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2/20/2013
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What A Data-Driven Culture Buys You

Executives who believe their companies handle and share data well are more likely to say their companies outperform industry peers, says Economist study.

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A survey released Wednesday by the Economist Intelligence Unit indicates executives who say their organizations handle data collection, analysis and sharing well are also more likely to say their companies outperform their industry peers.

The report, "Fostering a Data-Driven Culture," studied responses from 530 C-level and senior business executives. Half the respondents were North American; the rest came from Western Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America.

"There's a clear link between how an organization uses data broadly and how it performs financially," Elissa Fink, chief marketing officer at Tableau Software told InformationWeek in a phone interview. Business intelligence software vendor Tableau sponsored the Economist research, which was conducted last October.

[ Big data has value that's often not reflected in the books. Read What's Your Big Data Worth? ]

Three-quarters (75.5%) of those who said they were "substantially ahead of peers" financially also said data collection was "very important/essential" in their organizations. By contrast, fully half of the executives who ranked their companies as "substantially" behind peers in data collection also said their organizations were "somewhat" behind financially.

Tableau's Fink guessed the link between perceptions of top data competence and top financial performance could have a simple explanation. "If you're on top of your data, you're probably more aware of your financial performance," she said.

One surprise in the research results, Fink said, was a shift in executive views about the importance of data sharing. Smaller organizations believe in wide sharing, an attitude that tends to tighten as companies grow and data-governance rules are applied. "But when they get really big, the reverse happens, and they say data is for everyone," Fink said.

Company sizes in the survey ranged from those with revenue of less than $500 million (53%) to those with revenues of $10 billion or more (20%).

Overall, the research found half of respondents from top-performing companies said that promotion of data sharing helped generate a data-driven culture. Even more (57%) said this culture was pushed by "top-down guidance or mandates from executives."

The survey found overwhelming support for the idea that employees should use data and analysis to do their jobs. Eighty-four percent said "most to all" employees should work this way. Only 10% said data should be limited to IT or other specialists, and only 6% said data should be restricted to data scientists or analysts.

Not surprisingly, the new report also highlighted the well-documented shortage of workers with advanced data skills. When asked about their experience hiring and retaining employees with these skills, 70% said they found it "somewhat" or "very" difficult to recruit and retain effective data analysts and data scientists.

Moreover, the research suggests companies that invest in training for these skills perform better than their peers. Half of respondents at leading-edge companies rate training as "very highly important," almost twice the figure for companies whose executives say they lag behind their peers in financial performance.

Tableau would like to repeat the commissioned survey next year, Fink said, to get longitudinal data about data perceptions within businesses.

Some of Tableau's interactive visualizations of the research can be found here:

-- How is wide data collection tied to financial performance?

-- How is a company's use of data tied to financial performance?

-- Do the best financially performing companies also have more employees who can work with data?

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