IBM's Not-So-Secret Weapon: Big Data Marketing

Enterprise marketing departments are taking advantage of big data like no other group in the corporate world. And when it comes to B2B, IBM may just have an advantage.

Secreted on one of the floors at 590 Madison Ave. in New York City is a team any number of major business-to-business companies probably wish they had in place: IBM's strategic big data marketing team.

No, it's not the team that markets big data, but the team that includes both marketing and IT people working together to apply big data to IBM's own marketing efforts.

Marketing has become one of the first disciplines to make use of big data in a meaningful way, as companies look to big data and business analytics to help personalize their approach to the customer. In short, the customer is king, and companies are battling over who can provide the best customer experience.

Customer care, marketing and sales departments are increasingly driving demand for big data, according to a recent Microsoft study. Microsoft surveyed more than 280 U.S.-based IT decision makers at midsized to large organizations on the topic of big data.

The survey showed that although the IT department (52 percent) is currently driving most of the demand for big data, customer care (41 percent), sales (26 percent), finance (23 percent) and marketing (23 percent) departments are increasingly driving demand. The percentages add up to more than 100 because individuals were able to enter multiple responses, and though the lion's share of big data goes to IT, the IT department also services sales, marketing, etc., on big data-related issues.

And IBM's stealth-ninja big data wrangling team in New York is working in agile sprints to deliver material out to Big Blue's target customer audience. That team is comprised of half IT staff and half marketing pros.

"The partnership here between my team—the CIO team—and the marketing team is really allowing us to help the business with much more targeted decision making," Jeanette Horan, IBM's CIO, told eWEEK.

More organizations are embracing big data to drive their decision making and to provide the optimal mix of products and services to customers. Companies are using big data and analytics to sift through mountains of Website traffic data, social media and other sources to gain a deeper understanding of their customer bases. The goal is to identify trends in their customers' online viewing, social media postings and purchasing behaviors.

"When it comes to marketing, what you're really looking at is trends and anomalies," Horan said. "This is obviously the realm of analytics. So one of the things that my team has done to support the business is to build a Cognos and SPSS environment that's both a business reporting and analytics tool to build an environment that we've connected all our internal information warehouses to."

That internal environment, known as Blue Insight, came about following IBM's acquisition of Cognos. Since then, nearly every major group at IBM asked Horan to provide them a unique Cognos server. Instead, she set up a cloud-based environment they could all tap into and later added SPSS for predictive analytics.