Every organisation appears to be using data, but if a recent report is to be believed, we’re not actually using it in the right way. Instead, many businesses have focussed on putting the ‘big’ into big data by gathering as much of it as possible, without figuring out how to get actionable insights from it.

That has led to an information gap, as uncovered in PwC’s recent CEO survey. Those at the top echelons of business are not getting the right insights when they need it. Indeed, the gap between the information that they need and what they get hasn’t closed in over ten years.

This is an unsustainable position if organisations are truly going to become ‘data-driven’. So what can business leaders do about it?

The skills gap epidemic

Firstly, there is often a lack of analytical talent in companies. People who understand how to collect, clean, process and analyse data are so rare that they’re often called unicorns. Data scientists command six-figure salaries and generous benefits packages - which can put them out of reach of many SMEs.

Plus, there is a general lack of data literacy across all departments. This starts at the top, with only 24% of senior decision makers passing a data literacy test. Even digital natives perform poorly (despite expectations) scoring just 22%.

Data literacy, therefore, needs a boost across the organisation. Basic data literacy can be achieved through a series of workshops, training days or even self-led learning via platforms like Udemy or in-person sessions by General Assembly. But more importantly, there needs to be a cultural change around data where everyone understands its relevance to their role. If everyone sees that data is part of their job, they will make more effort to get to grips with it.

Of course, nobody should expect a marketer or HR executive to sift through reams of raw data. Visualising data and displaying it in an understandable way is another step towards bridging the information gap.

As for the lack of data science, leadership and analytical talent, more organisations are turning to alternate sources to plug their skills gaps. Freelance data scientists and analysts are available to businesses that cannot afford or attract full-timers. Even Chief Data Officers can now be hired on-demand.

Breaking down over data silos

Another source of frustration comes from data silos, with 51% of CEOs expressing concerns about it. Data silos pose numerous problems for organisations because they stop data from being readily accessible and in a common format for easy analysis. This has a knock-on effect on the kinds of data projects that a business can carry-out and its ability to use new technology like artificial intelligence (AI). Which impacts the future capabilities of many departments, including marketing and HR.

Many business leaders recognise the significant impact that AI will have on their organisations, again highlighted in PwC’s report. Without breaking down the silos existing between departments, different technology solutions and databases, organisations are immediately handicapped when preparing for AI.

A lack of trust

The trustworthiness of data is a further worry, with 50% of CEOs giving it as a reason behind their information gaps. Without trustworthy data, people cannot confidently act on any insights gleaned from it. If those insights are not aligned with their experience or assumptions, they may question the validity of the data used. The value of data doesn’t come in gathering it, but from acting on its insights. If people don’t feel confident in it from the start, they’re not going to act and an entire data strategy can be undermined.

To build trust in data, organisations need good data governance. This describes various processes and practices used to ensure the availability, quality, usability and security of data. It covers how a business should collect and store data, any additional information (metadata) that needs to be kept with it (such as if the data was altered and when), who can access the data and who has ultimate ownership of it.

Linking to business objectives

Data projects are always going to be most valuable when they show a tangible impact on a business’ bottom-line, operations and goals. Unfortunately, in some organisations, there is a gap between a business’ strategy and the data projects that it’s prioritising. For instance, it can be tempting to commit many resources to building AI, using smart city data or becoming part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Especially when other companies make headlines for their outlandish and innovative uses of data.

As CEO of Satalia Daniel Hulme explains, “Many CEOs feel they need to bring AI into their organisation. There’s this fear factor that if you’re not on the AI bandwagon, then you’re going to lose out to competitors that are going to be eating your market, because they’re using technologies to make decisions faster and better than you.”

This fear drives them to run a data marathon before they can crawl. Without enough groundwork put into building good data governance, hiring the right skills and gathering the best data, these businesses will only end up widening their information gaps.

Businesses need a new way

The fact that the information gap is as wide as ever despite numerous efforts over a decade, signals that businesses aren’t getting it right - yet. It is now time for organisations to return to the drawing board and re-think their entire data function. From the people hired (and how) to the projects committed to.

Organisations that go back-to-basics with their data now, will be setting themselves up for success well into the future. Those that continue on their current path will eventually find themselves struggling to leap a gap that was years in the making.

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