Getting an insight into management

The insight management profession has emerged over recent years as organisations have realised they are swamped in disparate data and insight, but maximum competitive advantage comes from being world class in using it. Insight management skills are crucial within major organisations, but also need to be reflected by support companies, such as market research and data analytics agencies.

Professor David Birks, dean of the Faculty of Business, Law and Sport, and director of Winchester Business School at the University of Winchester, shares his perspective on the growing need for qualified insight management professionals and why the Winchester Business School is pioneering an MSc Insight Management.

Q. Why does the market research industry need to embrace insight management?

A. The UK market research industry has a well-deserved reputation for supporting decision-makers with great integrity. This integrity comes from using approaches and methods founded upon strong theoretical bases and a rich array of experiences. Integrity also comes from a renowned ethical stance in engagements with participants and clients. This integrity is vital for the future of the market research industry, but senior decision-makers are looking for more. Researchers need to feel comfortable working with higher-order business concepts. They need to understand the vision, challenges and language of senior decision-makers and be able to present findings as a compelling narrative. Researchers need to draw knowledge from a host of different sources, including conventional qualitative and quantitative sources, a variety of forms of observation, social media data, CRM [customer relationship management] systems, financial and customer profile information. Researchers need to integrate and juxtapose data from these sources by being aware of and using analytical models that represent the way consumers think and behave. Delivering on all these demands requires researchers to cultivate a more creative and participative environment of decision-support in order to identify business opportunities, and present meaningful and impactful business solutions. This takes and places the notion of the traditional market researcher into the world of insight management.

The key challenge is to put ‘insight’ at the heart of decision-making at the very highest level of any organisation

Q. What is the key challenge in moving to an insight management mindset in businesses?

A. The key challenge is to put “insight” at the heart of decision-making at the very highest level of any organisation. Meeting this challenge requires commercial acumen, political influence and persuasive communication. Senior decision-makers have to be convinced that insight management goes way beyond analytical skills and is a professional discipline in its own right. This profession encompasses broader commercial and organisational skills and thinking in order to guide the work of data experts.

Q. Why are insight managers the key enablers to unlock business strategies?

A. In today’s data-driven world, insight management skills are essential. Advances in information technology and a complete “datafication” of the world means organisations have more data and insights on various aspects of their business than ever before. This data represents the most valuable assets of many businesses. Organisations are looking for experts who have the ability to synthesise and harness the ever-expanding sources and quantities of data. They are also looking for individuals who can give them data support with integrity in both a technical and responsible management sense.

Q. The University of Winchester Business School is pioneering an MSc Insight Management programme…

A. The MSc was born out of discussions with Insight Management Forum, the Insight Management Academy’s best-practice group of insight team leaders. The group felt there was a growing need for qualified insight management professionals with recognised formal qualifications and accreditation. The programme is designed as an executive master’s degree delivered on a part-time basis. It appeals to middle and top managers who are tasked to gain and share insights in companies, public sector and non-profit organisations. It also appeals to managers from diverse research and business support organisations to respond to the growing need for qualified insight management professionals.

David Birks has 30 years’ experience in universities, primarily working on post-graduate research, marketing, management and design programmes.  He is also the co-author of Europe’s leading marketing research text, Malhotra, N.J., Birks, D.F. and Wills, P., Marketing Research: An Applied Orientation, Financial Times, Pearson.

For more information on the MSc Insight Management programme offered by Winchester Business School, visit