What is the number one driver of data analytics investment? Almost half of the business-to-business (B2B) organisations we put this question to say it’s about competitive advantage. They are hungry for the meaningful insights that underpin effective marketing and product development.
They want to ensure their offering remains relevant to the real needs of buyers. And they fear losing out to data-driven competitors who are geared-up to take advantage of evolving buyer landscapes quickly.
B2B business leaders know their organisations need to adopt a data-driven culture to remain competitive. Yet many struggle to achieve this. Why? It’s partly because their organisations are hindered by departmental data silos and partly because they are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of data available. The former prevents joined-up thinking and the latter makes it harder to uncover nuggets of insight.
Our research shows that 38% of organisations have difficulty accessing data from different areas of the business. Departments gather pockets of data independently of one another with no established means of knowledge sharing or collaboration. The upshot is that data becomes an amorphous mass of conflicting records: 28% of organisations say they have more data available than is currently used for meaningful analysis.
These problems slow the pace of data analytics, yet the timeframes for critical business decisions are shrinking. Business intelligence users typically have a decision window of 24 hours between realising they need to perform analysis and when they need to act. Almost 80% of BI users we speak to say their decision window has reduced in the past two years. And they report that they only obtain pertinent information on-time in around two out of three cases. That means a third of time-sensitive decisions are based on thin information and raw instinct, rather than robust intelligence.
So what steps can organisations take to streamline and accelerate data analytics?
Data is big and it’s getting bigger. In this context, the only way to ensure the right people get the right data in time for it to make a difference is to create a culture of analytics. This means demystifying the process and bringing it out from behind the IT curtain. Individuals across all departments, from corporate management and finance to sales, marketing and customer service need to become both data creators and data consumers.
Achieving this requires a three-pronged strategy. User-friendly tools need to be introduced so that data can be analysed and visualised with minimal need for coding. Employees at all levels need to undergo training and development so that they embrace the analytics capabilities at their fingertips. And data governance protocols need to be reinforced so that users only access relevant and appropriate information.
Enabling users to access, interrogate and visualise relevant data without reliance on the IT team helps foster more agile analytics. Investment should be geared towards tools and infrastructure that allow users to gather the intelligence they need in a timely fashion.
The data at people’s disposal must be aligned to their job role and they should be properly educated to ensure they can put the tools to work. An open data exchange also needs to be established across departments to break down silos and drive organisational cohesion.
The end goal is to enable decision makers to act more quickly and intelligently. Together, technology investment and ongoing employee development can connect pockets of data and facilitate analytical thinking across the entire business.
Training and education are important of course. But truly data-driven organisations typically benefit from senior analytics champions or evangelists as well. These individuals lead by example, using data-driven decision making on a daily basis and they partner closely with peers in different departments to access a broader scope of business intelligence.
By making a strong case for a continual improvement approach to data analytics, evangelists ensure it becomes faster and easier to uncover high-value actionable insights. An executive team that is fully engaged with business intelligence can quickly become a nucleus of data-driven behaviours that become endemic in the organisation.
Strong data governance
Peeling the red tape off data discovery and encouraging better self-sufficiency is a critical factor in becoming a data-driven business. However, it’s important that the organisation doesn’t become a data Wild West. Compliance and security protocols need to be taken to new heights in a self-service data analytics environment.
Data governance performs two important roles. It prevents individuals accessing data that they shouldn’t, either accidentally or with intent. And it shields them from irrelevant statistical noise and unwieldy reams of data that might overwhelm their analytics efforts.
When data analytics is embraced at a micro and macro level, it can become a powerful driver of competitive advantage. Achieving this depends on an organisational commitment to fast, high quality data. Analytical processes need to be accelerated so that decision makers can access insights more quickly. And they need to be sure that the data is accurate and up to date.
Truly data-driven organisations create a pervasive culture of analytical thinking. They invest in solutions to organise, integrate and improve their data. They empower individuals to implement data analytics with confidence and proactivity. And they understand that being ‘data-driven’ is a journey, not a destination.
(Aberdeen Group has published a free white paper looking at ways to create a culture of data analytics, “The BI tipping point: Achieving an epidemic of analytics”.)