Contextual analysis, with the help of mobile devices and the Internet of Things, is giving businesses the data they need to reach individuals in relevant and meaningful ways.
Decrypt Purchasing Behavior
Retailers and major brands have spent the last two decades trying to improve their understanding of customer behavior within and across channels so they can target and sell to individual consumers with accuracy. Still, it isn’t always obvious why a customer abandoned a shopping cart, or why site engagement levels don’t necessarily track with online conversions and sales.
“Context is key because low engagement is not necessarily a suppression of intent to purchase,” said Dean Abbott, chief data scientist at customer marketing intelligence platform provider SmarterHQ, in an interview. “Context allows you to understand intent. You can refine the message and identify an audience that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.”
For example, high website engagement and low website engagement may not be the binary conditions that they appear to be. It’s well known that highly engaged visitors are more likely to buy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that highly engaged website visitors will buy something. A certain percentage of shoppers may research their purchases on the website and buy the items at a brick-and-mortar location. Insights like that help explain why the usual site conversion tactics don’t work for some customers. Conversely, low engagement doesn’t necessarily mean that the customer is less likely to buy something. It may be that the customer only makes seasonal purchases. In short, context helps explain why customers do what they do. Context can also help explain why a behavioral pattern may have changed temporarily or permanently.
Predict Impact On Stock Prices
Hedge fund managers try to anticipate events that can potentially impact a stock price, such as a board or shareholder vote on an issue. Because their ability to compete depends at least partially on predicting the future more accurately than their competitors, it behooves hedge fund managers to anticipate how a board will likely vote on important issues. Using publicly available data, they can do just that.
“There are ways to measure context in real time so you can predict much more than you could before,” said Luca Scagliarini, VP of strategy and business development at semantic intelligence platform provider Expert System USA, in an interview. “Board members are usually board members of other companies. If you look at the votes each member expressed on similar issues in other companies, you can estimate the vote. [And] public opinion about a certain issue or important news [may influence how] the board votes around environmental issues.”
Analyzing public company financial statements, such as annual reports, can provide insight into board members and their past voting behavior. Public sentiment can be monitored via newsfeeds, blog posts, and social media. All of that can help explain the context in which a decision will likely be made.
Keep Oil Flowing
Oil and gas don’t always flow. When an oil field or an oil well isn’t producing, millions of dollars are lost in a single day. To avoid unnecessary disruptions, oil and gas companies are performing contextual analyses of their operating environments using unstructured content, including maintenance notes, drilling reports, and other sources, to gain qualitative insights about non-production time.
“Understanding why something occurs provides the raw inputs for reducing non-production time in the future,” said Stephen Baker, CEO of data source discovery solution provider Attivio, in an interview. “Ninety percent of the time, oil wells are not producing as they should be because a piece of equipment has been damaged by extremely low temperatures or by thunderstorms, and for safety reasons they have to shut down the well.”
Using predictive models that take into account environmental factors, such as weather and seismic patterns, it is possible to schedule preventative well maintenance to minimize downtime.
Improve Email ROI
Online marketers and publishers often serve up ads in the context of search, social media interactions, gaming, or other online behavior. Using IP addresses and GPS sensors, it’s possible to send geo-targeted ads to include location-specific data such as local weather conditions. Email has lagged behind, however. Although emails may be sent in a context that might have been relevant when the email was sent, the message contents may be irrelevant by the time the recipient opens the email.
“Most senders are only able to deliver contextually relevant content to about 20% of email openers. The remaining 80% have been stuck in the Stone Age,” said Justin Foster, co-founder and VP of market development at email and video commerce solution provider Liveclicker, in an interview. “Fifty percent of all emails that are read are opened eight hours after they were sent. Twenty percent are opened 24 hours or more later.”
The idea is to deliver email that is contextually relevant at the time it is opened, rather than at the time it was sent, using various types of data such as geolocation, device type, time, and weather conditions, among other factors.
Security breaches happen. Despite spending tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on security tools and human resources, even the most sophisticated organizations have vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Because cyberattacks are happening with greater frequency, some organizations are using machine learning and human intelligence to understand events in context so they can more effectively triage their limited resources.
“Analysts need the appropriate context to properly identify what is and is not critical — what’s a threat versus what’s an attack,” said Sriram Ramachandran, CEO of security platform provider Niara, in an interview. “While analytics can play a pivotal role in shedding light on threats and attacks, analysts are drowning in the large volumes of alerts being generated by modern organizations.”
