I have written before on the large potential for bottom-line business improvement through agile business intelligence. Now, increasingly, there is a significant use case.
No, I’m not referring to agile software development applied to business intelligence tool “app” upgrade; that is only a small part of the picture. The major improvements in organizational value come from agile use of business intelligence, not agile processes applied to business intelligence software development teams. In other words, whether it be as corporate strategists, so-called business analysts, marketers or other corporate business intelligence users, organizations outside of IT need to use business intelligence as part of their own more agile processes.
Concretely, this means more active seeking out of unexpected information, especially outside the company in places like social media sites, and quicker, more effective reaction to (and even, sometimes, proactive anticipation of) changes in customer behavior.
Recently the “agile marketing” branch of promotional and product marketing noted by IDC in a 2010 report has gained new impetus, to the point where its proponents are trying to create an “agile marketing manifesto” comparable to the document that made agile software development visible in 2001. The question then becomes, how can marketers use both agile marketing and business intelligence to achieve better results for their organizations?
Agile Business Intelligence Rules of the Road
Over the years, agile software development has tended to hew to the principles laid down in the 2001 manifesto. (Briefly, those principles are: people over processes, working product over documentation, collaboration over contracts and change response over planning.) To adapt “agile” to a somewhat different set of tasks, agile marketing has gravitated toward the following additional principles:
- Process transparency to all;
- Sustainable pacing;
- Interactivity in the sense of conversations being two-way;
- Measurement of customer needs rather than guesswork;
- Iterative, incremental smaller-but-faster value deliveries;
- Relevance of results to customers and/or the rest of the organization.
In other words, marketing projects have “a more complex web of stakeholders” compared to agile development and therefore more face-to-face interaction, as well as a fuzzier (and possibly more experimental) project target. Therefore, agile marketers need to focus more on “agilifying” interactions (transparency, sustainability, interactivity) and making the fuzzy concrete (measurement, relevance, making the leap of faith shorter by incremental delivery).
How should business intelligence play into such an agile marketing process? Agile business intelligence should meet three needs:
Ability to access social media data. In promotional marketing, agile marketers need their own access to business intelligence for their own purposes, and specifically to access social media data.
A recent presentation by Mary Meeker suggests there has been a sea change in customer media usage over the last few years, with time spent on the Web in one form or another jumping to over 40 percent, pretty much displacing the same amount of print media usage and matching the amount of time spent on TV. If they are to deliver relevant promotions rapidly and effectively, agile marketers cannot afford to wait for the indirect, otherwise focused insights into social media of a chief strategy officer or business analyst.
Measurement. Agile promotional marketers need not only information on the effectiveness of past promotions but also on changes in customer needs that must be matched to the promotion and the product. This, in turn, means business intelligence support for exploratory social media data analysis rather than simply on-demand applets.
More collaboration tools. These should be “agile” collaboration tools that allow transparent data sharing. They should focus on production of insights that is inclusive/two-way/crowdsourced rather than lean.
What are the results? According to a recent post, they are similar to those of agile software development: faster and cheaper promotion (or product marketing) delivery, better targeting to the customer, greater satisfaction for both the customer and corporate stakeholders and better “quality.” Of course, those agile marketing projects cited do not yet use “agile business intelligence;” but all that says is that promotional and product marketers could do even better with better agile process support from business intelligenc.
Agile BI Is As Agile BI Does
There are quite a few more ideas on how agile business intelligence can support agile marketing, but at this point they are premature for one simple reason: Business intelligence isn’t there yet. While we have been slapping “agile business intelligence” on solutions that simply put agile-app-developer “lipstick” on a fundamentally un-agile business intelligence user interface, customers’ needs, the predictability of the business environment and corporate strategic imperatives (e.g., how do I drive my business’ brand/value proposition into my own work force?) have changed dramatically. Simply drawing the relationships between key social media providers now looks like a rat’s nest.
What can IT do until business intelligence vendors get their act together in agile marketing support? An interesting suggestion is to look to agile software development vendors – both vendors of agile collaboration tools like CollabNet and agile trainers like Thoughtworks. They are useful as much for advice about how to tune your tools for agile marketing processes and agile insight collection as for specific agile, simple-to-adapt tools.
Or you can turn to small-company practitioners of agile marketing like, say, MindJet, and brainstorm with them on how to improve business intelligence to support the agile marketer better. Because, ultimately, they are like you: trying to figure out how to turn business intelligence potential into real business value (in this case, in marketing) as quickly and effectively as possible.
Agile business intelligence is as agile business intelligence does, in marketing as in software-driven innovation. What does your business intelligence do for agile marketing? If the answer is, “not much,” how much of the benefits of the agile process are you really getting? Not much again. Isn’t it time to do something about that?
Wayne Kernochan is the president of Infostructure Associates, an affiliate of Valley View Ventures that aims to identify ways for businesses to leverage information for innovation and competitive advantage. Wayne has been an IT industry analyst for 22 years. During that time, he has focused on analytics, databases, development tools and middleware, and ways to measure their effectiveness, such as TCO, ROI, and agility measures. He has worked for respected firms such as Yankee Group, Aberdeen Group and Illuminata, and has helped craft marketing strategies based on competitive intelligence for vendors ranging from Progress Software to IBM.