Companies that succeed in using their data flows on a regular basis tend to perform better and are more profitable than their competitors. But there is still room to improve data access and data management.

Companies Still Struggling to Put Data to Good Use

Very many companies nowadays invest in collecting data, but many still find it difficult to “extract relevant insights from data that are captured and made available to them”, reveals a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) entitled ‘The virtuous circle of data – Engaging employees in data and transforming your business’. Of course gathering and distributing data makes firms more dependent on having the right technology, but it also helps them to be more innovative, the report – based on a survey of 362 executives from firms located in North America, Asia-Pacific and Europe – indicates. To improve the effectiveness of the data, it should be widely circulated and used by the company’s employees. However, while 77% of the survey respondents revealed that data regarding daily business transactions – sales, shipments, returns, online and offline behaviour – is usually generally available for consultation by employees, and 64% of those polled said that this also applies to the company’s internal processes such as inventory, quality control and payments, surprisingly, data on the actual customers – demographics, behaviour and feedback – is the information least likely to be widely available. Moreover, the degree of access to relevant data which employees have varies from one firm to another.

Freeing up access to data

The EIU report stresses that it is essential for employees to be able to access data so that they can use it to inform their business objectives without having to go through long, time-consuming procedures. However the respondents’ answers make it clear that in the majority of the firms polled, data distribution is skewed. Access to relevant data is limited and strictly controlled in 39% of the firms surveyed, and some 65% of respondents agreed with the statement that “some departments have much better access to data than others”. Meanwhile awareness of this issue varies according to people’s position in the hierarchy. The report highlights the fact that CEOs are rarely conscious of the problem of data accessibility at their own company, whereas other managers who hold more strategic positions in the company tend to be well aware of the shortcomings in this area. The figures speak for themselves. Some 47% of CEOs believe that their employees have free access to data while only 27% of employees corroborate this assertion. Close to two thirds of those polled stated that greater availability and utilisation of data means that information and knowledge is shared more quickly and freely. And using relevant data means that “decisions at all levels of our organisation are made faster”. This also contributes to employee engagement and has helped to speed up innovation.

Is the way companies work changing ?

The EIU experts argue that companies need to create a data-driven culture in order to motivate staff to use data on a regular basis. Employees are inspired to use data when it is easily accessible, understandable and useable, underlines the accompanying infographic. Moreover, the firm needs to link relevant data to both its own goals and those of its staff. Just over half (58%) of the firms surveyed offer their employees training and implementation support. The report’s sponsor, Teradata, an American computer company that sells analytic data platforms, applications and related services, highlights the example of McCain, a Canadian foods manufacturer which can predict sales and see its accounting results ahead of time by judicious usage of its data.

It emerges from the report that there has been real development in the use of analytical working tools, which can confer a certain level of autonomy on employees. The results of the survey clearly demonstrate the positive impact of accessibility of data within the firm. Some 63% of those polled said that “information and knowledge is shared more quickly and more freely”, and 57% agreed with the statement that “we are better able to control internal risks and operate more efficiently”. Indications are that the quality and speed of execution has improved due to greater availability and utilisation of data. Meanwhile the report stresses that those companies which are still today having difficulty in incorporating data into their everyday operations are tending to perform less well and are generally less innovative than their data-driven rivals.


By Anthéa Delpuech