At IIEX North American in Austin last week, Marian Anderson, research director at Microsoft, and Zontziry Johnson, MR manager at Microsoft (and member of the MRII Board of Directors), presented an update on how Microsoft is transforming its insights function. “Microsoft’s Market Research team is undergoing a 3- to 5-year journey to change how we think, how we work, and how we contribute to the biggest, most important business decisions Microsoft makes. To be an insights team at the bleeding edge of the industry, our mindset and our approach must evolve significantly to become data-type agnostic. Our Digital Transformation journey is about changing our approach to insights, not the outcome.”

Marian framed the issue. “Our opportunity is that customer/market understanding is a key business differentiator. We have a centralized team looking across businesses, a team of 85 people in every category, from brand new services to old services moving into new business models (such as from Office to Office 365). Our challenges are speed of business (big decisions in small amounts of time), data proliferation (social data, real time behavioral data, etc.), and alternative resources (120,000 people at Microsoft to serve, who can find ways to help themselves). Our insights imperatives remain the same: build the most impactful team and deliver high-quality insights at greater depth, speed and volume.”

“How do we move the team from market researchers to insight professionals? How do we act in a data agnostic way to present the best data for executive decision making?” Zontziry asked.

“We have to create clarity, generate energy, and enable knowledge.”

  • Create clarity – Set specific, tangible goals, and articulate a vision of the future. In this case, the vision is to free up researchers to be more strategic by automating self-service data requests, enabling real-time integrated insights, and building dynamic test-and-learn environments. But the vision is never final: “Iterate on the vision in real time. Make it clear that you don’t have all the answers.”
  • Generate energy – “Foster creativity and allows individuals to try and provide examples of failing fast.” Encourage real conversations about data, tools, capabilities, and mindsets. “Celebrate the small wins.”
  • Enable knowledge – “Meet each team member where they are.” Team members have a range of mindsets, from resisting the change to working to realize it; a range of skillsets, from novice to expert, and a range of experience with tools and datasets, with familiarity with classic techniques but different exposure to big data. “Create collaborative spaces to share.” Microsoft organized hack-a-thons, story sharing, and cross-team scrums.

“Across 85 people, when people get to know what everyone else is doing, energy happens.” Use members’ knowledge to generate energy, exposing them to new data types, analytical techniques, and more. Microsoft ran a series of “101 Data Training sessions” and providing ongoing resources:

  • Knowledge library
  • Videos of training sessions
  • Links to books, blogs, podcasts, etc.
  • Searchable by topic and level

No transformation is possible without “addressing the shift in cultural mindset and teaching hard and soft skills to our researchers.”

See Digitally Transforming Insights at Microsoft for a 2018 update on the transformation process.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.