With so many advancements in enterprise technology, it's hard to excuse companies that are still clinging to manual processes. That's the contention of Sheryl Kingstone, Research Director of Business Applications at New York City-based 451 Research.

A 16-year veteran industry analyst, her research focuses on improving the customer experience across all interaction channels for customer acquisition and loyalty. As part of the 451 Research team, she helps businesses make decisions regarding the use of technology, business processes and data to boost revenue and optimize business performance.

Creating Insight-Driven Digital Experience

In an interview with CMSWire, Kingstone told us machine learning, prescriptive analytics and mobile tools can help redesign customer experience.

"Intelligent business applications are really the only way to understand, contextualize and embed data intelligently into business process," said Kingstone.

She'll discuss the rapid evolution of business applications and how they serve companies in a digitally transformed world at CMSWire's second annual DX Summit this Nov. 14 through 16 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. "Context-aware process-driven applications are the future," she said.

During a conference session at 2 p.m. CT on Wednesday, Nov. 16, Kingstone will share insights on creating insight-driven customer experiences, including the components of an effective digital platform and the technologies available to gather customer data, analyze it and derive actionable insights to optimize customer experience.

We caught up with Kingstone for a Q&A on data, insights and customer experience execution.

Moving From Data to Insight

Nicastro: How are organizations are still trapped in manual processes?

Kingstone: We have only partially automated processes within many organizations. Every day we still fill out forms manually, restate the obvious on a call or embark on redundant data entry of information for the millionth time. It doesn’t have to be this way because technology has enabled us to automate 99 percent of business processes through a combination of data, digital content and intelligent processes.

Nicastro: Data is crucial. Insight is crucial. Do you see organizations that have good data but not good insights?

Kingstone: Digitalization can be used to automate many core processes, but the data adds contextual relevance. Yet, businesses still struggle with understanding how to embed the right information at the right time for the right processes. Business applications must transition to be more prescriptive to capitalize on the data and the desired business outcomes. The data layer is critical into the overall process for prescriptive action.

Situational context and personalization are now required elements of an ideal customer experience. Any device can be tuned to its user, but true context should encompass much more — including an individual user’s location, stated preferences, behavior (e.g., purchases) and social interaction. Businesses must move beyond data-gathering exercises to provide more prescriptive guidance for not just customers, but also employees and partners.

Nicastro: How can organizations use machine learning to deliver solid customer experiences?

Kingstone: Cognitive and self-learning systems as well as the data that drives them play an increasing role in the evolution of customer-facing business applications, whether those applications are sales, service or marketing. Intelligent business applications are really the only way to understand, contextualize and embed data intelligently into business process. Context-aware process-driven applications are the future.

Nicastro: Can you define "self-directed journeys" and explain how organizations can ensure customers achieve this goal?

Kingstone: It’s virtually impossible to plan for all potential customer journeys. Customer journeys are essentially non-linear, self-directed interactions or “micro-moments." Today, mobile, social and other digital technologies and channels are empowering customers with the ability to decide what they want, and also where and how they want it. The effect is that customers can now dictate the terms of engagement with businesses.

Businesses must break down their rigid systems and processes to evolve to be more agile and real-time. It’s not just about customer-facing systems, but also the back-end foundation that handles core processes such as order management, inventory and pricing. These back-end systems contain necessary data that is needed during customer-facing processes.

For example, to enable customer demand for "click and collect," one-hour delivery and cross-selling. Without the back-end systems of record, it would be impossible to meet customer expectations. Retail, travel and transportation and hospitality are also all looking to capitalize on location-based services to integrate with back-end infrastructure to improve customer engagement.

Nicastro: The digital tool landscape — especially within MarTech — is massive. What are the most essential tools for driving digital customer experiences?

Kingstone: There is no single tool to purchase that can instantly solve customer experience pain points. The most essence of embracing digital in a "transformative" approach requires a layer of intelligence to be embedded into processes that connects divisions, back office and front office, to meet expectations in the age of the customer.

The market is fragmented with more than 1,000-plus vendors addressing some form of sales, marketing or service automation. Today — 2016/2107 — will be the time of customer engagement tools. We need to complement our investments in systems of record, which are critical for managing internal operational processes, with systems of engagement to provide an interactive, personalized experience for customers and employees. New technologies such as prescriptive analytics, machine learning and modern business applications will finally help businesses embrace digital transformation.

Nicastro: What do you enjoy outside of your professional world?

Kingstone: While I am not considered a digital native, I do consider myself a digital junky. I am a mom with two digital natives. Yet, I am the wife of a man who misses the rotary phone. I embrace technology to its fullest for the positive advancements it can make in our lives. Yet, again I am disappointed in people that blame technology with statements about “how we are slaves to our devices.” Devices don’t control our personal behaviors. Our behavior lies solely on the individual. I am an avid digital photographer, who embraces her past traditional fine art learnings to create digital memories for the future.