Interview with Luc Burgelman, CEO and Chairman, NGDATA

Luc Burgelman
Luc Burgelman

Tell us about your role and how you got here. What inspired you to start NGDATA?

I have a deep background in artificial intelligence, large data processing and rule-based systems. Before NGDATA, I co-founded Porthus, which delivered cloud-based solutions, a company that IPO’d in 2006 and was acquired by Descartes Systems Group in 2010. At that time, I was EVP global marketing, product strategy and chairman of corporate planning at Descartes and saw an explosion of useful consumer data that would become key to many organizations’ business strategy. I realized that customer-centric companies would need a solution to store, organize, and gain insights from customer data to improve their customer relationships and compete with digital native companies, so I co-founded NGDATA to deliver that service.

How would you define “Digital Transformation’ and “Digital Innovation” respectively, in the context of present customer experience standards?

In our industry, Digital Transformation means connected customer experiences across every single touch-point throughout the entire customer lifecycle. To fully succeed with this transformation, and to make the most out of customer interactions, brands need to centralize their data and insights and build a holistic picture of each individual customer. When adding layers of prescriptive analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, brands can then anticipate the needs of every customer and proactively intervene to keep the customer loyal.

When it comes to specific Digital Innovation in customer experience, we can certainly point to AI-based virtual assistants and chatbots – what we call “cognitive services” at NGDATA. Companies—especially those in customer-facing industries like banks, media and retail—need to engage with and support customers through these conversational interfaces, so we’ll see these companies add even more AI and cognitive services that result in even more interactive experiences. Customers will have voice control over the chatbot, which will act as a client advisor via the computer, taking on the role of a real, human person. We’re already seeing companies like Google thrive with its Google Now virtual assistant, which is only getting smarter because of its ability to use available data from web interactions to provide a personal experience for users.

The most important part of creating technology like virtual assistants is having the data drive actions and decisions. This means considering all data—including real-time and behavioral data—and learning from all channels to create connected experiences. Leveraging AI to continuously learn from this omnichannel data and power customer interactions through the understanding of all this detail will be critical for companies moving forward.

Is the fear and confusion around GDPR and its impact on data management platforms justified? Tell us about the ‘Pros and Cons’ of GDPR on customer data?

It’s easy to understand why companies are in panic mode about GDPR – non-compliance penalties can cost up to 4% of annual global turnover. However, at NGDATA, our stance is that GDPR is a positive thing, for a number of reasons.

For consumers, GDPR creates a legal framework for them to share their data, offering them a new level of protection and transparency that did not exist previously. Consumers know exactly how and why their data will be used since they have the right to give or reject consent before that information can be used. As a result, customers may be more likely or open to sharing their information since they have more autonomy over its use and know it will be fully protected. In turn, with more focused data available, brands become more knowledgeable about each customer and can, therefore, create more relevant interactions and offers.

Ultimately, since the cost of ignoring GDPR is too high – between fines and the loss of customers who do not feel their data privacy is respected –  brands are forced to re-evaluate the way they handle consumer data, and to install new processes and technologies enabling the consumers right to “own” their data. This is only a good thing, as brands and consumers will be able to, in essence, collaborate on personalized interactions based on what the customer wants.

How can marketers build stronger customer-centric campaigns without fearing GDPR?

GDPR is not something to fear, instead it should be embraced because brands have an opportunity to reach out to their customers and create better customer interactions. I’ve seen a few analysts refer to this as “bringing the consumer to the marketing table.”

For marketers to refine their customer-centric campaigns without worry, an important first step is to centralize consent management for all customers through a Customer Data Platform (CDP.) NGDATA’s CDP Lily, for example, allows users to filter consent so marketers don’t fall into the trap of sending out marketing to a customer who has not provided consent. It’s the CDP’s ability to centralize all the customer data in a company – structured and unstructured, factual and behavioral, from digital online and offline source systems, as well as from multiple channels and devices – that’s the key to effective and diligent operational customer data management, a pre-requisite for GDPR compliance.

Platforms such as this not only allow you to organize and understand your data, but also provide added customer insight and context to drive incredibly personal customer experiences. With regard to GDPR, a CDP also has the ability to proactively remind customers about extending their time-bound consent. These well-timed and relevant customer connections will reinforce customers’ trust in the brand and allow companies to optimize their customer engagement strategy, entirely in the spirit, but far beyond GDPR compliance.

What technologies and researchers from the martech industry do you keenly follow?

Technologies in the marketing industry that I’ve been following center around the entire ecosystem of customer experience management – campaign systems, CRMs, personalization systems and external data platforms.

David Raab, a marketing researcher and founder of the CDP Institute is also a tremendous resource for any brand looking to become more customer-centric via more efficient data management.

What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2018?

NGDATA’s marketing stack consists of our own customer data platform Lily, which we use to build customer profiles; Tableau for reporting; Salesforce Pardot for campaign automation; Instant Magazine for content creation; RainKing for sales intelligence; Terminus for ABM; and Vimeo and GoTo Webinar for presentations.

For internal communications and collaboration, we use Slack, Evernote, Yammer and LifeSize video conferencing, in addition to chat environments within the software and tools we use, like Salesforce.

