Big data is living and breathing in companies all over the world. Yet its true potential remains unlocked in many of today’s global organizations. Corporate decision-making often comes down to past experience or intuition – but is that enough? Should executives trust their gut or trust the data? Good instincts can help – we humans are great at discerning patterns and trends when the picture is clear, but access to accurate data is imperative to making more informed decisions. In this era of big data, organizations are collecting and storing data by the terabyte with hopes of unlocking invaluable insights. However, it’s one thing to collect and store the data; it’s another to put it to good use.
Today’s professionals are plagued by massive amounts of data, much of which is inaccurate, obsolete or hard to access. This exacerbates the stress of decision-making and often makes people feel as if they are “drowning” in data. The result of this is a prolonged decision making process and very often, a confused decision maker.
According to a recent Harvard Business Review Analytics Services survey sponsored by my company QlikTech, 42 percent of global business leaders don’t have confidence in the business decisions they make due to a lack of information or access to the right information. Even more surprising is that only 13 percent of respondents strongly agree with the statement that they are confident about their decisions. Respondents also indicated that external data access is an issue: Data retrieved from disparate systems, such as social media and other data sources are considered especially valuable for internal decision-making but sometimes are not available due to technological incompatibilities.
The Experience Fallback Position
So what does this mean for the decisions that are being made today? It means that executives are excessively relying on experience rather than data to make decisions. While that experience is a necessary component, smart decision-makers need access to up-to-date, accurate and relevant data, in real-time, to enable them to make the best choices.
Regardless of industry, location or size, understanding data can provide a bird’s eye view to help organizations gain advantage. Executives are frequently faced with a multitude of decisions that affect the strategic path an organization takes and ultimately the bottom-line. Think of the leaders of global companies that are responsible for markets across the world – including trends, risk analysis, growth and sales. They need to have confidence in the data that influences their decision-making. But for many organizations, a cultural change is required if executives hope to capitalize on the positive impact of decision making.
Managing Two Layers of Organizational Change
Such a cultural change may appear straightforward, but it’s not easy. There are two layers to dealing with the challenge.
The first layer starts with understanding the corporate decision-making process and uncovering the human factors that affect confidence in the data that is supposed to guide that decision-making. Organizations are collecting data with hopes of unlocking invaluable insights, yet the inability to access and analyze the right data creates a loss of confidence in decisions. Addressing this problem requires effective analytics implementations so that decision makers can both monitor and react to data.
The second layer of the culture change involves implementing the right tools to access data. Executives need to be able to utilize these tools in ways that complement human nature and the way we instinctively make decisions. As human beings, the ability to recognize patterns and outliers and to make comparisons comes naturally. With the right user-centric tools, big data can help executives implement a culture of data discovery where they are able to explore enterprise-specific trends for a competitive edge.
Natural Discovery Abilities
Moving towards a more effective decision-making culture can help transform data into better decisions. There’s a huge opportunity for finding insights based on our natural ability to analyze the world around us. And discovery inevitably happens when people can dig into trends and present alternative views of the same data, taking fresh looks at existing conditions.
Often IT and business technology tends to get in the way of people using these natural skills because it presents information in a technical manner which innately discourages the natural human experience. Selecting tools to enhance these natural analytic abilities will give executives the confidence to make decisions. Additionally, shared data analysis among peers and colleagues for collaboration may be the key to adding the human factor to build more confidence in these decisions. Executives don’t need to be data scientists – their natural instincts paired with the right intuitive technology can help improve business decisions.
Large volumes of data are being generated every minute of every day within organizations. If big data is to deliver on its promise of value, organizations must capitalize on the important insights locked within this data. Executives need tools that make complex data accessible and allow them to naturally discover patterns and make projections. When this happens they act with confidence to create value in their work. In the age of big data all executives should feel empowered and find confidence in data.
Anthony Deighton, chief technology officer and senior vice president of products at QlikTech, is responsible for guiding product strategy and leads the company’s R&D efforts. Previously, he was the general manager of Siebel System’s employee relationship management business unit. He holds a B.A. in Economics from Northwestern University and an M.B.A. with high distinction from Harvard Business School.