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That data inside your company walls? It’s leaving you with blind spots.

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The rise of the internet connected the globe but also opened up new ways to think about how best to connect companies and consumers. Knowledge management was an important function before the web, but has come a long way in just 25 years.

The core principle of knowledge management is to aggregate the combined wisdom of a company’s employees and make it accessible to all. This is a worthwhile endeavor because we have learned over the years just how important knowledge is to aid data-driven decision making. In fact, in today’s business world, data-driven decision making is more than just the gold standard, it’s the expectation. It’s assumed that business leaders will base all of their decisions on objective sets of information—and at this point, it would be somewhat of a shock to learn otherwise.

It’s not hard to imagine that the combined knowledge inside the walls of a company is a unique and rich data set—with so many different teams solving different challenges of the business, to get all of this information in one place makes a lot of sense. That information costs many manhours to attain and real dollars to collect and connect, so a company must find a way to maximize those investments already spent.

So, for the last few decades, companies have spent countless hours and budgets working on their internal capabilities that would turn the dream of data culture into reality. The advances in knowledge management have quickly turned this function into a science with its own best-practices, technology, and ever-evolving thinking. Innovations in AI and machine learning are taking it to new heights and it’s exciting to imagine how much more valuable knowledge management will be to every large company moving forward.

But internal data isn’t enough

When COVID-19 disrupted everything in 2020, suddenly, existing internal data instantly became less valuable to guide decision making in a time when there was no recent relevant information available. Even the most sophisticated knowledge management systems were limited in their ability to help guide companies through the storm.

It’s an understatement to say that COVID-19 shed the light on our weaknesses. Not just companies—countries, societies, and individuals—the pandemic has been eye-opening, to say the least. This is critical at rapidly-changing times like these. Even before the pandemic, there was a clear correlation between companies using data and their success in driving profitability, increasing customer retention, and top-line sales. It’s so critical to success that even a pandemic can’t be allowed to stop data-driven thinking.

How does a company find the data it needs to keep moving forward during a pandemic?

How does it manage its supply chain, forecast sales, optimize marketing programs, and navigate through turbulent times without the data to guide it?

When the data you have isn’t enough, you must look elsewhere. The world outside your company walls is data-rich with plenty of information, intel, and signals to understand the world. It exists in real-time, which makes it better aligned for times like these when the market is in constant flux—what may have been true last month may not be valid today.

But how does a company access external data? It is often unstructured and not written in a way easily understood by machines, because people talk out of context, in hyperbole, use emojis, incomplete sentences, incorrect grammar, and sarcasm.

With internal analytics the priority, external insights are often an afterthought

Any knowledge management professional will tell you that just getting all of a company’s internal data together and organized so it can be of use to its employees is a mountain of a task. Because it is so complicated, analytics deployments have typically been a choice between building a custom analytic solution specifically tailored to the needs of a business or purchasing a platform that has limited capability—either to address a particular use case or ingest a single source of data.

Building a knowledge management system requires a full range of IT development staff, including generating user-friendly interfaces and dashboards, never mind the exponential costs to maintain such a system over time. Another factor is time and the urgency for the organization to have access to harmonized data sets that can impact business decisions. In a situation like we face today, where a compelling event can mean seismic shifts to a business, trying to add external data to an internal knowledge base is like asking an overwhelmed juggler barely keeping up with 9 balls in the air to add a 10th.

But it’s absolutely essential. This is the “new normal” facing today’s businesses. Having a finger on the pulse on the connection between company performance and market dynamics or connecting a unified voice of the customer data set with product development and optimization, takes the guesswork out of the equation for a company seeking to figure out how best to emerge from this crisis intact and be positioned for growth.

There have been a lot of lessons learned from COVID-19, but for data professionals, getting external data side-by-side with internal knowledge is the new mission ahead.

Tapping into external data from a single “plug”

Some companies have successfully made this leap already. Using advanced analytic platforms industry-leading companies have tapped into external data to guide data-driven decision making during COVID-19 and have been able to accelerate growth by connecting with up to date consumer sentiments. By connecting data sources such as social media, product reviews, patents, blogs, forums, key influencer posts, research papers and more, with AI and patented natural language processing techniques, it becomes possible for the first time to extract critical trends and predictive insights with great accuracy and scale. 

In this transformative era, it’s not just how much information you have on hand, but how fast you can act on information that is the much-needed competitive edge. Even in “normal” times, staying ahead of the market is extremely difficult, but in the environment of 2020/2021, companies need to find a competitive edge wherever they can. That’s why the future of knowledge management is to build a system of record for both a company’s internal data and critical external information. Once coupled, this new aggregated information resource can help businesses in new and exciting ways:

Identifying white space opportunities. Truly understanding consumer needs and matching those up against the market landscape–what products are on the market, what claims are being made, where innovation is coming from–can significantly reduce the risk in making new investments, a key consideration these days. Market research (i.e. external data) is needed to find these opportunities.

Monitoring changing consumer needs. While most companies have many internal experts on their target customers, discovering the newest trends and market shifts only exists in external data sets. An internal team may have a lot of anecdotal information around these changes, but there is a difference in making a decision based on conjecture  and a decision based on evidence. Companies can look at their own internal data to understand how they are being impacted, but to determine how to adapt, analyzing external data is needed.

Once the immediate danger of COVID-19 is behind us, the biggest change to how companies approach data use will be  in how they combine the internal wisdom found within their teams with the external market and customer information to create a foundation for success—during both normal and abnormal times.

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