Without context, anomalous behavior can be misunderstood and misclassified. For example, if an employee downloads a 1GB file at midnight, the event alone suggests malfeasance. However, viewed in the contexts of the employee’s historical behavior, the behavior of the group in which she works, her role, and the behavior of the organization at large, it may become clear that the act had a legitimate purpose.
Improve Business Intelligence
BI and big data analytics have enabled some companies to move toward data-driven cultures. As KPIs, reporting, and dashboards become more common across organizations, the amount of information available can become overwhelming. Contextual intelligence can help separate the important signals from the noise, so employees can focus on the data that matters most at a particular moment.
“Without context, data is almost useless,” said Marius Moscovici, CEO of push intelligence software provider Metric Insights, in an interview. “If a number lacks context, it just leads to a lot of analysis to try to work it out. With context, you can take appropriate action right then and there.”
Manage Potential Disasters
The city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is analyzing contextual data from sensors to determine in real time which areas need immediate support. In 2014, the city and its citizens were preparing for the largest downpour in history. In such a situation, flash flooding can occur simply because trash and debris are clogging storm drains and city sewers.
“In Buenos Aires, you have the ability to use sensors in water tunnels underneath the city to map the water flow, the rate of the water flow, and how fast it’s rising. But if you don’t have the contextual analysis of an inspector using a mobile device entering the information about the inspection, then you’re not going to be able to alleviate the issue. You need both sides of the equation,” said Dante Ricci, lead global public services and healthcare marketing and communications at SAP, in an interview.
Because the maintenance crews knew when and where to clear the storm drains and sewers, a lot of damage was prevented.
Deliver Timely User Experiences
Contextual mobile marketing has been on the lips of marketers since before the turn of the millennium, but the technologies and economics necessary to deliver it have taken many more years to develop. Finally, it’s possible to sense the location of an individual and her proximity to a possible destination, whether that’s a retail store or a coffee shop. Armed with that and other information about the customer, marketers can target an offer that is relevant to the person, place, and time. The same technologies can be used to alert employees to potentially dangerous situations or to turn app features on and off based on a context such as driving.
“For a while now, we’ve been looking at contextual data in the realm of the Internet of Things and mobile, and how the user’s context could change the user experience,” said Josh Waddell, global vice president of SAP’s Mobile Innovation Center. “It’s all about the context of an individual and what we should be doing to make their experience better, faster, and safer.”
Adam Fingerman, co-founder of mobile app development company ArcTouch, considers today’s challenges to be less about gathering contextual information and more about how to properly respond to it. “Apps are infinitely measurable. When you’re tracking the context of a situation [the insight] becomes more precise,” he said in an interview.
Manage More Intelligently
More companies are managing employee performance, but in the absence of context, the KPIs may not align with the current business objectives. When that happens, employees may be meeting their performance goals, but the best interests of the business are not being served.
“Context greatly improves performance management. It can help us sort through piles of data around people, how we’re managing people, what we’re getting done at work, and what will happen in the years ahead,” said Kris Duggan, CEO of goal-setting platform provider Betterworks, in an interview.
It’s easy to make assumptions about employees that prove to be false when the context is considered. For example, certain agile team members may appear to be less productive than they should be, especially when they’re working on different projects for different groups. Viewed through the lens of a single group, it may appear that a particular team member is not dedicated to the project, or is less efficient than she should be for someone who has dedicated 40% of her time to the project. Upon closer inspection, it may become clear that her total time commitment across projects significantly exceeds 100%, or that poor project management is negatively impacting her productivity
Perceive The World Differently
Wearables are the new, new thing, capable of providing context that may not have been previously available. Instead of relying only on location to infer what might be relevant, it is possible to “see” what the wearer is perceiving when she is perceiving it. The benefit to marketers is finer-grained targeting and higher degrees of relevance, but the applications span everything from surgery to law enforcement to military operations. The same capabilities are being used in a variety of sports stadiums on the sidelines and in the stands.
“A police officer can read a license plate, instead of getting out of the car and writing a report. If the whole police force is wearing [an Internet of Things device], command and control has visibility into what everybody is seeing, which allows you to identify anomalies faster,” said Jon Fisher, CEO and founder of CrowdOptic, in an interview.
At the present time, CrowdOptic is exploring the possibilities of other shared views. Imagine inheriting the view of a person who is 10,000 meters ahead of you, or one from a drone or satellite. The company is also working with Carnegie Mellon on a breadcrumb application that can be used to follow a person.