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Embracing the change

The proposition that we can be at the forefront of understanding what is happening ‘out there’ is powerful and it’s what inspires everyone to do what they do every day. However, the need to be flexible and to embrace different ways of working is greater now than it ever has been.

The research industry of today is markedly different to what it was only a few years ago and it continues to change shape at pace. Much can be written about the way it is evolving and the forces driving the change, but I thought it worth throwing the spotlight on four areas that will influence the direction of the industry in coming years.

1.The transformation agenda
The growth engine for all the large global consulting firms and strategy houses is transformation. Over 40 per cent of global spend on consulting is in the US and the area with most momentum is in helping clients transform what they do and how they do it. Major organisations are wrestling with the duality of growth – optimising the performance of their core business in the current environment, while moving into new ways of operating in the digital economy and opening-up new markets. It’s particularly pronounced in the corporate world, but of equal relevance for many areas of government.

The importance placed on transformation is reflected in the emergence of the ‘chief transformation officer’ role and other similar positions. There are opportunities here for the research industry. When there is pressure on the leadership of organisations to make fundamental decisions around the future and how they operate, the need for unique insights to underpin evidence-led decision-making is all the greater. That’s a positive for researchers, but equally it should be recognised that the insights territory is more crowded than ever. Combined with that, the growth in demand for insights and market intelligence is coming from different quarters and what is in demand has changed. There’s no sign this will abate.

The most recent global ESOMAR report redefined the parameters of the industry and suggested that spend in the newer areas of research and analytics will soon overtake those in the more established areas. The ability to adapt and to understand where the demand is coming from as well as who the competition is will be critical. To thrive in coming years and to be at the frontline of the transformation agenda, it will be important to be considered the best source of insight and inspiration and to be able to articulate the value that will be created. The latter is all-important.

2.Deeper data convergence
The continued focus in the world of customer data isn’t so much on what
is available – as there’s no shortage – but on how it can be combined in a meaningful way to help drive better and more immediate decision making. It’s happening far and wide, but one of the areas of great interest is in customer experience (CX) and getting experience data better linked with operational data. Think of it as combining primary customer research with core operational data (finance, customer relationship management, human resources, etc) and looking to do it in real time.

The momentum has been building for a few years, but global enterprise software giant SAP’s recent USD$8bn acquisition of the research and experience software company Qualtrics has been the catalyst for getting it high on the agenda. It’s piqued interest among those in senior levels of many organisations who are drawn to the potential to directly bring together dynamic customer insights with the data that has long been used to drive the organisation. The convergence of different data-sets will create opportunities for research specialists, however, it will also see people from outside the immediate profession up-skilling and competing.

3.The new ‘customers first’ environment
Beyond the focus on transformation and data convergence, another dynamic at play in Australia is around how organisations manage the way they operate and the associated risk. The Hayne Royal Commission into financial services and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) report from early last year have changed the way boards across all sectors think about many aspects of governance – and the relationship
with customers is central to this. There is recognition that the voice of the customer (VoC) has been lost along the way, with concern also around the ability of an organisation to manage complaints and the relationship more generally.

There are many layers to this, but on the VoC side, it’s partly a function of an over-reliance on aggregate benchmark metrics like the net promoter score (NPS). The intensity of the criticism and the implications from the enquiries last year means there is more focus on ensuring the voice of customers does ring more loudly at senior levels. Leading boards recognise that there is a deep-set expectation – from customers, the community, shareholders and regulators – that they improve the way they manage and engage with customer feedback and insight. This new ‘customers first’ focus is creating demand in the customer insights space – both in terms of evaluating existing approaches and creating new ones.

4.Trust and governance
It’s something that is most often talked about in the context of the declining levels of trust in organisations, particularly off the back of the Royal Commission, but it is an area of profound importance in the world of research as people have continued to become more concerned around how the information they provide is used and shared. The major global data breaches over the past 18 months, combined with perceptions of unethical usage by some major companies, has brought data governance to the top of the corporate and public-sector agenda.

The market and social industry has always been at the forefront in this area, recognising early the importance of the relationship with respondents and the legal and ethical boundaries in which we need to operate. However, the heat around this issue will only intensify and it’s something that needs to be proactively managed. Operating with integrity and ensuring not just regulatory compliance, but absolute ethical and respectful usage will be critical.

Looking ahead
Perhaps the key take-away through all of this is the importance of staying up to date with the broader influences on the industry and the forces driving the change. The points outlined are just four examples of some of the headline dynamics that are impacting on the direction of the industry. There are, of course, many more and with all this change comes opportunity and challenges.

There is no doubt that the level of competition from outside the industry as it is currently defined will only increase even further in coming years. As the industry broadens and further fragments, there’s a need to be agile and bold in the way research and related services are positioned. As mentioned at the outset, it is an exciting time to be in this profession, but the challenge is to stay at the forefront of all the change and to not to be left on the periphery.

Author: Marc L’Huillier, Managing Partner, EY Sweeney
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not Ernst & Young. This article provides general information, does not constitute advice and should not be relied on as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken on reliance of the information. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

This article also appears in the May-July 2019 edition of AMSRS publication, Research News – State of play. Check out the rest of the articles in this edition.

Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

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