OPINION15 August 2022

Handling expectations: Research and tech

Opinion Technology

With a recession seemingly incoming, how can your technology spending help the company manage the storms ahead? By John Bird at Infotools.


The constantly swelling pool of data to which organisations have access, the executive-level push to embrace data-driven decision making, the dwindling supply of talented market research professionals and one of the biggest economic downturns our generation has faced are all converging to produce the perfect storm. And with these four unrelenting forces brewing, insights teams need to do far more with far less. 

The jury is still out on whether or not we will enter into a recession. Regardless of which camp you fall into, even the mere presence of this debate has resulted in organisations tightening their purse strings.

When times get tough business leaders typically put freezes on new recruitment to help manage costs, while some go further and reduce headcounts. Attrition is also at play during these tighter times, and employee churn is generally not addressed until the hiring freeze lifts. In the face of one of the tightest job markets the insights sector has ever faced, this freeze is incredibly difficult for those on the front lines to swallow, as they are often the ones who need to pick up the pieces. 

Executives are demanding their businesses be more data-driven, yet those left in positions of analysis and visualisation are facing the highest workloads in their careers. This is putting increasing pressure on insights teams to deliver, and as supply dwindles and demand increases, something is bound to give.

As is often the case in the business world, not all departments are created equal. While recruitment budgets may be frozen, IT budgets don’t always suffer the same fate. Even when belts are tightening, it’s possible that some technology solutions will still find their way through the approval process. Specifically those that help organisations take costs out of a business, mitigate the risks of going to market with new products or marketing campaigns, or help increase long-term revenue. It’s not so much about timing to get new technology on board, but rather pleading your case with some clever storytelling.

There’s never a perfect time for implementing technology 
If you’ve worked in the tech sector for long enough (or been involved in enough implementations), you instinctively know that if you wait for the opportune time to implement a new tool or piece of tech, you’ll sooner retire. What people don’t often consider is that the cost of waiting could be far more damaging to the business than the cost of implementing the project in the first place. 

Whether you’ve just had team members resign, your sales are trending down, your marketing budgets have been slashed, or whatever else may have popped up on your radar, you need to see investing in the right technology from a long-term perspective. 

Think about it like exercise. Going on one run or walk may not make you an embodiment of physical and mental wellness, but if you string several fitness activities together for long enough to form a habit, you’ll be well on your way to transforming your life. It’s very similar with technology – you’re investing in tomorrow by starting activities that make a difference today.

There are four important decisions you’ll need to make if you are bringing new tech into your company: 

What do I want to achieve and what capability gap do I need to fill?
Defining your key business problem  is the first step. A good technology vendor will help you along in this journey, which should be undertaken before anything else. The more rigour and attention you can give to answering this key question, before engaging anyone, will be of immense value. The more clarity you have around your problem and gaps, the narrower the list of vendors you will have to choose from, and quite likely the easier your choice will be.

Do I need an all-in-one or best-of-breed survey collection and analysis tools?
There’s something to be said for the ease and simplicity of having one technology supplier do it all. You provide the brief, they go away and supply you with the insights. It’s a lighter touch on your end but it can also take you longer if you have any follow-up questions of the data or findings, which will need to go back for processing. Having one supplier means your people will spend less time deciding on which company to use for various projects, but this can also make them feel locked in as well.

In the best-of-breed approach, you use specialists for each aspect of your market research process – experts in the collection of brand or advertising tracking, neuroscience, or behavioural data for example. If you’ve opted for an independent data analysis and reporting tool, you should have more flexibility in bringing data from various collection sources, without being beholden to one agency over another. It may also be easier to have more of your research and other data on one centralised platform, which you can slice, dice, explore, analyse, visualise and report. 

What about a generic or fit-for-purpose market research tool?
IT and procurement teams are often tasked with reducing the number of platforms they need to implement and maintain. It would be wise to understand whether existing tools can produce the outcomes you need. This can often be a path of least resistance, but there are caveats.

Take business intelligence tools such as Tableau or PowerBI for example. They are incredibly powerful, but do they have the domain expertise to get the most value out of complex market research projects? Maybe, but making these tools suitable for processing market research data could require significant workarounds, which need maintaining, and potentially some development hours if the behavioural insight tools make any changes to their software.

Do it yourself or outsourced implementation?
Many of today’s software tools help organisations to ‘plug-in and play’ with their platform, giving internal teams the responsibility of getting the tool up to speed themselves. Depending on the complexity of the tool and the competency of the teams, this can be a viable option.

As we’ve discussed and seen in the market, insights teams do not have capacity to get these tools set up and become familiar with them while carrying on with business-as-usual activities. Understanding what onboarding and ongoing services are offered by providers in such times is essential. If providers can carry the load of the implementation process and potentially afterwards as well, then your team can continue in your old ways of working until the new set up is complete. This service is incredibly useful for teams under pressure. 

With everything that’s going on in our lives and in the world, we can quickly forget the impact our work makes as market researchers. We are a barometer for the private and public sector, helping organisations better understand people to make the world a better place. 

Yes, it might currently be a little chaotic, and yes you might be getting squeezed from a resourcing perspective, but don’t lose heart. There are a handful of insight-specific technology vendors operating in the market who have the people and the software that can make a huge difference in your team.

Your insights team is being pressured to do more with less. Being thoughtful about the implementation of new technology to meet the demands of today has never been more critical.

 John Bird is executive vice-president at Infotools