C-Level Execs Value Data, Have No Idea What to Do With It

Almost all C-suite executives at large enterprises believe data and analytics are important to their business, but most are struggling to become data-driven businesses -- and more than half say they don't even know what data to collect.

C-suite executives today are striving to drive data-centric transformations of their businesses, but most are struggling to connect the dots. That's according to a new report by KPMG Capital, a global investment fund created by KPMG International in November to invest in innovation in data and analytics (D&A).

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"Long before the term 'big' was first applied to data, organizations were struggling to make sense of all the information they had," says Mark Toon, CEO of KPMG Capital and global leader, D&A. "Over the past five years that focus on data has started to shift. Today, the issue is no longer about owning the most data but rather about how to gain the most insight from it. In short, how to turn data into insights, and insights into real business advantage."

"Data is everywhere, telling us everything," he adds. "But do companies really know where to look? The reality is that turning mountains of data into valuable, practical and actionable business analytics is not nearly as straightforward as people believe."

"The fact that executives are expressing uncertainty about their data and analytics capabilities means that they are starting to ask the right questions and think more strategically about data and analytics."

-- KPMG

In August, FT Remark, a research service from the Financial Times Group, surveyed 144 CFOs and CIOs at global organizations on KPMG Capital's behalf. The organizations all had more than $1 billion in annual turnover.

The survey found that more than 99 percent of organizations believe data and analytics is at least somewhat important to their business, with 69 percent believing that it is crucially important or very important. Fifty-six percent of respondents say they have changed their business strategy to meet the challenges of data and analytics—generally to increase their capacity to analyze big data.

But while these executives recognize the value, 96 percent say that untapped benefits remain on the table. In fact, 85 percent say they face challenges implementing the correct solutions to accurately analyze and interpret their existing data and 75 percent say they find it difficult to make decisions around data and analytics. Many (40 percent) say they are wrestling with integrating data technology into their existing systems and business models.

Execs Unsure How to Become Data-Driven

The root of all of these challenges, according to KPMG, is that while organizations know data and analytics can transform their business, they don't fully understand how, or even how to create the right environment for a data-driven transformation. More than half say they're unsure what data to collect in the first place.

"One of the biggest challenges, in our experience, is that most business executives have a far-too-limited view of data and what they can ask analytics to do," says Toon. "It's no longer just about data management business or technology; it's about being able to easily tap the data at your disposal to learn new things and gain greater insight about your business. And by doing so, driving improved business performance."

On the other hand, KPMG says the fact that executives are expressing uncertainty about their data and analytics capabilities means that they are starting to ask the right questions and think more strategically about the enterprise value of data and analytics. To tackle the challenges they're facing and truly operationalize their data, organizations need to change in a number of ways.

Operationalizing Data and Analytics

First and foremost, organizations will need to cultivate an analytical workforce.

"Executives need to find ways to encourage their workforce to be more analytical in their decision making," says Brad Fisher, D&A leader for KPMG in the U.S. "From there, organizations should quickly start to see analytics driving their overall people performance, their operational performance, their customer performance and their selling performance."

Likewise, organizations need to break down their data silos to get an enterprise-wide, 360-degree view of their data, whether it resides inside or outside the organization. And that is not necessarily a technology play.

"The challenge is to leverage your internal data and your big data by using analytics to drive the systems," says Eddie Short, EMA leader for D&A at KPMG. "But the reality is that operationalizing D&A does not necessarily mean new systems and tools; rather it is about blending old-school business intelligence with new-world big data and analytics to drive both your legacy and your emerging IT strategies."

Perhaps most important, the key to successfully undertaking any data and analytics initiative is to start by asking yourself exactly what you're trying to achieve.

"Zeroing in on the business problems and identifying key hypotheses may not be the easiest thing to achieve up front, but it is far more efficient and effective in the longer term," says Anthony Coops, partner, KPMG in Australia. "Throwing all available data into a pot and hoping for a tasty stew of insights will rarely — if ever—deliver meaningful results."

Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for CIO.com. Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

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