As an analyst on Forrester's Customer Insight's team, I spend a lot of time counseling clients on best-practice customer data usage strategies. And if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there is no such thing as a 360-degree view of the customer.

Here's the cold, hard truth: you can't possibly expect to know your customer, no matter how much data you have, if all of that data 1) is about her transactions with YOU and you 2) is hoarded away from your partners. And this isn't just about customer data either — it's about product data, operational data, and even cultural-environmental data. As our customers become more sophisticated and collaborative with each other ("perpetually connected"), so organizations must do the same. That means sharing data, creating collaborative insight, and becoming willing participants in open data marketplaces. 

Now, why should you care? Isn't it kind of risky to share your hard-won data? And isn't the data you have enough to delight your customers today? Sure, it might be. But I'd put money on the fact that it won't be for long, because digital disruptors are out there shaking up the foundations of insight and analytics, customer experience, and process improvement in big ways. Let me give you a couple of examples:

  • Lowes Home Improvement stores realized that they were missing a crucial layer of insight about store performance and customer experiences, because they couldn't see what sales barriers they were creating inadvertently. They created a portal where suppliers could access, analyze, and share information like geographic penetration, product cross-sell data, and POS data. Using that knowledge sharing, they discovered that they had made a critical inventory mistake that negatively affected sales of a specific product; correcting that mistake turned that product's sales around dramatically.
  • Pacific Gas & Electric, a California utility company, realized that it had a unique opportunity to get consumers a lot more engaged with their energy usage. But the company's core competency isn't exactly in creating mobile apps or other customer engagement solutions. Instead of hoarding its data and trying to go it alone, PG&E opened access to energy usage data via APIs — always considering privacy and permission — to a few authorized third-party developers. The result? Three very cool apps that help users understand and manage their energy use, and show them how to save money by reducing and optimizing their usage.

These companies — and many more that are profiled in our recent report — are on their way to achieving Adaptive Intelligence, which we define as:

Real-time, multi-dimensional sharing of data in order to derive contextually appropriate, authoritative knowledge that helps maximize business value.


My collaborators — Eve Maler and James Staten — and I encourage you to read this seminal new research, and ask yourself these questions:

  1. How much better could I run my business if I could share insights, collaboratively and in real-time, with my best business partners?
  2. What data do I have that might be valuable to my partners and peers, and what is that worth to them — and me?
  3. What must I do to share my data in a permission-based, well-governed way in the future?

And, as always, we invite you to reach out to us, via a comment here, in our communities, or via the inquiry process. We look forward to hearing your thoughts about AI, and helping each of you achieve this state of organizational intelligence!

Fatemeh Khatibloo will presenting on the data challenges related to the "perpetually connected" and personal identity management at next week's Forrester's Forum For Marketing Leaders EMEA in London (May 21-22).