So I am sitting in a dark room the size of twenty batcaves, surrounded by what seems like 10,000 people quietly seating in their chairs, and for the last five minutes, the guy doing his bit on the stage has been running through a demo of what can be done with Big Data using IBM-powered technology. Aside from the occasional rumble of laughter rising and falling like a wave across the cavernous expanse, you could hear a pin drop. Welcome to day two of #IBMimpact. Even though this is the general session, not a deep dive into theoretical future tech, the presenter is running through the process by which a police dispatcher trying to determine whether to respond to a disturbance call should prioritize or deprioritize it, using BlueMix and SoftLayer and probably a half dozen other products and services and layers that interface seamlessly and in real time to turn otherwise unrelated mountains of data into clear, immediate, actionable insight.
No precogs, mind you. No laser-etched red ball predicting a murder that hasn’t happened yet. This isn’t Minority Report and it isn’t some ominous Big Brother sideshow either. Far from it. It’s a demonstration of how easily data can be mined and organized now to help make smart decisions quickly no matter what the vertical or industry or the organization’s IT infrastructure. Screen shot after screen shot, step by step, the presenter runs us through what started as a call about popping sounds that could be gun shots to the identification of a dangerous fugitive living under an alias in the building from which the sounds came from. As a marketing guy, what I see in that demo isn’t anywhere close to a Tom Cruise vehicle or an Orwellian nightmare. My mind isn’t even on my pet Big Brother vs. Big Mother paradigm. I am thinking about retail. I am thinking about mobile. Location. Real time predictive consumer analytics. Opt-in contextual micro-advertising. I am thinking about SMBs the world over, wondering how to find answers to their most pressing marketing and business development questions, in real time. Why? Because once you remove the police dispatcher scenario from the layers and connective tissue I see up on those screens, that’s what the guy on that stage is really showing me.
What occurs to me, watching this presentation and the one before it – in which Scott McGill of Coriell Life Sciences explained how his company can use a patient’s DNA to generate accurate drug response profiles (mind-blowing stuff, really) – is that the technological sandbox that companies like IBM are building is a decade or two ahead of where most marketing and business development programs around the US are operating. Why? I’m not sure. My hunch is that most CEOs and CMOs have no idea that this stuff is even out there, and those who do probably think it’s either out of reach (enterprise-focused or just too pricey) or too complicated for their business. That’s perception though, not reality. Not anymore. Most of the companies telling their success stories here aren’t big, they aren’t necessarily household names yet, but they’re plugged into a technological groundswell that hasn’t, at least until now, been super well advertised.
My mind was still buzzing a little when I sat down with Eric Saint-Marc, a cloud architect for IBM, to talk about the erosion of silos between Marketing and IT. (Look for that video soon.) What I am seeing here this week signals a pretty radical shift in the role of IT in organizations, and the need for CMOs and other line-of-business leads to become more fluent when it comes to technology. I’ve been saying this for a while now, and the anchor point for that discussion was social business, but it’s a lot bigger than that now. It’s market insights. It’s CRM. It’s product development. It’s storefront experiences. It’s mobile and the internet of things. It’s everything. A C-level executive who isn’t aware that these capabilities are out there and just leaves the “tech stuff” to the IT guy isn’t an effective leader anymore. The good news is that the discussion that CEOs, COOs and CMOs need to have with their CTO and/or CIO isn’t about technology. Technology is complicated.
You don’t need to know how a combustion engine works to be a good driver… but you need to know that a better engine will deliver better performance. Don’t worry about trying to understand the tech. All you need to know is where tech is now, and what it can do for you. What outcomes can it deliver? How can it drive customer acquisition? How can it increase buy rate? How can it make you a better company? Not just more profitable but better? That’s the real discussion.
I want to be able to do this.
Is there a way that we can see what’s happening in this phase of the customer lifecycle?
Can we figure out a way to do this better and faster?
Can we eliminate this type of pain point?
The answer to all of these questions is probably yes. The difference between today and five years ago is that the answer and the accompanying solutions are a lot easier and cheaper to come by now.
More on that topic soon. A lot more. In the meantime, some suggested reading:
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business [LINK: http://goo.gl.t3fgW] program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
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