[caption id="attachment_1478" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Whatever you do, don't tell your CEO that B.I. will create cool glowing squares in midair."] [/caption] A full 91 percent of companies use business-intelligence tools to manage and analyze data, according to a new survey by consulting firm Avanade. At the same time, however, around 85 percent of those surveyed reported obstacles in managing and analyzing data. Higher-level executives reported that finding the right technology for their organization topped the list of business-intelligence challenges. But those actually dealing with the nuts and bolts of data analysis—namely, the IT decision makers—thought that finding the right staff was the biggest issue. “While companies report successfully leveraging big data for increased revenue and competitive advantage, they also report a number of missed opportunities in using data to improve internal operations,” read Avanade’s report accompanying the data. “For example, 70 percent of companies do not use their data to predict or assess staffing needs.” On top of that, 17 percent of surveyed companies reported a need for staff to learn math and statistics skills, in order to better handle data analysis. Another 37 percent reported a need for business operations and analysis skills, and 22 percent cited visual design and reporting skill-sets as a top need. Avanade’s advice to companies involves four things. The first is “Merge,” i.e., merging structured and unstructured data from a variety of sources, using tools such as Hadoop if necessary. The second is “Optimize,” which basically means segregating the right type of datasets for making decisions. The third is “Respond,” which means having the right processes and tools to surface information and then act on it. The fourth is “Empower,” or empowering employees to actually use training and tools to act on data insights. Other firms have indicated staffing as a key issue facing analytics adopters. In 2011, for example, McKinsey & Company’s Business Technology Office predicted that demand for analytical talent in the U.S. would exceed supply by 50 to 60 percent in 2018. “There will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data,” read the group’s report at the time. “The United States alone faces a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts to analyze big data and make decisions based on their findings.” Indeed, the Avenade report cites the need for data analysts. “The vast majority of companies (88 percent) with dedicated data analysts have turned data into revenue,” read its report. “Among companies without dedicated analysts, only 49 percent have successfully converted data into revenue.” For those struggling to keep an IT budget whole in a time of widespread corporate belt-tightening, the prospect of data analytics bringing in additional revenue is potentially a welcome one. At the same time, however, companies should be prepared to spend on analysts and tools in order to unlock the benefits of business intelligence.