It’s Not Yet Clear Who is Leading the Big Data Charge

Make no mistake about it, executives are hungry for Big Data and the insights new forms of machine-generated  and user-generated data can offer. However, Big Data analytics skills are hard to find, and even when they are available, hard to finance. As a result, the handling of Big Data analysis is defaulting to business users.

That’s one of the conclusions of a recent survey of 241 executives from across the globe, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The survey confirms that data democracy is a positive force – the vast majority of respondents, 77%, favor enabling more of their employees with better access to Big Data and the ability to analyze it in the context of other relevant data. There may be inertia at the top, but a grassroots movement within organizations is forcing the revolution into a reality.

The survey finds freeing up budget dollars is the greatest impediment to Big Data analytics – overall, investment in Big Data activities is lagging. Nearly half (47%) of respondents say they do not expect to invest in expanding their ability to use Big Data in decision-making in the next three years, with financial constraints cited as the biggest barrier (37%).

However, even firms willing to channel funds into better big data capabilities have a greater struggle – talent acquisition. Data specialists are in short supply and  often lack industry expertise. “There are not enough foot soldiers to fight the war,” says one survey respondent.

Often, as a result, rank-and-file employees are stepping in, on their own, to do battle. As the survey report’s authors observe: “Much of the democratization of data use is emerging from the grassroots, as employees seeking ways to do their jobs better, find and mine data with tools of their own.”

No matter how the analysis capability is proliferated, respondents see it as extremely beneficial. For example, 63% of executives say there would be an acceleration on the pace of decisions if Big Data capabilities were to be expanded to more employees. Other benefits include seizing market opportunities (66%), holding on to customers (55%), competing with rivals more effectively (41%) and boosting financial performance (35%). They also believe that enabling more workers to harness big data will help them make better and faster decisions (63%), illuminate business opportunities that were not previously apparent (45%) and identify and exploit opportunities more quickly (37%).

Job functions that stand to benefit the most from Big Data analysis capabilities are customer service, marketing, strategy and business development, general management, and information and research.

The survey results also show a lack of clarity as to who, exactly, will be taking the leadership role in this new culture. I like the way explains Alistair Croll, an analyst at Solve for Interesting, a firm that studies emerging technologies put it in the survey report: “In the Don Draper era, the person who could convince someone of something was in charge. In a data-driven world, whoever can ask the right questions is the leader.”

The question is how this new trend to data democratization will spread – from the grassroots, or whether executives will support more efforts – such as self-service BI and easier access to some type of data services or virtualization layer – to begin the evolution to an analytics-driven organization.  If the results of this survey are any indication, it may be a combination of both.

The report: Big data and the Democratisation of Decisions is available for download.

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