One of the major shifts we have seen in the past five years or so is that business models are under serious challenge from mobile technology, the Internet, and especially social media. This rapidly changing business model picture is happening because the way that organizations relate to their customers, their employees, and their stakeholders is changing, and social media is driving and shaping much of this. As a result, executives are on notice regarding the need for an urgent change of focus in organization capabilities and how these can help deliver greater business value.
One such capability is how to deal with unstructured data and information that is now permeating the Internet especially via social media. Not so long ago, we lived in a world that was highly structured and systematized. Data tended to be tightly organised into rows and columns and tables. Analysis was done by interrogating spreadsheets and using various formulas for interpreting performance in various areas. But advances in technology have caused massive amounts of unstructured data to be created on a scale never thought possible just a few years ago. Here are two examples to highlight the point –
(1) Growth in Twitter activity – from Twitter Q2 2014 results:
- Average Monthly Active Users (MAUs) were 271 million as of June 30, 2014, an increase of 24% year-over-year
- Timeline views reached 173 billion for the second quarter of 2014, an increase of 15% year-over-year.
(2) What happens in one minute on the Internet – from Intel September 2013:
- One hundred thousand new tweets
- Six million Facebook views
- More than two million search queries on Google.
The above provides some insight into the massive amount of data that is being generated. But the key point is that it is largely unstructured data. With social media, the main type of data is commentary, text and photos that come in many different forms and languages. It is not information collected in a structured form that is easy to summarise and analyse. Organisations are therefore challenged in how their capabilities need to be re-shaped to make some sense of all the data that is relevant to them. Consumer facing businesses like airlines, banks and retailers have a vital interest in the patterns that are emerging in comments and chats on social media. How are these potentially impacting their brand, their products and competitor moves?
Recent growth in the field of analytics has meant that sensible conclusions and decisions can now be more effectively made from these large volumes of data. This is especially true for the analysis of information emerging from unstructured data from social media. Pattern recognition is a key capability and interestingly the use of some skills outside of the traditional technology fields is starting to emerge.
The issue is not whether these capabilities need to be re-shaped but rather how quickly they will change organizations as we know them. The winners will be those organizations and industries that strongly embrace these capabilities as truly new change initiatives and deliver them accordingly to add value.
For many organizations, this will represent a major challenge. It does require the discipline to take a reality check on future directions and priorities. For instance, a transport business would need to ask about its capability in managing, say, a growing pattern of customer frustration regarding their booking systems. As part of this consideration, it would also need to assess how quickly such a capability can be developed or acquired, and the cost of the investment.
Organizations need to consider four factors:
- Think of the building of new capabilities as a major business change initiative – not just recruiting a few more analysts
- Consider new capabilities in the context of real competitive advantage – not just a systems improvement or upgrade
- Drive the change from the C-suite – new capabilities need the right level of investment and commitment from the most senior levels in the business
- Build new thinking in the business – patterns in social media provide the opportunity for a new agenda for the future
As French author and Nobel Prize winner Andre Gide once said, “One cannot discover new oceans without the courage to lose sight of the shore”.