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CASRO Transformation Series: SSI – Rules of Transformation in a Tech-Driven World

SSI was founded in 1977 and has deep roots in our industry. Chris hails from the technology industry and brings the lessons learned from that industry to his leadership of SSI.


By Jeff Resnick 

SSI_C_FanningWhile disruption has impacted many areas of our industry, the world of panels and sampling is an area experiencing rapid change and innovation.   In this month’s blog, we share the insights of Chris Fanning, President and CEO of SSI. SSI was founded in 1977 and has deep roots in our industry. Chris hails from the technology industry and brings the lessons learned from that industry to his leadership of SSI.  I was fortunate enough to catch up with Chris during his travels.  In this post, he shares his views on the foundation for future success – themes that shape his strategy and future vision for SSI.

Pursue scale, it matters.  Chris firmly believes the pace of globalization is not going to abate.  Efficient access to respondents on a global basis is a mandate.  SSI is meeting this need through acquisition (SmileCity and MyOpinions being two recent examples) as well as the continued development of a unified platform that allows for access to global panelists while ensuring quality.  SSI’s private equity backing has been instrumental in the building of scale.

Be technology driven and people delivered.  Chris reflected on how impressed he was with the professionals at SSI when he arrived in 2012.   However, the need for a significant enhancement in technology was also evident.  Since he arrived, Chris has tripled the size of the tech team.  The majority of tech additions are from outside the market research space.   Chris’ objective is to infuse the DNA of a technology firm into SSI.  However, while Chris firmly believes technology is the foundation, he also emphasizes that the quality of the interaction with professional staff often decides the strength and longevity of a client relationship.

Be a quality evangelist.  Users of SSI’s services are increasingly focused on the issue of quality.  Requests for SSI professionals to participate in client calls with its customers on the topic of quality are more frequent as the industry becomes increasingly sensitized to the myriad aspects of sample quality.   The issue of quality is a major driver in SSI’s strategic decision to have full control over the panelists in its databases and invest in its global platform.  While this is more expensive in the short-term, Chris argues a financial analysis demonstrates the long-term ROI of this approach.

Turbo-charge innovation.   Whether innovation is achieved through acquisition, internal development or both doesn’t matter.  It is a core element for future success.   Chris offered the example of mobile.  While our industry has been buzzing with the possibilities offered by mobile for some time, we are still in the early days of the wide-scale harnessing of the power it has to offer.  The recently announced acquisition of Instantly is, in part, a response to this need but so is the adoption of agile software development methodologies that focus on the rapid development and improvement of technology-based products and services.

Enable the elimination of infrastructure.  A trend Chris sees for the future is the continued emergence of firms in the MR space that focus solely on insights with no desire to develop significant operational infrastructure.  Coupled with this is an additional trend Chris sees in corporate research departments, consulting firms and private equity groups preferring to directly access services of firms such as SSI.  This extends far beyond the collection of information to analytics, data visualization and access to mobile technologies.

Live as one company and deliver a common client experience globally.  As much as our conversation focused on technology, we also spent a good deal of time discussing the customer experience.   Chris’ views in this area are heavily influenced by his days at the Boston Consulting Group.   His vision is to build a global company where clients experience a consistently high quality product/service, exceptional service and the ability to access their target populations anywhere in the world.  Building a common culture driven by a technology-enabled environment is at the heart of this vision.

So where will SSI be in 2020?  According to Chris, the SSI of 2020 will look like, and will be, a technology company where technology professionals, research methodologists and client service professionals co-exist to deliver a superior customer service experience that will result in long-term client relationships.

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One response to “CASRO Transformation Series: SSI – Rules of Transformation in a Tech-Driven World

  1. A good article Jeff Resnick. I also like Chris Fanning’s positioning of SSI. However I would still like to see more data comparing panel respondent results with national landline/cell phone data particularly on public policy and political issues.. I still see biases in a lot of panels – younger people, more women, more likely to purchase, etc.

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