Who will succeed in the new age of data discovery? We asked a panel of four international experts across academia and business to share their views on where the world of insight is going, and how it is adapting to a data-rich, connected, and social world. Speaking at the 2016 MRS Impact conference held in London this March, the panel drew a large crowd for a lively debate.

You can find full coverage of the IJMR-hosted debate in the International Journal of Market Research (58/3), which comes out in May. Warc.com subscribers can also read the report on Stan Sthanunathan’s Keynote speech here

Big data; big challenges

Edwin Kooge (Metrixlab Big Data Analytics, The Netherlands), opened the session by describing the skills and experience needed by organisations, and individuals, to meet the challenges posed by big data.

It is highly unlikely that these can be found in one person, the solution being a highly skilled multi-disciplinary team that act as a ‘conductor’ of the marketing intelligence function within the organisation.

The big challenge would be ensuring that the leader of this team has the skills, experience and personality traits to both manage a team with such an incredibly broad skill-set, and to engage with, and be respected by, top management.

Re-positioning market research

Today, everyone has access to data. Currently, big data is used to solve small problems. The big challenge is moving the focus to addressing strategic issues, according to Paul Bosher (Global Head of Research at Walgreens Boots Alliance). He described his experience of working in an environment awash with data held across a complex network of silos.

The big challenge is moving the focus to addressing strategic issues, the conference heard. In the past, market research was the oracle where others in the organisation came to seek knowledge.

Now, data is available to all from a wide variety of sources and market research needs to be positioned as the voice of the consumer in the business, working in collaboration with all stakeholders. Research is just one input of many in today’s world of big data; insight is the output.

A 'bilingual' future

Rachel Lawes (Regent’s University) argued that the canny consumer is rapidly learning how to manipulate social media data to achieve their goals, citing the online dating sites as an example. Lawes believes that those who will succeed in the new data-rich world need to be 'bilingual' in social research methods and business skills.

New skills in a new era

Christina Jenkins (Global Research team leader within GSO Insights, LinkedIn) contended that a new cultural mindset was necessary for organisations to succeed in the big data era, and individuals needed new skillsets. Organisations needed to take risks, learn from failure and work collaboratively.

LinkedIn data demonstrated the rise of the data scientist, whilst researchers were acquiring new analytical skills to broaden their skill-sets. However, those researchers who rose to senior management positions also possessed leadership and business skills that enabled them to fulfil a strategic role.

The future of insight: Bring it to the C-suite

Successful organisations in the new data-rich insight-poor world will be those that recognise the strategic value of insight and create a culture and structure to facilitate this approach.

Positioning the insight function as a resource to influence business strategy is vitally important. This positioning builds expertise and leadership, preventing a glass ceiling –all too common for specialist research and analytical functions. Such a team would gain a new sense of purpose, separate and independent from operational functions; its role would be key in influencing the strategic direction of the organisation.

The challenge is finding skilled and experienced managers that have sufficient knowledge of the methods to judge the soundness of the team’s work, whilst being able to engage at board level.

Analytical skills are in short supply, and we need a new breed of highly experienced knowledge-managers to lead high-level strategically orientated MI functions. Will researchers be able to seize this opportunity to ensure that organisations gain maximum competitive advantage from today’s data-rich, but often knowledge-poor, environment?