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UK businesses with a data strategy significantly outperform competitors

Research shows a clear strategy and effective use of data are closely linked to financial success

UK organisations that have a well-defined data strategy reported their company’s financial performance as substantially ahead of peers in the most recent financial year. The findings emerged from research entitled ‘Big data: Forging corporate capabilities for the long-term’, a SAS research programme based on a survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit.

More than 35 per cent of respondents that have a well-defined data strategy reported stronger financial performance than their competitors. In contrast, just 10 per cent of ‘aspiring data managers’ that merely understand the value of data and are marshalling resources to take better advantage of it, make the same claim. In addition, 38 per cent who put nearly all their relevant data to use are highly successful in their big data initiatives.

“The survey shows that there is a strong link between having a clear data strategy and experiencing strong financial success. Organisations that put data firmly at the centre of their organisation are better equipped to introduce changes that grow the bottom line,” explained Mark Wilkinson, SAS Regional Vice President – Northern Europe. “Currently, analysing internal unstructured text data, such as customer inquiries, reports, technical and business notes, and web click-stream data is a significant focus for data initiatives. However, external unstructured data and Internet of Things data sources will command a greater focus in the next 12 months and present further opportunities for organisations.”

Missed opportunity for using data to support creativity and innovation

Almost a third (32 per cent) of UK executives and 38 per cent elsewhere claimed the increasing availability of data has presented opportunities for strengthening operational efficiency. However, despite the strong belief in the value and usefulness of data, opportunities for improved use still exist. More than a third of UK organisations (34 per cent) believe they have little or no capability for using data to open up new markets. The viewpoint is similar when discussing use of data to speed up market entry, where 31 per cent in the UK feel their organisations are lacking in this regard. A quarter of UK organisations also view using data to develop new products or services as a challenge.

When it comes to the most significant challenges that companies face in using data for business innovation, 29 per cent in the UK believe it’s engaging creative employees in using data effectively. A further 28 per cent believe it’s providing creative employees with the easy and flexible tools that enable innovation. Ensuring user buy-in to data initiatives is important globally, with 24 per cent of respondents overall stating that encouraging employees to use data in decision-making, problem-solving and idea generation is a priority. However, only 16 per cent in the UK share this view, which is a potential setback.

Hiring and retaining data skills a priority in the UK

One in five (20 per cent) in the UK claimed they lacked the skills to use data effectively, admitting they are not or don’t know if they are competent at training or acquiring analytical talent to glean business insights from data. The same percentage are not competent or don’t know if they are competent at engaging employees across the organisation in using data in day-to-day decision making.

Organisations are looking at how to improve data skills within the workforce by hiring and training employees who understand data and the business (25 per cent). In particular, organisations are placing more emphasis on recruiting data strategists (35 per cent), data scientists (35 per cent), as well as technology staff to manage data systems (35 per cent). However, overall the UK is trailing behind the rest of the world, which placed a higher emphasis on recruiting candidates with these attributes.

Data volumes remain a challenge

Hiring and retaining talent for big data is listed as a top priority for UK organisations given that all companies are struggling to manage and make sense of the vast amounts of data available to them, when compared to four years ago. In 2011, eight per cent of global respondents strongly agreed that their company had so much data that they struggled to make sense of it. In the UK, this figure has grown to 17 per cent and tripled to 24 per cent for the rest of the world. More than half (57 per cent for the UK and 53 per cent for the rest of the world) also said they probably leverage only half of their valuable data. 

As data volumes grow, maintaining data quality and integrity is the top challenge companies face related to their data initiatives, as indicated by more than half (52 per cent) of UK executives and 40 per cent of those in the rest of the world. Dealing with the collection, storage and management of huge amounts of data combine to form the next most significant challenge, cited by 30 per cent of UK respondents and a third (33 per cent) of those from the rest of the world.