Is your organization investing in 'big data' applications?

McKinsey research suggests more businesses are making investments in data analytics and business intelligence applications that use context to help inform decisions for the future.

More businesses are increasingly viewing information technology and next-generation data analytics applications as a means toward driving new products, services and business innovation, according to the results of the 6th annual McKinsey Global Survey.

The survey gathers up the responses of 927 executives who were surveyed by McKinsey during early October.

Mind you, efficiency is still a priority for them, too, but there was a dramatic jump in the number of executives who said they need to provide their company with solutions that better support planning and decision-making. Often, such solutions fall into the category that has been dubbed by marketers, media and analysts as "big data" applications. Approximately 40 percent of the McKinsey survey respondents said it was becoming far more important for their teams to be able to provide information that would better facilitate strategic decision making. That compares with 30 percent in the prior year's survey.

The McKinsey analysts who authored an article summarizing the findings note:

"When asked what their organizations' ideal priorities are, executives cite more growth-oriented goals. For example, creating new products and services is a priority for 47 percent of respondents. In contrast, only 17 percent cite reducing IT costs."

Across almost all corporate functions, the shift to more seriously incorporate data analytics in the decision-making process is pretty dramatic. There are a number of barriers to pulling this off, according to the McKinsey research. They are:

  • Company culture prioritizes experience over data (19 percent)
  • Lack of skills in translating and synthesizing data from analysis for use by decision makers (17 percent)
  • Data quality is too poor to use effectively (16 percent)
  • Lack of sufficient data (12 percent)
  • Little or no interest in changing our decision-making processes (10 percent)

As you can see, three of the top five biggest barriers to better data analytics are related to human behaviors and skills, rather than whether or not the technology is available to do this. The first one, in particular, will be one that takes a long time to overcome. Business decision-making historically has deferred to actual on-the-job experience and perspective. The trick will be to convince managers that it is a combination of the two that will make for more competitive companies, not one or the other.

"Big data" is a term your organization will hear a lot during 2012, as technologies emerge to move business intelligence beyond solutions that simply collect and report historical information to applications that use that data to suggest strategies, tactics, new products and other innovative ideas. The question is whether or not your company is ready to grasp the applications that are emerging in this category or whether it will continue to drown in information that lacks the context needed to make decisions.

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