Digitally Transforming Insights at Microsoft

At the Insights Leadership Conference in San Diego this week, Reed Cundiff, GM of the Microsoft Customer & Market Research Team, discussed his group’s ongoing efforts to “digitally transform the insights function.” The mission of the insights department remains the same as it has been for the past 10 years: “Deliver strategic, fact-based customer insights that drive Microsoft’s most essential business decisions.” But the means of delivering those insights are changing. “Our digital transformation imperative is to transform our insights supply chain, using new raw materials and modern technologies, to deliver high-quality insights at greater depth, speed, and volume.”

Historically, Microsoft was focused on quantitative market research (surveys) but is evolving to include social, telemetry, and financial data. For instance, from 1999 to 2012, server market share measurement was based on a bi-annual survey tracker with manual analysis. From 2013 to 2017, it relied on survey research and big data (“one telemetry source”), presented manually each quarter. Its latest incarnation, focused on the cloud, is fully automated and integrates survey research and four telemetry sources in a monthly dashboard with DIY queries and simulations. “Originally, counting hardware was acceptable but then virtual servers grew. Our source became the exhaust from other company’s businesses: we looked at the nodes on internal company networks and analyzed those in the tens of thousands. Now we use the exhaust of other businesses for analysis, looking at financial data of lots of companies that use our services and competitors’ cloud-computing platforms.” To harmonize large volumes and varieties of data requires natural language processing, machine learning, and other types of artificial intelligence.

Historically, Microsoft shared data primarily through PowerPoint. In fact, Reed said, “I am contractually obligated to love PowerPoint!” But it is not the only way “to move from insight to action.” Microsoft wants to “break the mold of the one-hour meeting plus PowerPoint deck.” Another Microsoft product is emerging here, Power BI (Business Intelligence). Internal clients are being trained to run their data requests through Power BI rather than emailing analysts. In fact, an early lesson has been to not be afraid of the easy win when it comes to digital transformation, such as moving existing projects to BI.

Other early lessons include focusing on generating energy and clarity for digital transformation, engaging stakeholders consciously, and fostering a growth mindset. He said, “Through the last 18 months, we’ve run the first mile in the marathon. We’re going through this with no road map. We don’t have the next 3 or 4 years mapped out completely. Instead, we ask ourselves, what’s the next smartest thing that we can do or try?” Digital transformation of the insights function promises a large future return on investment.

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