First published in Argent, the Journal of the Financial Services Forum, November 2011 http://www.thefsforum.co.uk/
The need for customer insight is increasing as financial services groups search for and deploy strategies to give them a competitive edge. This is generating greater pressure on those responsible for managing market research in their drive for innovation and commercial success. Faced with growing workloads and the demand for closer co-ordination of globally disparate projects, financial research teams are under growing strain.
With today’s tightening squeeze on budgets, they’re increasingly required to demonstrate the asset value of their findings to their businesses. It’s only a matter of time until today’s powerful new integrated research management systems find their way into every global financial research team, helping to deliver research that’s seen as a genuine asset rather than a business expense.
For most financial service providers, the main problem is time – the lack of it. The answers to many commercial questions may already exist in past research, but current resources simply don’t stretch to allow researchers to find them. So new research is commissioned: it’s considered an easier, less risky and more time-efficient way to get the critical answers.
And the bigger the financial services group, the greater the exponential growth of this research conundrum. It’s more than likely the answer exists somewhere within the group, but a combination of different locations, management structures and technology barriers makes it even more difficult to find what’s been learnt from past research.
Many businesses recognise the problem, but have been unable to identify a solution. Generic knowledge management and enterprise search capabilities have been around for a decade, but typically require significant capital expenditure. They also have a high failure rate when applied to market research: they don’t acknowledge the project-centric nature of research, and have trouble reconciling the dual requirements of increased accessibility and high confidentiality.
In recent years, however, technological innovations have enabled systems to be developed that meet these research imperatives. The growing acceptance of cloud computing and Saas (software as a service) allows businesses quickly and cost effectively to access technology on a pay-per-use basis. Managed over secure internet connections, information can be accessed from any company location, whilst meeting the security requirements demanded by global corporations.
What makes cloud computing unique is that there’s no hardware or software requirement. Corporate IT departments have minimal involvement resulting in faster decision-making and less administration. Clients can also immediately access new capabilities on the platform as they become available without expensive and time-consuming rollouts.
At Research Reporter, we adopted the benefits of Saas technology for our web-based integrated research management platform. Among the global market research teams using it are HSBC, Zurich Insurance, National Australia Bank, Coca Cola, Kraft, and Mars. Research Reporter ensures that the insights generated are at the heart of their decision-making. With each new project, new data is loaded onto the system, which builds up a historical database that can be cross-referenced against any new study.
There are significant benefits to be gained from using these platforms:
Cascaded insights: Across the business, research management systems empower non-research staff to source and select relevant insight data accessed directly from their browser, enhancing their role and cascading insight across the organisation.
In the past, these individuals would not have been given access to data, relying instead on the financial research team to provide volumes of information through which they themselves would trawl to select the most relevant insights. Now, alerts can also be set up, so critical findings are immediately flagged to the most appropriate individuals.
Secure supplier access: It’s easy to extend access to these systems to suppliers, giving them limited access to see projects for which they are responsible, and allowing them to directly upload research outputs and findings, reducing the administrative workload of the financial research team.
This approach also has the added benefit of reducing the security risk of sending files via email where they can be easily duplicated and forwarded across the internet.
One platform integration: It’s easier to integrate multiple information sources and to rationalise suppliers. Saas and cloud computing technology have the capability to incorporate other third-party data sources from around the business and integrate them into a single platform.
Through a single access point, users can find both primary and secondary research sources, allowing businesses to gauge the effectiveness of third party subscriptions and rationalise the number of subscriptions across their enterprise.
Greater flexibility: Integrated research platforms can extend beyond access to research and can provide structures that help research teams manage projects based on their own research policies and procedures.
This flexible approach enables a system to be created that manages the entire workflow process – from the original project request through to results and final presentation, including all relevant authorisations and internal procedures. This makes it easier for researchers to comply with company policies, and increase research efficiency.
A strategic asset: Perhaps the most interesting effect of these new research platforms is that they change the perception of research within an organisation. Research has traditionally been viewed as an expensive necessity, but these new technology platforms enable the accumulation of research findings into a repository of insight that’s a strategic business asset, generating a continuing return on investment.
They also allow research teams to plan their research needs more strategically, helping to fill the gaps of research knowledge and avoid repeating research projects.