The Data is In: Analytics Does Get You Ahead in Business

Finally, there is now evidence of a clear link between financial performance and the broad use of data by employees. Specifically, organizations that take the lead in data analytics are more than three times more likely to be leaders within their industry groups than companies with standard analytics environments.

That’s the finding of a new survey of 530 senior executives, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit. There is little disagreement that the ability to make data available across the entire enterprise means greater productivity and performance. More than 80 percent of respondents believe that employees across their organizations “can and should be using data to do their jobs.”

Among those organizations that are leading in terms of financial performance, 54 percent said that being data-driven is part of their culture, while 50 percent say “they have a set strategy to make their organizations more effective in the use of data.” Another 40 percent credit the training of their employees in data analytics.

Creating and nurturing a data driven-culture is the important distinction that helps move organizations forward, the survey also finds.  Half of respondents from top-performing-companies say that “promotion of data sharing has helped generate a data-driven culture in their organization.”

Everyone admits that there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done before this vision can be realized. Overall, only 11 percent of respondents state that, in comparison to peers, their organization makes “substantially” better use of data. Significantly, however, top-performing companies comprise more than a third of this group, the report notes. “And the reverse is true for under-performing companies: 17 percent of executives identified their companies as lagging behind peers in financial performance. Among this group, not a single one claimed that his or her organization held a substantial advantage over rivals when it comes to use of data.”

The survey also provides guidance for executives who want to create a data-driven culture. Making data collection a central focus is one example. Three-fourths of respondents in top-performing companies see data collection as “very important/essential” to data culture. By comparison, only 41 percent of executives with the less-stellar-performing companies see value in an enterprise approach to identifying and validating data sources.

The skills shortage looms larger and needs to be addressed if organizations are to be able to move to a data-driven realm, the survey finds. Data scientists will remain an essential part of many workforces, yet in a competitive job market the problem is recruiting and retaining those specialists. Seven out of ten say it is “somewhat” or “very” difficult to recruit and retain effective data analysts.

Increased availability of training is a further factor to consider. Around one in three respondents say it is “very important” to have programs or partnerships in place to make employees “more data-literate.” The need is felt more acutely among top performers, of whom 50 percent cite the need for greater efforts to achieve data literacy.

The bottom line is that data analytics should be part of everyone’s job, and every end user should have some of these capabilities, to make better decisions based on the same information available across all business units. The Economist report makes this analogy: “A data-driven culture is not a belief that data are an issue for someone else in the company, a job for a data specialist or perhaps the IT department. There is still a perception that a data specialist, perhaps a recent statistics graduate, should be parachuted in to an organization to advise on how to work magic with data, much as a computer security expert would be called on to help shore up a company’s IT networks.”

The Economist survey was underwritten by Tableau Software, and the full report can be downloaded here.


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