‘It’s About Survival’ Why Kline’s Innovation VP Says Digital Transformation Is Key

“Digital.” “Big data.” “Analytics.” 

Kline & Co.’s Vice President of Digital Innovation Francis Taloen says those aren’t just buzzwords. In this Q&A, he explains why it’s crucial to understand and truly define those terms – plus, he shares what Kline has done to further its evolution, what lies ahead, and why digital transformation is really about “survival.”

Future of Digital Transformation 

Q: What do you see as the future of digital transformation?  

A: There are many different answers to those questions, depending on who you ask. But one thing that we can agree on is that it will be about new processes, new tools, and new methods for delivering value -- both to employers and to the customers that a company is looking to serve. Digital is challenging us to think differently, to act differently. It's about responding to the times that we live in.

Q: Do you believe that goes beyond the scope of business?

A: Absolutely. The digital challenges that we will be faced with are inviting us to reimagine the human experience. Digital is redefining how people live -- how we work, how we play, and how we connect with others. So it’s imperative for all of us to collaborate and figure out what “digital,” “big data,” and “analytics” mean to us. They're not just buzzwords.   

It is critically important for organizations and stakeholders to think about how they serve their customers in the digital age. Not only that, but a successful digital program requires input from functional and enterprise leaders, working together to understand and prioritize how technology and innovation can be programmed, both to support workflow and deliver tangible benefits. And in most cases, truly transformative digital strategies are a combination of delivering relevant customer outcomes and, of course, having the ability to plan and align new organizational structures so that the processes and technology implementation can be realized and be as effective as possible.  

Kline’s Digital Transformation 

Q: What does that mean for Kline & Co.?  

A: We need to reflect and think about how we will keep adding new information and collecting data. So we’ve been hiring and training new data collection specialists -- that’s the bridge between technology and the business. We process an awful lot of information; it's a new way of thinking. There's a new model, which allows our colleagues -- such as data scientists, econometrics people, and business specialists in the domain with years of experience -- to work together to add value in data collection, information management, and report out. This is critical.  

Q: What are Kline’s data resource considerations? 

A: Managing information is not just about technology; it’s not just about involving the integration of multiple data sources. Kline operates within the energy, chemicals, and consumer goods space. Now, from a data point of view, that means that we are exposed to sentiment analysis, social listening and media data, IoT data, and wearable devices or data from smartphones. And it's really fun and very rewarding to know, from the start, how much of this information is relevant, how valuable it is, and how we use it.  Because through collaboration with our data scientists and the domain specialists -- and our customers -- we can realize new value and specialize further as a market research firm and consultancy.  

Q: You mentioned that Kline has added new data collection specialists to its staff. Did you bring anyone else on board? 

A: We did. The leadership team decided that we needed new skills, and they were very supportive of bringing new talent -- UX designers, product development leads, econometric analysts, and data scientists -- on board. We also have made significant investments in data collection tools and software. So all of this sets us up really nicely for a complete major overhaul of products and services, and the products and service refresh is underway. We’re also building out new economic models, adding time series and indices to investigate and predict what's happening in the world -- not just from a macro, but also from a micro perspective -- so that we have the tools, the insight, and the foresight to better serve our customers.  

Power of Data-Driven Companies  

Q: Why do you think it’s more important than ever to be a data-driven company?

A: Big data and market research are at turning points. There is a real convergence, and this convergence is a powerful opportunity. Because the convergence of market research to produce more meaningful insights, to produce these insights faster and more frequently, is driven by big data, analytics, and prediction. So it is increasingly important to predict the future. And when it comes to COVID post-recovery, it is very important to identify the most lucrative opportunities for our clients in highly competitive spaces where they are seeing real transitions. There's an awful lot of value on the table, and thus the need to get better at understanding what the future holds and beholds for these organizations.

Q: What are the best practices for a data-driven company?   

A: The best practice value streams that we see at Kline are really a combination and an intersection of different departments collaborating. If you unpack the entire value stream of data, you're looking at a giant heap of different structured, unstructured, source, and reference material – all from data collection, data harvesting, and the integration of big data from open-source data feeds and APIs (application program interface) from tools systems, third parties, and partners. So knowing how to manage this information, and again, understanding the value of that, is critically important. This is backed by creating an infrastructure -- one that allows multiple teams to control what happens in the information flow, underpinned by first-class data governance, supported by a new database architecture, and bringing in new talent.   

The Industry Experts, Elevated by Digital Technology 

Q: So for Kline, what are the workflow considerations? 

A: For us, we are looking to design a digital workflow system. These systems should have the potential to really support our market research practitioners by giving them information upfront for each new research study project. Gone are the days when data collection for each project started from day one as a new data collection process. There are systems in place that can help you with that. So to be able to refer to and use information at any stage across the research process is a very important way of supporting our market research practices in terms of economizing time spent doing manual work. This will have a significant impact on workflow.  

Q: How do you harvest richer insights from data? 

A: It’s important to teach our colleagues how to create deeper insights from data streams, how to work with a data science team, how to work with the modeling specialists who are thinking of the next mobility model, or trying to predict the latest craze in – for example – personal care. We’re very fortunate at Kline, because technology allows us to do this at scale, so our digital pathway is very exciting. We’re definitely at a nexus where market research is going to be transformed by adding new methodologies -- methodologies that are designed to strengthen our primary research activities. And that means our analysts will spend more time focusing on producing more knowledge for our customers so that the decision-makers who access client information can make more strategic decisions faster than ever before.  

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