There’s more data than ever, and more tools to store and analyze it. Some of these tools are becoming so sophisticated, in fact, that it’s tempting for any business owner to let data outputs guide strategy. However, a new report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, funded by SAS, suggests that companies take a step back and put a strategy in place before plunging into the data-thickets. The Economist Intelligence Unit gathered responses some 752 senior executives from various sectors; at the same time, it interviewed 17 executives, consultants and specialists who were notable in the field of data collection and analysis. The survey found that a correlation existed between effective use of “Big Data” and companies’ financial performance. That’s not a huge surprise. Nor is the revelation that most of the data flooding organizations’ IT infrastructure is coming from “customer-facing areas” such as Web data and user-generated content on social networks. And nor is the survey report’s assertion that increased knowledge of data analytics across an organization can help improve analysis. So what is surprising? Some businesses aren’t actually placing any sort of strategy in place before plunging into the data-analytics thicket, which seems counterintuitive. Only 19 percent of respondents selected “We have a well-defined data management strategy that focuses resources on collecting and analyzing the most valuable data,” whereas 28 percent admitted their organization failed to maximize the value of data and a full 41 percent indicated that, while they recognized the value of data, they were still actively “marshaling resources to take better advantage of them.” Some 41 percent of respondents cited a lack of skills within the organization as the greatest challenge facing their analytics endeavors, followed by 39 percent who cited delays due to validation and data scrubbing; in third was “No formal process around data management” with 38 percent, followed by a lack of necessary technology at 32 percent. (That does correlate with other studies suggesting a lack of trained people in the analytics market.) That comes despite the majority of respondents indicating their organizations had been working with “Big Data” for some years. The report’s authors emphasized how every data initiative needs a plan: “Data can only work its magic if a business puts a well-defined data strategy in place before it starts collecting and processing information.” Moreover, they added, that strategy should be based on “key business priorities,” with the data component only developed in the service of those priorities. Around 46 percent of those surveyed said a well-defined data strategy allowed them to triumph financially over rivals. That advice is especially pressing at a time when many IT vendors are pushing “real time” analytics capable of providing rapid deep insight into various aspects of a business. Those tools could help solve pressing business issues, but there are evidently risks to using them without an overarching plan in place.   Image: bloomua/