Big Data in the Age of the Customer: Interview with Forrester's Connie Moore

Connie Moore

Are you thinking about the impact of Big Data on your job and company processes? If not, it's time to start, says Connie Moore of Forrester Research. Big Data, the ability to store and analyze enormous amounts of data, has implications well beyond the domain of your IT department and database managers. What are you going to do with that data? What can it tell you about your customers? Your business operations? Your company's performance?

In this PEX Network interivew, Connie Moore discusses the need for "Big Process" to deal with "Big Data", describes the implications of Big Data on customer centric process mangement, and touches on the skills she believes are necessary for the coming new reality of Big Data in what Forrester terms the Age of the Customer.

This is an edited transcript of a video interview. To watch the original interview click here: Big Data, Big Process and Customers

PEX Network: What is Big Data?

Connie Moore: Big data is about being able to handle vast amounts of information on an extreme scale in an affordable matter. There is a vast amount of information out there and companies only handle 5% to 8% of all the information that is relevant to them.

There are all the technologies that are generating information that you need to know about - for example web sites, social sites, blogs, etc – and this information didn’t exist 15 years ago. It really needs to be pulled into a company, but at the moment companies don’t really have a way of handling that volume of data with current technology.

PEX Network: Forrester says that Big Data requires "Big Process" – what you do mean?

The idea that we need to "cement" in the BPM community is a way of looking at processes on a big scale. Instead of doing isolated projects, we need to be undertaking large transformative BPM programmes, putting the customer first and giving the customer control. We also need to globalise, standardise and humanise the way we approach processes. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we need to move beyond processes, by which I mean, we need to get out of "process jargon" and talk in business terms. And part of that is, yes, we need to embrace big data.

These are some giant ideas going on here. Big data is new thing and probably won’t be realized for several years - I would at least put a five year horizon on it. However, something that we at Forrester call "Big Process" is something that we need to start doing now. Big Process is a way of thinking on a larger scale than many business process professionals are doing right now, especially when they’re thinking about isolated projects.

PEX Network: What are the challenges in making Big Data practical for companies?

I think the data community has a big issue in that a lot of data professionals don’t think in business terms. They are either quants and have PhD’s and statistical analysis and so forth or they are more down closer to the plumbing of how information is stored. For data professionals to move up and transform processes through information lab transformation they are going to have to become much more business focused.

Business process pros just need to expand their thinking and we see already that some organisations are doing this. The place where it is surfacing is data governance and process governance are being aligned. For instance, master data management is being aligned with BPM. That is a great start: it is pragmatic, it is doable and it is smart to do that. I think organisations that start there can continue to expand their journey.

PEX Network: Where does customer-centricity fit into this?

What we’re really talking about is knowing much more about your customers and using that information to determine your next action or the next offer when you are interacting with the customer. However, all of this is linked to the process and that is why I think they – Big Data and Big Process - need to come together.

We are in the age of the customer so when we embark on transformation we have to do it with the customer in mind. We often talk about doing process improvement from the "Outside-In", but we need to go even beyond Outside-In and admit that the customer is in control. We have to give the customer control and give the customer choices. This also means we need to stop doing so much straight through processing in isolated places of automation where there is no human involved, like voice response system or voicemail or "robo calls" and things like that. Stop doing that and humanise it because that is what customers are looking for, that is what customers crave.

Whatever we do - whether it is Big Data, Big Process or a combination of the two - must be governed by delivering great customer experiences. If you want to be competitive and stay competitive and you want to generate tremendous amounts of revenue and market share you have to focus on the age of the customer.

PEX Network: What skills will be required for this new reality?

We have just touched on something I am passionate about. I believe that there are not enough BPM skills. If you add up the companies where executives want to drive massive change - transformational change - and you look at what is required to make that change happen, then you quickly realize that there aren’t enough people skilled in BPM to make it happen.

Companies have embarked on techniques for training and mentoring people in all sorts of skills, whether it is process analysis, business architecture or any of the other process skills that you may need to have in an organisation. But it is taking too long - it may take one to two years to mentor someone, which is too slow.

I believe that the skills we need to be looking at are things like customer experience skills, process analysis and process development from a technical development point of view. We need Lean Six Sigma, we need Lean - we need all kinds of things in the tool box.

The trouble is that for all of that training we don’t have enough people. They are not coming out of the universities fast enough and they are not being mentored and trained internally fast enough. There is a huge need for accreditation programmes, for learning opportunities where you can go and get someone trained quickly. I hope that someone steps up and fills that void soon.

PEX Network: Do you think that having cross-functional teams for process improvement is becoming more critical?

Companies that are embarking on this journey looking at a BPM programme, they identify core cross functional processes and just about every company that I have ever worked with whether they are huge or SMB they have about five to seven core business processes and these processes today are being done within functional silos. You have to have people who are collaborating to support the new cross functional process, which is why I think change management is such a vital skill to develop in your BPM team.

But the thing about cross functional processes that I think is the road block are the managers who are resistant to a cross functional process because they perceive that a loss in power, a loss in status, a loss in control and they are actually freaked out about it. Usually the people underneath are pretty happy about it because they know how inefficient things are and they know things should be better. What you have to really tackle are those mid-level managers and you have to really work on your change management programme to get them turned around so they embrace it and see that it is not a threat it is an opportunity.