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Why businesses are failing on information management

The smartest organisations maximise the use of data they collect, but the majority are being held back

Many organisations are failing to make the most of the data they collect due to a gap between compliance and the data analytics team.

Research conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in conjunction with Iron Mountain found that only 4% of businesses were confident their organisations were extracting the full value of the data they held.

Worryingly, 36% of the 1,800 businesses surveyed admitted they lacked the tools and skills needed to exploit data. The research report – entitled Seizing the information advantage – described such organisations as “uninformed and ill-equipped to exploit their information value”.

The study found that 43% of the senior executives who participated in the survey admitted their organisations obtained little tangible benefit from their information, while 23% said they derived no benefit whatsoever.

The research report suggested the agility often demonstrated by recently established, mid-sized, well-informed, forward-thinking businesses could be the key to success in obtaining an information advantage.

But unlike newer businesses, large organisations are often held back by legacy systems and hierarchical organisational structures that sometimes act as a barrier to information sharing.

Businesses overlook data benefits

According to PwC and Iron Mountain, the businesses that fall into the uninformed and ill-equipped category usually “don’t yet know what they don’t know”.

“They are often constrained by regulation and resources, however the main issue holding them back is knowledge of what to do and a lack of understanding of the potential benefits. This is particularly a European mid-market phenomenon, although we have identified organisations in the North American enterprise sector that also exhibit these characteristics,” the report stated.

Every transaction with a customer and every interaction with a stakeholder delivers market intelligence, customer insight, an opportunity for innovation and the potential for profit
Elizabeth Bramwell, Iron Mountain UK

“The typical uninformed and ill-equipped organisation is small in size (fewer than 1,000 employees) and either a startup (in operation less than five years) or well-established (over 30 years old). Such companies are prevalent in all sectors.”

The research found that very few organisations, as yet, understand how to exploit their information to its greatest advantage. Fewer still appreciate the extent of the commercial or operational benefits that will accrue as a result of getting this right.

Although it is relatively early days, and there is still time to catch up, PwC and Iron Mountain noted in the report: “It is our view that organisations that do not pay attention, and do not seek to maximise the potential of their information, risk eroding their value in the future.”

Read more about information management

Information management improves business decision-making

As a result, one in four organisations are not getting any value in data, according to Elizabeth Bramwell, commercial director of Iron Mountain UK. She said that while it is relatively easy to collect data, few organisations understand what data they have and how long they need to keep it for.

“Every transaction with a customer and every interaction with a stakeholder delivers market intelligence, customer insight, an opportunity for innovation and the potential for profit. But when it comes to information management, many of the world’s leading organisations don’t know what they don’t know. The falling cost of technology means it has never been easier to harness information,” said Bramwell.

Data governance needs to be understood and made relevant to everyone in the organisation
Richard Petley, PwC

But enterprise storage is not cheap. For instance, the cost of HP’s StorageWorks P4500 G2 3.6TB SAS Storage System is in the order of £1.38 per gigabyte. Storing everything can prove costly, so organisations need to understand what they store, how long they should store it for and, ultimately, the value of the information held.

Richard Petley, director of data assurance at PwC, said: “Organisations that have to respond to industry regulations have built good practices on risk, but they have not invested in driving value out of information.

“Far too many organisations invest excessive time in the ’theory’ of governance, creating policy material that will sit on the shelf and only be relevant and referred to by the data cognoscenti. Data governance needs to be understood and made relevant to everyone in the organisation. It needs to be something that is easy to work with.”

Petley argued that while compliance can sometimes be seen as a tick-box exercise, good data governance can, in fact, drive data utilisation.  

Gleaning value from data

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, some forward-thinking organisations, such as private heathcare provider Bupa, run data discovery workshops to which they invite people from the business to work with data analysts to derive new value and insight from the data it holds.

Speaking at the Gartner information and data management event in London earlier in 2015, Tony Cassin-Scott, IT director at Bupa, said: “Bring out your data and we’ll find value. Without exception, every session generates value, from £500,000 to £14m.”

Even office rubbish is managed better than information. Organisations need a chief data officer to maximise information assets
Ted Friedman, Gartner

At the event, Gartner analyst Ted Friedman said: “Even office rubbish is managed better than information. Organisations need a chief data officer to maximise information assets. There are 300 CDOs today, and this number will double.”

PwC recommended that businesses prioritise their information management goals, setting timelines to replace legacy tools with more sophisticated data analytics toolsets and progressing the cultural shift required to bridge the gap that exists between data compliance and the ability to use data strategically to grow the business.

Like Friedman, PwC’s Petley also recognises the need for a chief data officer, to link compliance and data utilisation and so drive strategic information management.

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Businesses struggle to understand what information assets they possess. The huge risk is continued reliance on individuals to keep information organized, and to be the oracles of where key information is located. Even small businesses have way too much information for that to be a reliable strategy. New technology to classify information is absolutely vital to avoid an endless cycle of workshops and manual re-organizing of information.
The biggest thing that directs the proper use of data and data resources is ACTUAL physical resources...people. Without a team that has the time and skill to evaluate data, any company is going to be less successful at leveraging data in the best way. It starts at the top when $$ is allocated to build the best CIO, CTO and IT teams.
Information management starts *outside* data stores, regardless whether structured or unstructured. Data is captured information that tells a story about where an enterprise has been. Information derived from that data can tell us where an enterprise needs to go next. Comparing this derived information with the current state of reality is a way to gain insight on 'how to get there'.

Without understanding the Information-Data-Information feedback loop, in my opinion, companies are doomed to repeat the same expensive mistakes.