Could you tell us about your standout digital campaign at NGDATA?

One of NGDATA’s banking clients recently completed a standout campaign. This particular bank had a mobile app that was one of the most highly-rated, but it knew that simply having a great app was not enough in the mobile-first world – it needed data and context to truly reshape the mobile customer experience. The centerpiece of that vision was delivering connected experiences no matter through whichever channel the customer connected with them and to ensure each experience was the most relevant experience possible – providing value to each and every customer.

The bank implemented the Lily CDP to aggregate the myriad of real-time data within its ecosystem, create individual “Customer DNA” profiles of their customers, and uncover the context necessary to establish goal-driven individual customer centricity (versus product-driven programs.) This includes behavioral data of the customer from which this bank could ID areas for improvement so that it could respond to customers with greater relevance. Because Lily is used to continuously find insights and act upon them, this particular client wanted to have specific use cases implemented to interact with their customers throughout the full customer lifecycle.

The first specific use case focused on a next-best-offer program around the bank’s pension savings product offerings with a goal of increasing mobile deposits. NGDATA worked with them to build out the specific program. By the end of 2016, 60 percent of pension deposit activity stemmed from mobile use – representing a significant increase in deposit activity above and beyond results from all the branches combined.

The bank was so successful with its campaign because its customer experience innovation broke the mold in one key way: it put the individual customer – not segments of customers – at the center of its initiative. It understood that sending a bank mailer outlining an offer to a customer segment of 1,000 consumers or a banner ad on the website were no longer sufficient for creating great customer experiences. To meet the needs of modern customers, the campaigns must be modern as well, and that meant ditching a one-size-fits-all (or even one-size-fits-many) approach and eschewing it in favor of a strategy focused on customer-centricity and personalization.

By deriving actionable intelligence from the proliferation of mobile data, our client has positioned itself as a banking innovator. Now it is ready to put even more advanced data techniques into its customer-centricity program, looking to increase its credit card and loan activity via the mobile application.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader? How do you leverage AI capabilities at NGDATA?

As a business leader, you have to understand that a critical component of customer experience is the anticipation of future needs of each customer – looking at behavioral patterns, market trends and user experiences for proactive measures that secure a personalized, unique and memorable experience across multiple channels. This, in turn, enables the customer to feel understood and valued, and more likely to develop a loyalty that will be a good basis for customer retention, up-selling and cross-selling.

Data-driven technology creates true business value because it provides you with those actionable measures in real time, that are scaled for the enterprise, and remove human subjectivity via machine learning. Machine learning encompasses the algorithms, optimization and learning tools that interact with the data, thereby eliminating any manual interaction/intervention between the data being generated. Only then can you have the most relevant, timely and contextually-aware interactions with each and every customer.

We incorporate machine learning, artificial intelligence and other data/analytics capabilities into Lily to help our users best leverage these innovations to enhance their customer experience management via truly actionable insights.

Not only that, to help our clients become fully AI-centric and data-driven, we’ve created the NGDATA Research Lab to provide the latest best practices for advancing big data technology and machine learning, while uncovering strategies for data governance to improve customer experiences. A few of the specific resources available in our Research Lab include customer preference learning and behavioral patterns, smart algorithms, enterprise data management and data privacy.

One word that best describes how you work.
Results-driven.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

I rely most heavily on Powerpoint, Messenger for more real-time communication, and LifeSize video conferencing.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

My number one productivity hack is that when I’m working on my computer, I turn off all alerts and notifications. This allows me to get my work done more efficiently – when I’m working on something, I like to see it right through from start to finish. Also, I only check/respond to email three times a day as a way to further maintain my focus.

What are you currently reading? 

When I read for fun, I usually listen to audiobooks about music and art. When it comes to important information, I prefer to consume it via face to face interactions.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Learn to say no. Saying no is so important because it helps you to minimize distractions and makes sure your strategy stays on track.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Elon Musk. However, I’d also love to read how Paul McCartney would answer these questions.

Thank you Luc! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Luc is a co-founder and the CEO of NGDATA. Prior to NGDATA, he co-founded Porthus (EU, 2000), which delivered cloud-based solutions that IPO’d in 2006 and was acquired by Descartes Systems Group in 2010 (US/CA). At that time Luc became the EVP global marketing, product strategy and chairman of corporate planning office (US/CA). After leaving Descartes, Luc observed what was becoming a massive expansion of useful consumer data and realized that consumer-oriented companies would need a solution to store, organize, sift and gain customer insights with what would become known as Big Data. Through his experience in artificial intelligence (neural networks, large data processing, rule-based systems, …) he decided to join forces to create NGDATA. Luc holds a Master in Engineering and Information technology (UGent, BE) and Executive MBA (Antwerp, Kellog, IMD).

NGDATA
NGDATA helps brands in data-driven industries, such as financial services, telecom, utilities and hospitality, to drive connected experiences. Our Next Generation Customer Data Platform, Lily™, puts people at the center of every business via Lily’s Customer DNA, which continuously learns from behavior to deliver compelling experiences for companies, such as Belfius Bank, Innogy and Telenet. NGDATA is headquartered in Gent, Belgium and has offices in the United States, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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