For years, I’ve been interested in the ever-blurring line between humans and technology in the market research industry, maintaining that there is a deft balance to be found. However, I’m also cognizant of the fact just how (for the lack of a better word) time-poor people are, which is often the excuse or reason for failed technology implementations.
I’ll start out with a bold statement: if you’re working in market research and insights and you’re NOT willing to embrace and use the power of technology, you may not have a job in 10 years time. This is probably true for nearly any industry at this point in time.
But it isn’t that simple. And it’s not just using technology for the sake of it. We all know that the industry is growing and is evolving extremely quickly, but we still need the human aspect of market research to succeed: our ideas, our intuitions, our feelings and those uniquely human activities that no technology can duplicate (not even AI, yet). And most importantly, our curiosity.
I’m a researcher at heart, and I can honestly say that we (at Infotools) want to provide the kind of insights that are foundational to successful business decisions. We’ve been doing this for over 30 years and it’s truly remarkable when it happens. Interestingly, one common thread that connects these projects that I’ve noticed over the years is “human interference”. Technology, for all its potential, still needs people pulling certain strings, providing oversight to make sure ideal outcomes are met. Even in the age of “AI” people claim we are in, it’s humans that bring the smarts, technology brings the muscle.
I often use music, something I’m very passionate about, to illustrate what this looks like. I play my own music (check out this medley to the market research industry that I wrote in the midst of the pandemic), I write quirky lyrics, and I listen to a lot of music.
Today, there is software out there that can help musicians write and produce music, without even picking up an instrument. But we lose something in that process, don’t we? Can technology really capture the authentic human element – the feelings, the pain, the joy – that we have when composing and writing music?
There’s still no substitute for playing and grooving and jamming when it comes to bringing emotions into music and making it a reflection of the human soul. Yes, there are many things that technology can facilitate. Musicians don’t need a big record label, contract, or lots of money, in order to produce and distribute their music. But for the best results, there is a blend of the very human aspect of music and the technology to take it to the next level.
This is so similar to the insights industry. As market researchers, we are called upon to bring our views, expertise, and sometimes even our “gut feelings” to the insights we uncover. But the truth is that we are facing new, increased pressures for speed and efficiency that humans are ill-equipped to meet on our own. We need technology to do the things it is really good at, so that we can be allowed to do what we’re good at. When the right technology speeds up our processes, we have more time to really examine the data and bring our skills to the table. After all, I believe most of us are in market research because we are curious people. Technology gives us back the extra time we need to feed that curiosity.
There is a delicate balancing point where technology can help us manage the repetitive, mundane parts of our jobs. Smart technology can even point us in the right direction by telling us where to dig further, where more insights might lie within the data itself. But how can companies adopt solutions with both technology and people in mind?
- Involve all stakeholders in the process.
I’m a big proponent of involving the people who will be on-the-ground using the technology from the beginning – even in the consideration stage. Rather than an IT team making a unilateral decision of what type of platform to use across departments, input from those who will be using it to improve their workflow is key. They must identify exactly where the roadblocks and inefficiencies are in current processes, and then identify how the technology can improve those sticking points. There’s nothing more demoralizing than suddenly asking people to start using a solution that’s been dumped on them, without their input.
- Minimize workflow disruption.
This is a huge consideration for companies looking to adopt new technology. Everyone clearly wants to minimize upheaval so deadlines can continue to be met and client expectations can continue to be delivered upon during technology implementation and onboarding. I say start small. Use the new solution for a single project, take those learnings and then build upon that, gracefully and in stages. I’ve seen how taking a staged approach can streamline technology implementation, gain more buy-in from entire teams and, ultimately, deliver better results.
- Leadership and project support.
You will definitely need a senior leadership sponsor and a dedicated project manager for the implementation of any new technology. Not only does this nurture a sense of responsibility, but senior level buy-in can help the whole company become more receptive to change. Find someone who understands that you need the efficiencies that technology brings, but that also knows change doesn’t happen overnight. A project manager can help set expectations and integrate the tool into the business, rather than just presenting a tool to users with no guidance. Over-communication among all parties is key. Once you’re sick of communicating a message, it’s only then that it’s starting to resonate with people.
- Answer the right questions for your business.
Where are the sticking points in my current workflow when it comes to delivering quality insights, faster and at a better price? Where can the technology implementation impact these key deliverables? What level of disruption am I comfortable with? Do my current team members have the right skills and appetite for a new solution? Can I motivate and upskill them if needed?
Technology can give us back the “cool” part of market research – giving us the space to do things that feed our curiosity and find out what’s going on behind the data. Insights are exciting. They help businesses make better decisions and move forward in a landscape that is undergoing constant, fast-paced change. The data we uncover can, in many ways, contribute to the greater good of everyone. Far from replacing our uniquely human contributions to the insights ecosystem, technology can support us in making our jobs faster, better and easier.
Technology implemented and adopted well in your organization won’t just help you do more of what you do best, but also do more of what you really want to be doing. Think it over.