Intelligent data use stokes high performance, says EIU study

Companies which believe their data use is better than their competitors are more likely to consider themselves ahead in financial performance too

Companies which believe their data use is better than their competitors’ are more than three times more likely to consider themselves ahead in financial performance too.

This is one finding of a new Economist Intelligence Unit international survey of senior executives, Fostering a data-driven culture. The report was sponsored by business intelligence company Tableau Software and argues for a democratisation of data analytics over an excessive focus on the development of a cadre of data scientists.

The report’s author, Jim Giles, said: “There is still a perception that a data specialist, perhaps a recent statistics graduate, should be parachuted in to an organisation to advise on how to work magic with data …. This is flawed thinking … data are everyone’s business.”

The survey’s results indicate the most successful companies optimise their use of data by providing necessary training and promoting the sharing of data across all levels of employees and departments.

Jerry O’Dwyer, a principal at Deloitte Consulting, interviewed for the report says: “There is more and more resistance to having everything funnelled through IT.”

The report finds the size of data to be less important than its use. “The focus on big data is often a distraction”, says the report. “[And] there is limited correlation between financial performance and the size and type of data that companies use.” For 36% of respondents a terabyte was considered big in their industry sector.

The report draws a strong link between having a “data-driven culture” and good financial performance. Some 31% of the 11% of respondents who related their use of data to be “substantially ahead of peers” also rated their financial performance to be so.

For more on data use and better company financial performance

James Eiloart, European vice-president at Tableau, conceded this might be a subjective judgement, but that it carries weight. “There is an element of subjectivity in that it is self-ranking, but the correlation is quite strong.”

Eiloart also said that while data scientists play a highly valuable role, organisations should “avoid the bottleneck of all data decisions being drawn through a data science group, or IT.

“The point should be to enable ordinary business professionals who own the data to make their own data driven decisions.”

This “democratisation of data” has been blocked, he said, “by business intelligence tools that have not been simple or intuitive enough to use”.

Corporate IT still has a role to play, he said. “Unless all of this precious data is captured, organised, made secure and available then it can’t be used to drive business decisions. Often we find IT organisations embracing the ability to empower the business to answer their own questions. That frees up IT’s resources to focus on their mission critical work.”

The survey of 530 senior executives around the world was conducted in October 2012. More than 40% of respondents were C-Level executives, and 9% were CIOs. Twenty six per cent of respondents were from western Europe. The survey covered sectors including IT (18%), financial services (17%), manufacturing (7%), and retail (2%).

Other survey findings

  • 75% plus say it is “somewhat” or “very” difficult to recruit and retain effective data analysts;
  • 42% said they “struggle to find data analysts with the level of professional experience we require”. This was the biggest factor in making it difficult to recruit and train data analysts, the survey found.


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