The Role of Insight Management for FP&A

This profusion of information is why the science and profession of insight management has emerged. If insight is information that can make a difference, then insight management is about ensuring that information makes a difference.

Insight generation is typically all about technical and statistical skills in order to produce the best possible analysis. But insight management takes more from psychology, journalism, stakeholder management and communication planning. It is all about understanding how people take in and understand information and how it therefore has to be managed and presented if it is to influence decisions.

So far, the insight management discipline has emerged primarily from insight teams devoted to looking at customer and market data. However, the lessons learnt apply across all areas of insight generation. It is being recognised as essential in fields as diverse as medical outcome data, scientific analysis, and even in the military.

Yet perhaps its greatest application will be in the field of financial analysis, where there is a wealth of information available, but most people in companies (outside of finance naturally) are notoriously bad at understanding and acting upon it. So finding better ways to communicate and ‘socialise’ the results of financial analysis could dramatically improve the quality of decision making in major organisations.

What does Insight Management Involve?

The role of insight management is to:

  • Understand the goals and capabilities of the organisation or community that is being served.
  • Identify all types of information that could be relevant in helping that organisation or community to achieve its goals.
  • Gather relevant information and make it accessible by establishing efficient, accurate and robust methods for acquiring and storing it.
  • Apply sound analytical techniques to that information to identify its implications and to resolve conflicts.
  • Use appropriate communication techniques to inform and drive the decisions being made in pursuit of the original goals.

This is quite different from the practices of research, analysis and knowledge management – all of which tend to focus on the third point and – to some extent – the fourth.

So what does it actually mean for an insight team or function? In essence, an insight director has to develop the several areas of knowledge, understanding and skills. Perhaps the best way to describe them is to outline the six modules of the new Masters Degree programme:

Core Understanding:

Module 1: Business and Organisational Knowledge and Understanding. This begins with understanding the principles of how organisations work, with special attention paid to key business functions, such as strategy development, which are heavily dependent upon insight in all its forms. This then lays the ground for a detailed understanding of where the key touch points are for insight in one’s own organisation.

Module 2: Decision Science and Knowledge Management.
This covers disciplines such as psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics, and the way that humans work with information. But then extends to formal and informal techniques and technologies for organising and handling information.

Insight Function Organisation and Ways of Working:

Module 3: Business Engagement Processes and Functional Management. This covers the ways, both formal and informal, to build stakeholder relationships and to ensure full integration into the business and its processes. It then covers how to provide leadership, team development, planning, systems and third party management to support all the necessary activities.

Insight Generation Processes (at a project and workstream level):

Module 4: Issue Analysis and Evaluation. To ensure that the work addresses the real business problem and gets to causes and not just symptoms. A crucial part of this is the ability to undertake financial evaluation to be sure that the problems are those that address the greatest opportunities and threats.

Module 5: Insight Generation. This involves the use of the best information sources and analytical techniques. Critically, it must also solve the many problems of bringing together information from many sources – not least the experience spread across the team. A major part, often overlooked, is also the need to build and maintain comprehensive pictures of specific business areas, to provide foresight around coming opportunities and threats, and to provide context for all other work.

Module 6: Insight Delivery and Influence. Finding solutions is of no value if those in the organisation then fail to act. So this area is all about the 4Rs – to ensure that the Right insight reaches the Right people, at the Right time and in the Right format to drive action.

Insight Management in Practice

To bring the insight management function to life, the following are some examples of approaches that have transformed the impact that insight teams (NB: these examples are from marketing-oriented teams) have on company decisions:

  • The team at North American brewing group MolsonCoors, in an environment of cut-backs, recognised that the experienced insight staff were of far higher value than new data. Members therefore deliberately volunteered a cut in their external research budgets in order to maintain staff levels. They changed their way of working and stopped using research as a first resort. Team members now work far more with their existing data and knowledge – and only use primary research to fill gaps. Not only does it save money, but it means they spend more time on thinking and delivery, often finding answers to problems much quicker. Board level feedback says that they are seen within the business as more influential and delivering better strategic thinking. They are delivering more with less.
  • At UK mobile network operator EE (formerly Everything Everywhere), the insight team used to be primarily demand driven, often involved too late in decision making processes. However, team members over several years developed better and better six-monthly market overviews to embed themselves ever deeper into the strategy making process. They are now the starting point of that process and are involved at all stages. As a result, they are not only involved in planning the strategic initiatives, but they are then able to predict information needs to drive those initiatives in advance. Consequently, team members deliver better information, in a more timely fashion, and can cite a range of examples where major expenditure has been saved based on better decision making.
  • At a different level, Barclays suffer the same problem as most banks in that those who work in management roles, especially at head office, are often out of touch with the real concerns of customers. The insight team therefore launched ‘Insight TV’ showing regularly updated and relevant on-the-street interviews with customers. There are TVs dotted all round the banks’ offices – even in the head office’s lifts. Where they used to show the BBC News channel this is now interleaved with Insight TV. The effect is that decision making at all levels has become measurably more customer-focused, improving services and therefore financial performance.
  • At Orange (before it became part of EE) there had been several attempts at meaningful customer segmentation. Although previous segmentations had high potential value, they failed because they didn’t embed in the business. So when it was attempted again, the group allocated a moderate communications budget. The insight team used it with an agency to produce bespoke characterisation for each segment – with clear imagery and descriptions in a professionally produced pack. Members even redecorated the coffee bar closest to the product development teams, decorating the four main seating areas with the imagery of the four top segments. When products for each segment were being debated, teams would go and sit in the appropriate areas. The net result was that the whole company became aligned behind the segments and all activity was properly coordinated. The change was credited with driving a major sales uplift the following year.
  • Many insight teams now undertake specific stakeholder mapping, akin to the processes used by sales account management teams. They assess the needs, personality, information preferences and key performance indicators (KPIs) of key stakeholders, and most adopt a form of ‘man-marking’ to build and maintain relationships. That drives the way insight is delivered, and is probably the simplest and most effective way that insight teams increase their influence.

 

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