

Simple really, right?


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