By Max Clarke
Companies today collect and access more information than ever before. Wal-Mart’s data warehouse, for example, is about 2.5 petabytes–that’s equivalent to roughly half of all the letters delivered by the US postal service in 2010, according to The Economist. And Google processes about 1 petabyte of information each hour. Around the world, executives agree that data are key to gaining an edge on rivals, as evidenced in a new white paper, Levelling the Playing Field: How companies use data to create competitive advantage. The report, which includes a survey of more than 600 executives worldwide, was produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by SAP.
Of the 38% of respondents who say their company performs ahead of its peers, 74% say that data are “extremely valuable” in achieving competitive advantage. The best corporate users of data devote substantial time to figuring out what sort of information they should track, and who within their companies needs it. They also invest in technology and training to make sure individual workers are able to capitalise on the data they have collected.
However, very few firms use the majority of the information they collect. Only 17% say they utilise more than 75% of their data, and only 27% of respondents say their firms do a better job of using information than most of their competitors. The ability to turn data into actionable insight can make or break firms over the next decade - Gartner, the technology research firm, estimates that the volume of corporate data is growing by as much as 60% per year.
“The survey findings indicate that executives need to consider how to make better use of the information they collect from a strategic perspective,” says Debra D’Agostino, managing editor of business research at the Economist Intelligence Unit and editor of the report. “It’s not enough to merely collect the data; companies need to create strategies to ensure they can use information to get ahead of their competitors.”
The report offers several calls to action to help executives at both large and small companies:
• Focus on the right data–and consider which types of data may not be needed. Many companies are hanging on to information they will never use. At best, this could mean that firms are spending more than they need to on storage and warehousing–at worst, it can mean missed business opportunities that hamper growth.
• Democratise data–and put them where employees will use them intuitively. Firms that outperform their peers are more likely to have data policies that allow access to a broad range of employees. Putting data where employees can easily access and use it encourages everyone to think about how data can create opportunities.
• Encourage data champions across the company, and promote their success. Most workers don’t need encouragement to use corporate data once it has helped them answer a tricky question, eliminate a needless cost, or win a new customer account. Data champions can help promote such successes.