August 29, 2007

Don’t Shortchange the Value in Data

In a survey of more than 100 top corporate executives, 71 percent called the data in their company’s information systems “potentially very valuable” — and most of them said it would become even more valuable as a source of competitive advantage in the next year. Unfortunately, only 43 percent said their company had been very effective in converting this data into usable knowledge.

When was the last time you remember being pleasantly surprised by how effectively a company used its data to improve sales or customer service?

We all remember back in the ’90s the wow factor behind going to an ATM and seeing our actual name on the screen for the first time. We all remember the first time we experienced collaborative filtering from an eCommerce site — “if you liked this, you may also like…”

But lately it seems the corporate world’s flattened out or fallen off the learning curve in leveraging the data it has — as evidenced by the mostly off-target way the product information is published and provided to its trading partners.

But there may be a reason for that, according to the latest Management Barometer survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers. The study basically found that corporate data isn’t being converted into usable knowledge nearly as often or as effectively as it could be — not for lack of available technology, but for lack of corporate willpower.

In the survey of more than 100 top corporate execs, 71 percent called the data in their company’s information systems “potentially very valuable” — and most of them said it would become even more valuable as a source of competitive advantage in the next year.

Unfortunately, only 43 percent said their company had been very effective in converting this data into usable knowledge, citing numerous issues, including data consistency, timeliness, accuracy, and so on.

Interestingly, when asked about the keys to unlocking their data’s value, the No. 1 response was “the ability to mine or interpret data” (75 percent), followed closely by “the ability of IT systems to deliver data assets” (70 percent) and “ability to get real-time information” and “integration of data with business processes” (66 percent each). Bringing up the rear were “an enterprise wide data strategy” (54 percent) and “a data governance structure” (52 percent).

Strategy and governance – not so important, huh? But wait — it gets better. A full 74 percent of the executives said the main barrier to realizing the value of corporate data was “competing corporate priorities,” far ahead of the 35 percent who cited “technology issues.”

As often quoted, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” What this survey is telling us — albeit behind a smokescreen of operational issues — is that leveraging data isn’t yet a top corporate priority.

Data is a bit like global warming. Many people see it as an issue, but nobody really owns the issue, so it often suffers from a lack of focused effort. Will manufacturers heed the wake-up call on the importance of leveraging data in time to outpace their competition? Or will they stand by and lose out to rivals that know how to put data to work?

Time will tell. In the meantime, give yourself a break, IT. Most likely, the problem isn’t with the technology and data capabilities you’ve put in place. The problem — if your company has one — is that the top team just hasn’t yet “gotten the memo.”