Reed Cundiff, General Manager of Microsoft's Customer & Market Research team, will speak at the Insights Leadership Conference, November 5-7 in San Diego, about the significant flux and opportunity that now exists for the insights function. We sat down with Reed recently to hear more about his views on our industry and the new digital era upon which we are embarking.

The insights industry is evolving rapidly. What specific changes face your team and how are they reacting?
There has never been a more exciting time to be an insights professional! That’s precisely because of all the ways in which our industry is changing. More than ever before, harnessing our data is the most important strategic differentiator for a company. As a result, our C-Suite is looking for data-driven insights to power their most critical business decisions like never before. That is a huge opportunity for the Insights function, but we need to be ready for the spotlight that comes with that.

Coupled with that, there is a dramatically accelerated pace in business decision making. Our most senior stakeholders need to make many decisions in real-time or within a matter of days. Again, we need to be ready to deliver insights at the speed of decisions, or be left behind.

Last, the explosion of variety and volume of data available to us is unprecedented. We literally identify new data sets within our company almost every week. These range from product telemetry to social listening to financial transactions to network monitoring. Tapping into this broader array of data types enables our team to broaden and deepen our understanding of the business issues we are working to inform.

All of this change gives us the challenge – and opportunity! – to digitally transform the insights function.  That means transforming our insights supply chain, using new raw materials and modern technologies, to deliver high-quality insights at greater depth, speed and volume.

Are these new data types replacing the need for traditional market research?
Far from it!  Market research is a valuable, enduring, necessary part of the insights function. In many cases, we use market research data in concert with other data types to inform specific business issues.  When you want to know why someone behaved in a certain way, or you’re interested in what they plan to do next, market research is a particularly helpful tool.

In addition, many of the skills that team members have honed as market research professionals continue to be applicable in our new world of data. The ability to critically analyze a data set, what it measures, where it has limitations, has been a part of our traditional market research training. The main difference is that the types of data we are exploring these days can be anything from survey to financial to social media data.

At the conference, you will be talking about the digital transformation journey your team has been on over the past few months. Can you explain what you mean by digital transformation?
Sure!  If you think about the insights supply chain, there are opportunities to use new raw materials (data types), evolve the ‘factory floor’ of our analytic environment (AI, machine learning, natural language processing), and evolve the ‘insights products’ we deliver to our internal stakeholders.

That can certainly involve long-term projects that involve sourcing new data types, harmonizing data across multiple sources, playing with new ML modeling capabilities, and delivering new insights more dynamically. But a project doesn’t have to be complex to be digitally transformed.

One simple example is the experimenting we’re doing in delivering insights through Power BI dashboards.  With the ability to deliver data dynamically in real-time, the nature of our conversations with stakeholders is shifting away from static snapshots of our markets and customers that are delivered in PowerPoint and discussed in one-hour meetings to more ongoing conversations about the insights we are seeing in real time and over time. Even that shift in delivery vehicle is a digital transformation.

How are the people on your team adjusting to the new world of digital transformation?
As a group of folks who are passionate about learning, my team has really embraced the concept of digital transformation. I think one key is embracing the ideas that a) we’re on a journey with no specific destination, and b) this will only be successful if we all contribute to the strategy and direction we take.  We've held a number of discussions and workshops on the topic to generate ideas around what we might do and to put into place early plans. The vision, optimism and high degree of engagement across the team has been really great to see.

What has been the reaction of your suppliers?
Quite positive as well, because we’re all in the same boat. Companies that play a key role in the insights supply chain are facing the same challenges that we face as a corporate insights team. They are also aware of and pursuing opportunities to digitally transform in tandem with us.

With our suppliers, we see increased opportunities to branch out more fully into new approaches to understanding our customers and our markets. In-market experimentation is one area that I see growing within our body of work over the years to come.

Any final thoughts on the topic of digital transformation?
Over the years, there has always been a constant drumbeat of change within our industry, and we've certainly taken steps to evolve over time. However, the size and significance of the opportunities we face at this moment are at a whole other level. If we get this right and are able to fully harness the power of data and technology together through the transformation of our insights supply chain, the value we will be capable of delivering to our stakeholders and businesses will grow exponentially. This is why I am so optimistic about the future of our insights industry!