Insights Director – is there a new groove in the neighbourhood?

There's a new groove in the neighbourhood. For years, the Corporate Research function of organisations was a sub-set of the Marketing Division and often enmeshed with Information Resources, Knowledge Management, Intranet or Corporate Communications. 'Corporate Research' has been generally valued by stakeholders as a service bureau to feed relevant data and, where resources and capability permitted, analysis to underpin the planning exercises (adhoc and cyclical) of business units, writes Mark Wiggins

There’s a new groove in the neighbourhood. For years, the Corporate Research function of organisations was a sub-set of the Marketing Division and often enmeshed with Information Resources, Knowledge Management, Intranet or Corporate Communications. ‘Corporate Research’ has been generally valued by stakeholders as a service bureau to feed relevant data and, where resources and capability permitted, analysis to underpin the planning exercises (adhoc and cyclical) of business units, writes Mark Wiggins

What’s changed? Technology, the Internet, time-to-market cycles, information explosion, heightened competition, disintermediation, globalisation, outsourcing and aggressive sourcing (….the list probably runs into the hundreds) means a corporate management team is more exposed than ever before to being blindsided by unexpected developments.

As Lenin once asked when considering his revolution…’What is to be done?’ Increasingly the answer for many corporations is to give visibility to the chaos and put an ‘Insights Director’ on the board. The Insights Director is charged with monitoring trends, opportunities, threats, market-shifts and competitive behaviour but, importantly, drawing out their implications for the company’s strategic direction, product architecture, brand and evolution.

Is this simply another name for Strategy Director? Are the executives best placed to rise to this elevated responsibility likely to be found in a company’s Competitive Intelligence, Change Management, Business Development or Corporate Research functions? Is this a virtual-team hybrid role or should this person manage a function per se?

Should the focus of someone with an Insights Director remit be on synthesising external or internal knowledge? After all, a company’s salesforce is closest to its customers. How do you systematically capture the SF’s perspectives on customer needs as well as collate the sum total of their random and considered observations of trends across the wider market and competitive landscape? Particularly as the salesforce generally hates any form of bureaucratic reporting that eats into revenue-generation airtime. Compulsory field on the CRM? No Commission until you’ve briefed the Insights Director chapter and verse?

Even if you were successful in stimulating this form of market knowledge retrieval, would it be enough? In my experience, when pressed for views, salesforce members typically run with the herd to recycle the conventional wisdom (ie., whatever the boss or "charismatic" CEO has pronounced to be the truth previously) on key business questions. Few are brave enough to stick their head above the parapet, even when championing major customer concerns, for fear of it being lopped off.

Have you heard the new groove buzzing in your neighbourhood? Surely a research function which sets the agenda, rather than acts upon it, will make waves in organisations large and small?