Editor’s note: Zoe Dowling is SVP, research, at research technology firm FocusVision.

Knowledge is power and in today’s world data holds the key. From voluminous big data to small data nuggets, data fuels the experience economy.

Steve Koenig, VP research, Consumer Technology Association, opened the 2019 CES Research Summit by declaring we are in a new age of technology trends: the data age, progressing from the digital age in the 2000s and the connected age in the 2010s. Data, he said, is central to all our technology conversations. Considering the rapid developments in artificial intelligence, an area finally realizing its promise nearly three-quarters of a century after the term was coined, connected devices and the Internet of things – which will be supercharged by 5G, transactional, click, voice and facial data to name but a few – we are indeed inundated.

However, this isn’t just a technology conversation. In this age, data impacts every conversation from business and government to culture and personal lives. In terms of business, while big data has been the buzz word of the past five years, small data from consumer insight is beginning to take its place in the spotlight. 

Insights professionals have always known the high value of customer data. Now the rest of the business world is catching up. The small data collected via surveys, focus groups, interviews and communities is as important to understanding your customer as the big data gathered via transactions, clickstream interactions and behavioral data.

In decades gone by, consumer insight was something that informed areas in silos – such as advertising messaging and effectiveness, brand health or ad hoc inspiration for innovation. The rise in the experience economy, fueled by digital transformation, has resulted in businesses needing to add human-derived data back into the data equation to deliver always-on, real-time direction. This data is now informing all aspects of an organization.

The surprise SAP/Qualtrics acquisition is a clear marker of this trend. While much of the conversation centered on the eye-watering $8 billion price tag, the intent of the deal is notable. With the acquisition, SAP made a bold and, dare I say it, visionary move on two counts. The first is the potential to shift its brand perception as a traditional enterprise resource management company. The second is bringing consumer insights into the fold. In many of the interviews around the acquisition announcement, SAP CEO Bill McDermott talks about combining O data and X data. In his world, this is SAP’s operational data coming together with Qualtrics’ survey, or experience, data. 

This shift in the market, exemplified by the SAP/Qualtrics move, demonstrates that while insights departments may still be small, their reach is extending into all departments. In 2019, we’ll see the role of insights departments as strategic partners grow, moving away from being simply suppliers or validators to key advisors to the CMO and beyond. This is an exciting time for insights.

Understanding the customergrowth Voice of the customer survey data alone isn’t enough to understand customers in their entirety. To really understand your customer truths, you need to incorporate qualitative (or thick) data. Talking to them with Webcam focus groups or interviews, seeing their lives through their lens by conducting mobile ethnographies and communities, delivers the richness of who they are, what they think and how they feel. It provides the readily relatable clues that tie it all together, making the insights from the big data and the numeric small data come to life. My hope is that as insight data grows in importance we will use all available types to inform business decisions.