Three things leaders need to know about big data

The use of data and analytics is driving real change in the way companies operate and how critical business decisions are made by their leaders.

A recent report shows that 64 per cent of global businesses admit big data has changed decision making in their organisation.

"The challenge for senior executives will often be how to marry intuition and gut feel with the wealth of data available."
Colum Rice, Partner, PwC

However, barely one-third relied primarily on data and analytics when making their last big business decision. It’s a number that doesn’t really add up.

Interestingly, the findings of PwC's report Gut & gigabyte: Capitalising on the art & science in decision making, show that executives from the Asia Pacific region are more confident in data-driven decision making than their global counterparts.

This presents competitive opportunities for those companies and the broader region.

Asia Pacific leaders feel more comfortable in their personal abilities to understand data. According to the study, only 16 per cent rate “lack of sufficient skills or expertise” as a barrier when using data analysis to inform the big decision they make.

So, if executives feel confident in having the skills and experience to use data in decision making, what can help to better inform those decisions? We’ve come up with three things.

1 - Being open minded about the use of data

Thinking about what would better inform, rather than just about what information is available, can unlock new opportunities for leaders.

2 – Being open minded on the sources of data

Combining a willingness to embrace the use of data with an open mind on the source of such data can unearth real gems.

In most modern businesses, data is collected across the business but often it remains in silos.

Data does not have to be ‘big’ to be useful and important.  Identifying all the relevant sources of data is the first step to creating powerful combinations of data and meaningful insights.

3 – Being aware of inherent bias

Data can be incredibly insightful, but it can be important to understand the original purpose for which that data was collected - and any resulting bias.

Most people are aware of limitations around data quality but are often less aware of inherent bias.

Head vs heart

So, should you rely on data? Is it your head or your heart? Art or science? Analysis or intuition?

Ultimately, gut feel is key, but the creative use of data and analysis gives the opportunity to define the question, inform the decision and base the ultimate choice on fact. This can reduce or eliminate the use of guesswork and increase the probability of making the right choice.

The most important question, which will always rely on gut feel and sound judgment, is whether you are asking the right questions. All the data and analytical skill in the world cannot help you if you ask the wrong questions.

The challenge for senior executives will often be how to marry intuition and gut feel with the wealth of data available, and most importantly, how to get people, process and technology capabilities tuned up so that the right data can be used meaningfully in making those big decisions.

Colum Rice is a Partner at PwC.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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