The trend watcher, Dan Burris, can usually be counted on for an observation that will cause a number of seemingly unrelated data points that have floated amorphously on your radar to coalesce into something concrete.  Such was the case recently when he pointed out that “Social Analytics will increasingly be used by marketers and researchers to measure real-time sentiment of large groups of targeted people.”  In fact Hootsuite advertises that you can see your brand’s sentiment in real time with their uberVU product but it was how this phenomenon related to a recent Financial times article that drove the point home to me.  Thearticle notes that investment managers already under threat from tech giants like Google and Facebook now need to worry about mobile phone companies as well.  This threat is being driven in part by the information mobile phone companies have on their customers that the fund companies do not.  One company looking to alter this situation is looking to Google for assistance.  The times article quotes an Aberdeen Asset Management executive as looking to get a “full understanding of our customers’ behavior.”  There may be a way to read that quote that doesn’t conjure up thoughts of worrisome corporate overreach, but it doesn’t sound like they are going to be asking the customer questions about their risk appetite or other things you might hear if you sat down with an investment advisor.  Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing if your investment needs are derived from your behavior.  Maybe if you knew you were part of a large group whose sentiment was about to be turned into a winning market play, you would be more than happy to go along.  In any case this purports to be a blog about technology management, not ethics or philosophy.

So how do firms get a better understanding of customers’ behavior? Burris has an answer for that too:

High Speed Data Analytics using advanced cloud services will increasingly be used as a complement to existing information management systems to identify actionable insights from the massive big data explosion. Big-Data-as-a-Service will emerge as cloud providers offer midsize and smaller organizations access to much larger streams of relevant data they could not otherwise tap into.

Getting analytics as a service will mean firms won’t necessarily have to build the infrastructure or hire teams of data scientists to get access to large amounts of data.  These capabilities will increasingly be required to make business decisions fast enough and insightful enough to stay competitive.

Tools to do this are proliferating quickly.  A Quora question recently asked if someone could compare Radian6, Sysomos, Simplify360, PeopleBrowsr, Omniture, Woopra, Argyle Social and IBM Coremetrics Social Analytics, to name a few.  The factors for determining which tools to employ are many and varied, but not using some sort of analytics to feed inputs to monitor what’s happening in the social media Zeitgeist is probably not going to be an option much longer – if it is one today.