Strategic data management is key to competitive advantage, but is the UK ready?

A recent survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that organisations with formal data management strategies derive more value from data assets and outperform competitors.

However, the global study, “Big Data: Harnessing a game-changing asset”, found that the UK is lagging behind the rest of the world in data management, with 42 per cent of UK organisations reporting vast quantities of untapped useful data, nearly double what the rest of the world reported (22 per cent).

On top of this, 71 per cent reported difficulty in accessing their data in a timely manner, whereas this is true for only 52 per cent of non-UK organisations. This is less surprising however, when you consider that just half of UK respondents indicate that they have a formal data management strategy or are marshalling resources to take better advantage of big data.

The opportunity at hand

Untapped data represents untapped opportunities, knowledge and ultimately profit. By analysing data effectively organisations can glean insights into their company which otherwise would remain unknown, using historical events to predict future impact of decisions on the business.

It’s worrying then that the UK seems to be lagging behind the rest of the world in reaping the rewards data can deliver. In such a challenging global economic environment the UK cannot afford to get left behind in ultilising data for the benefit of businesses and end users alike.

On a global level, only 18 percent of 586 senior executives surveyed by the EIU worked at organisations committed to collecting and analysing data via a well-defined data management plan. Among those strategic data managers, 64 percent put nearly all that data to good use.

Moreover, 1 in 2 of those with a data management strategy stated that they outperformed their competitors compared to just 1 in 3 of those without a data management strategy. These findings clearly demonstrate the opportunity that a robust data management strategy can bring to organisations.

A well-defined data management plan – systematically collecting and analysing key data – is much more strongly associated with success than a disjointed data strategy. Nearly half of respondents said data management strategy is sponsored by the CEO or another C-level executive, underscoring data as a strategic corporate asset.

Big data changes everything

Growing enterprise data volumes threaten to overwhelm organisations lacking a broad data management plan. Business analytics pulls insights from massive databases commonly referred to as ‘big data’.

Clearly, most companies understand the value of big data, yet some struggle to exploit it. The biggest barriers seem to be too much data – driven in part by the increased use of personal devices and social media platforms – and too few resources to effectively analyse it.

Expanding on this point, we live in a time where data inundates every element of our lives. The Cabinet Office recently launched a public consultation on open data, highlighting its commitment to making increasing amounts of public sector information available for examination and re-use. This will be key to the future of our society but focus should be turning to how we can utilise this information. Using data to make better decisions is crucial – but with a lack of resources, who will take on the work?

The key is to not only encourage more students to study subjects that provide the foundation for skilled positions that will be required to interpret data in a business context – science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) – but teach them using the most appropriate tools and tactics.

The McKinsey Global Institute states that there’s a skills gap between the amount of people qualified to analyse data, and the positions available, but doesn’t inquire how this gap will be filled. This will continue unless businesses and the government start to invest in the future workforce long before they enter the working world.

Working with businesses and government to base syllabuses around the applications and software used in real-life scenarios will give students a head start when it comes to gaining employment in an information age of open data. Equally, the onus should also be on universities to provide courses that are fit for purpose; making sure their courses are aligned to the needs of the marketplace.

The future economy should thrive with innovation, productivity and public growth but this will not come to fruition unless there are people ready, willing and able to do the job.

Putting data and analytics at the core

Data provides transformational insight, but not by just sitting there. With corporate data doubling yearly, optimising information management is imperative and it will be the students of today that will need to make sense of data in the future to drive business growth and economic success.

Increased use of data has already made the information technology function more strategic to the business and this is only set to increase in coming years in line with Government plans. Big data harnessed effectively with the right analytics and talent will set the UK en route to successfully maximising information and transform companies and countries alike.

Ian Manocha is the Managing Director of SAS UK and Ireland, and a member of the SAS EMEA & AP Executive Board. Ian also has responsibility for SAS' fast growing international defence business, and is Chairman of Memex Group Ltd, a SAS subsidiary, which develops intelligence software for the global public security market. Ian holds a BSc Honours degree in Civil Engineering from Southampton University.