As a new year dawns there is always a rush to predict the key trends and technologies for the following year. While constantly looking forward and innovating is of course hugely important, organisations need to be mindful that innovation does not simply mean chasing after the next big thing.

Businesses need to ensure they have the basic building blocks in place in order to get real benefit from any technology they purchase. What is often overlooked is the hugely important role data plays. Nearly every new trend such as AI, cognitive computing and IoT has data at its core. Sure, data is not as headline grabbing as the above-mentioned technologies, but none of them are possible without access to, and good integration between accurate and relevant data.

With this in mind, the four key marketing and data technology opportunities and challenges for 2017 and beyond can be outlined as follows:

1. Real-time decision making finally gets real

While there was a huge amount of noise about real-time decision-making and real-time next best action marketing a few years ago, we haven’t as yet seen significant, practical application of this technology.

This is set to change from 2017 onwards. Many organisations looked into or acquired technology to facilitate real-time when it first emerged as a leading trend, but it is only now that many are actually practically applying it.

2. Taking steps towards cognitive computing

The concept of cognitive computing and A.I has been much discussed recently, in the same way that real time marketing was a few years ago. While there has been a limited number of practical applications of this technology to date, there is no doubt that the concept is set to dominate the landscape for some time. All the big players such as Adobe, Salesforce and IBM are vying to take the lead here, with IBM’s Watson in particular making waves in the industry.

The next few years will see organisations start to get to grips with what cognitive computing can offer. While there is much fascination with the potential for cognitive, there is still an element of nervousness from many organisations, especially when it comes to AI. This is not unfounded, as A.I has not yet reached the point where it can run without input.

There are still fundamental kinks to be worked out, especially when it comes to machine learning, both in terms of clustering and classification and, importantly, machine learning’s integration with AI.

More fundamentally, though, businesses need to look beyond a ‘gimmick-led’ application of these technologies and instead investigate how it can be applied to actively improve personalised customer experience.

3. The growing need for data management and governance

Data management is a huge commodity. Proponents of data value management have long urged organisations to see data as a corporate asset and they are right.  

Just like any asset organisations should attach cost and value to their data. Yet how many organisations are actually doing any of this?  Only a small minority of market leaders.

The majority only considers data in this way when a specific requirement rears its head, this looks set to change in the coming years.

4. Getting your digital estate in order

Organisations are still failing to fully understand their digital estates and the systems they already have. Many are fairly digitally mature, with estates that have grown at a rapid pace. Due to the particularly high turn-over in senior marketing roles, coupled with increasing marketing technology spend, businesses are likely to have multiple systems in place, which are not being utilised or integrated properly.

These ‘Frankenstacks’ of disconnected technology have developed for a number of reasons, primarily due to the fact that organisations have been working in silos for years. Each area, line of business, division, etc. often acquires technology separately. This creates a monster of parts, all probably very good in their own area but as a combination stitched and patched together and not always serving the common good.

Innovating and pushing the boundaries of what is possible are part of the very fabric of the technology industry. There will always be new and exciting technologies and trends to explore. This is entirely as it should be. However, in order to gain value from groundbreaking technology and turn it in to something that will deliver significant improvement to their customers, it is vital that organisations strike the right balance.

By all means follow the latest predictions and set aside time and budget to innovate, but make sure the basic building blocks are in place too.


By Dan Telling, managing partner at Bench

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