Real-time data streams — continuous flows of information that are processed and delivered as they’re collected — aren’t just critical to running successful businesses. They’re essential. And in today’s always-on, always-open world, the ability to react to customer demands or supply chain issues has never been so important.
Just ask Yaël Gomez, Vice President, Global IT, Integration, and Intelligent Automation, at global retail pharmacy group Walgreens Boots Alliance, who spoke recently about the importance of real-time data and the impact this has on forward-thinking businesses. Gomez explained:
Real-time data streams are becoming core to how we serve customers and run our business.
With quality data in motion, we can manage customer engagement, ensure vaccine and testing accessibility for patients, and enable a differentiated online retail proposition.
An organization-wide IT modernization effort [introducing data in motion processing] has led to an increasingly seamless omnichannel experience wherever customers choose to interact with us, across our pharmacies, retail stores, or online and mobile properties.
His comments – part of a global survey of 1,950 IT and engineering leaders carried out by Lawless Research on behalf of Confluent – help to provide valuable insights into the strides made by those organizations that have embraced real-time data – and the challenges faced as enterprises shift to a new way of working.
Data in motion gives companies a competitive edge
While almost all of those surveyed as part of the State of Data in Motion report said they had access to some degree of real-time data streams, crucially, it is those with widespread access that reported revenue growth “higher”, or even “much higher”, than their competitors.
And despite the ongoing repercussions of the pandemic and supply chain issues, almost two-thirds (63%) saw an annual revenue growth of 10% or more between 2020 and the end of 2021.
But it’s not just the bottom line that benefits. Retail organizations, for example, said they were better able to deliver higher levels of customer engagement across all channels. Financial services companies reported that they could ensure regulatory compliance and proactively mitigate cyber risks while delivering the kind of experience demanded by customers. And manufacturers said they were better able to manage inventory – even with all the supply chain disruption of the last couple of years.
If that’s not enough, three in four organizations said they would lose customers if they were left without access to the insights gained from real-time data streams. Even more – eight in 10 – said that real-time data streams are “very”, or “extremely”, important when it comes to building rich customer experiences.
Real-time data streaming is essential - but it’s challenging as well
Elsewhere, the report found that when it comes to data integration, nearly two-thirds (63%) of IT leaders said that “customer interactions from web and mobile” – followed by product usage data (61%) and data from IoT devices (58%) – was the most pressing concern. And it’s easy to see why.
Customers who buy their weekly groceries online, for example, expect an easy and hassle-free experience from ordering to delivery. If this process fails at any point, shoppers will simply vote with their wallets and go elsewhere.
For retailers, that means keeping precise track of inventory, prices, and promotions across their entire supply chain to ensure that items reach customer doorsteps on time. None of that can be done successfully and to scale without having real-time access to data.
As Heather Mickman, chief information officer, at Gap Inc, explained:
Customer behaviours have changed drastically over the past few years. Now, retailers must be ready for shopping peaks to happen at any time. Modernizing applications to run in the cloud is a necessity and making sure real-time data flows throughout all environments is essential. The ability to scale and build applications quickly will determine who wins in today’s digital-first economy.
Success in the cloud demands real-time data streaming
With all this focus on data, one thing is clear. Generating data isn’t necessarily an issue. In fact, the report found that most businesses operate hybrid cloud environments that are “awash with data”. The issue for many, it seems, is the ability to access that data in a timely way and to integrate it from different applications.
As data lives in more places, it gets increasingly difficult to track it down, keep it safe, and make sure it’s synchronized with the rest of the data in the business. And yet, true data in motion means having real-time synchronization between multiple data environments.
When pressed on this issue, seven in ten (68%) of those quizzed said this type of functionality was critical to achieving their revenue goals for the coming year.
But, while the multi-cloud approach is common, a third (32%) of IT leaders still struggle to synchronize data between storage environments effectively. This is further complicated by worries over security and regulatory compliance, with nearly half (47%) of respondents saying their challenge revolves around issues such as ensuring data protection, compliance with complex regulations, and security.
What’s clear, is that working with – and acting on – the insights from real-time data can completely change the way a business operates. For most companies though, this transition will not happen overnight.
As the report points out, there are challenges to implementing such a system. But when it does finally become part of the nervous system of business change, the results are clear.
Seven steps to transformational success
- Recognise that there is a huge shift across all sectors and geographies to a digital-first business model.
- Identify in your own business where real-time data interactions would completely reinvent the customer experience.
- Break this down into smaller, more manageable projects.
- Start small. Begin your transformation journey with small projects — in small steps — to gain experience.
- Get one or two projects under your belt before moving on.
- Don’t expect this transition to happen overnight.
- Remember: such projects will present unique challenges. But they can be overcome.
Always keep in mind that the most successful companies of the near future will be the ones that operate on an architecture that harnesses the power of all their data and sets it in motion to drive real-time business decisions.
You can download the full report here: The State of Data in Motion 2022.