The recent commercial history of market research organisation Nielsen is a good example of how expectations and capabilities have changed radically in the world of analytics.
Retailers employing Nielsen to provide services such as retail tracking and insights on consumer purchase behaviour might once have been satisifed to receive the final analysis weeks or even months after the conclusion of the research. But these days the time gap between the study and the delivery of results has to be measured in minutes.
This change has happened over a relatively short space of time, and Nielsen COO Mitchell Habib explained at TUCON 2013 how his organisations' initial failure to keep pace with the rate of change almost lost his company three of its most important customers.
"Customers used to get reports 35 to 45 days after conclusion. It's pretty hard to act on it at that point", he said. As industry leader, Nielsen was aware of the problem but for various reasons had not been able to address it effectively. However, Nielsen's competitors were closing the gap.
In 2006 US food giant General Mills International sacked Nielsen in favour its main competitor IRI, whose analytics capabilities were based on BEA Liquid Data and who could provide reports much more quickly than Nielsen. What's more, Kraft and Proctor & Gamble had also put our requests for proposal (RFPs) for the same reason.
The loss of one and potential loss of two more key clients coincided with Nielsen's being taken into private ownership, and the leadsership realised that a profound transformation was necessary if the company were to retain its position. The new CEO and the IT team looked for partners to turn things around.
"We didn't want to compete with BEA, we wanted to leapfrog them. We wanted to go from a situation where it took weeks or months to obtain insight to where it takes seconds or minutes: real-time actionable insights," Habib explained.
Nielsen finally chose to partner with integration specialists TIBCO to completely restructure the business. Habib explained how TIBCO's thought leadership and dedication to partnership were behind the choice, revealing that TIBCO CEO Vivek Ranadive had joined his team for their oral presentation to Proctor & Gamble and had committed TIBCO to the success of the P&G project.
"I promise you: that made the difference," he said.
"Not only did we win Kraft and Proctor & Gamble, but General Mills came back to Nielsen because IRI couldn't answer the questions they wanted to ask," said Habib.
"With TIBCO we created answers on demand. The first fully dis-aggregated dataset to allow our customers to recreate geographies and categories on the fly."
These actionable insights allow retailers to quickly pinpoint the reason for poor sales - for example in a particular group of stores certain product ranges might be displayed in a way that means they are getting overlooked - to fix the problem, and to roll out best practice across all stores.
Actionable insights are also used internally at Nielsen, as SOA-BPM service delivery leader Jeff Baker explained to Computing.
"I use TIBCO Spotfire to keep track of what my team's working on," he said.
"Recently I did some analysis on one of our applications that I found had an unusually large volume of support requests and it turns out they had a training problem with the development team.
"I used Spotfire to analyse our ticketing system, drilled down to the details of the ticket, and noticed that a lot of the solutions were ‘inform the developer to do XYZ' - so a training problem".
Armed with this information Baker was able to inform the team leader of the nature of the problem, and, he said, a couple of months later the performance had improved.