Far be it from me to suggest that perhaps the ancient Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca didn’t have it quite as bad as he thought when he stated “distringit librorum multitude” (the abundance of books is distraction).
Today, far beyond being a mere distraction, data and information overload are cited as being negatively impactful on humans and businesses. Nearly two millennia after the death of Seneca, Reuters conducted a study entitled Dying for information, in which 43% of respondents thought that decisions were delayed and otherwise adversely affected by “analysis paralysis” or the existence of too much information, 66% of respondents associated information overload with tension among colleagues and loss of job satisfaction and 42% attributed ill-health to this stress.
Yikes, and all of this seems to run counter to the statement “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion” uttered by the highly regarded engineer, statistician, and management consultant W. Edwards Deming.
How can this be reconciled without giving us a data overload headache and actually provide solutions and assist in meeting our goals? I do have a suggestion, but first, let’s take a look at the benefits of big data.
The Benefits of Big Data
Back in the time of Seneca, only 5% – 10% of the population was literate, writes William V. Harris, Ph.D., of Columbia University, in his monograph entitled Ancient Literacy. Today, Literacy Partners, a non-profit organization, reports that approximately 12 percent of the world’s population is considered functionally illiterate. While this remains a problem to be solved, and, of course, many disparities continue to exist today, clearly there is a broader belief worldwide than ever before in history that everyone deserves an education, which means that all of us will be creating data. Once we have accepted the fact that massive amounts of data actually represent more people tapping into their talent and contributing to society than in the past, we can see the data explosion as a good thing. Now we just need a method for efficient, effective analysis providing actionable insights.
Making Sense, then Dollars, from Data
In a previous blog post, The Laws of Physics & Data-Driven Decisions, the findings of the recent survey entitled “Digital Roadblock: Marketers Struggle to Reinvent Themselves” were discussed, which revealed the obstacles faced by marketers in the era of exponentially increasing data. I am committed to understanding the issues and finding solutions. Today I am focusing on responses from marketers who indicated that mobile, social media, and personalization are becoming ever greater priorities and offer you an illustrative case study of one organization that addressed each of these issues to the immense satisfaction of both its customers and itself.
Case Study: Metrarail
“Chicago has always been the railroad center of the nation, and it has had commuter trains almost as long as it has had any trains,” the Metrarail website proudly states.
Metrarail (the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation) is the commuter rail service for Chicago’s metropolitan area. While we certainly know that consumers expect up-to-the-minute information today, perhaps nowhere is that more important than in the field of transportation. After all, no one wants to be left standing at the railway station.
For those of you who arrange carpools for work or your children’s extracurricular activities, imagine the task of Metrarail. It serves more than 300,000 passengers a day, approximately 85 million annual passenger trips, utilizing 700 weekday trains and managing 239 stations.
Although Metrarail’s original website may have appeared useful when first published nearly two decades ago, schedules posted as static files and a limited ability to publish timely news and updates were not meeting the needs of today’s highly mobile consumers.
With passengers increasingly engaging with multiple digital channels looking for the most current information, Metrarail turned to the business advisory organization, Acquity Group, which in turn recommended as the solution the implementation of Adobe Experience Manager, a component of the Adobe Marketing Cloud.
Three primary audiences were identified, the occasional commuters, regular commuters, and experienced commuters. Through Adobe Experience Manager, static schedules gave way to
real-time scheduling, integration of e-commerce facilitated on-line ticket sales and the riders experience was personalized, including alerts via multiple channels of scheduling changes or delays in service. As a result of these new features, Metrarail saw an impressive 178% increase in hits per day.
A Mobile Device Strategy
With Chicago’s reputation as “the windy city” with cold winters and deep snow, providing passengers with a mobile optimized site was crucial. Let’s first take a look at the desktop site,
and now the site optimized for mobile. The differences are clear. From the desktop site, commuters can find engaging content related to Metrarail and their community, whereas the mobile site is optimized for the smaller screens of mobile devices, as well as the critical information passengers seek when on the go. Moreover, passengers can easily access either site from any device.
Keeping riders informed with Personalized Experiences and Social Media
Issues that are important to commuters include service delays, holiday schedule changes, and severe weather warnings. Passengers can create a “My Metra” account, setting their preferences to receive updates automatically through e-mail, mobile channels, and social media channels.
“Our strategy to be more accessible to commuters includes a multichannel approach that leverages social media and mobile websites. We’re delivering on the promise to make the commute more convenient,” says Jim Peffer of Metra’s corporate website management team.
A Great Ride for Passengers and Metrarail
Earlier we talked about the fact that the amount of data will continue to increase and our challenge not to be overloaded, but to overcome obstacles, is possible with the right tools in place. Metrarail now has, on average, 2.5 million hits per day, which represents a 178% increase from its former 900,000 hits per day. Moreover is a lift of 200% achieved in online ticket sales along with an increase in customer satisfaction.
Undoubtedly, you are also experiencing the effects of data explosion. I hope that this case study provided some inspiration to you, and that you might share some of you own insights with me.