As the MRS celebrated its 70th year, ZappiStore set off to Impact 2016 to network and explore how the evolution of technology is shaping up to revolutionise the industry of insights. Discussions over conference alluded to a need for better ways deliver research findings faster and questioned where the creativity of researchers will add value to a new world where automated surveys, data collection and presentation have become highly accessible.

Stan Sthanunathan – Unilever, opened talks on the seismic changes taking place in the world of technology and digital and presented 10 commandments that agencies and clients should pay heed to, in order to keep up with the pace of change.

Stan highlighted the rising accessibility of data and democratisation of information for society. Most importantly, he suggested that information itself does not offer a competitive edge and that gatekeepers of information only add value when it is shared.

His 10th commandment was “real time is the new currency” with insights needing to be delivered in hours, not days or weeks, in order to match consumer expectations of instant information.

Next was a panel debate on the role of AI and whose jobs in market research were at risk, which almost derailed into a discussion of the human condition.

Colin Strong opened the commentary with “Market research is high cost, and therefore low accessibility” it takes time to conduct research – presenting symptoms of a profession in danger of being disrupted.

With a rise in cognitive and anticipatory computing, the need for humans to collect data with fieldwork is lessened as behavioural patterns can be interpreted from our personal data.

In an environment where expectations are to provide faster and cheaper solutions, it is inevitable that jobs today will not be the same as they are tomorrow – but does data availability make researchers redundant or augment their ability to ask the right questions?

“I believe there is only so far machines can go at creating” said Cat Wiles. “The role of the researcher will need to shift to become more of a provocateur – joining up dots that aren’t obvious. What the researchers can do is bring humanity and free will into business decisions.”

Those jobs most at risk in the short term would be “anyone doing counting or describing” said Nick Bonney. Referencing Stan’s opening keynote, “Action is the edge, and insight has become democratised. We should see this as an opportunity to raise our game and get to the action.”

There was also debate as to whether the research sector would be in a position to provide a higher level of business consulting to elevate itself above the many repetitive tasks that would inevitably get automated.

The full panel debate can be viewed below:

We had an amazing time at Impact 2016 and felt right at home with the amount of automation going on in the industry, so much that our friendly robot didn’t quite want to leave!

Daniel Evans

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Daniel Evans

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