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April 2, 2014

Survey Finds Disconnect Between Big Data and Decision-Making

George Leopold

Under increasing pressure to make critical business decisions based on real-time information, respondents to a survey said access to up-to-the-minute data remains a challenge in the era of big data and analytics.

The Harvard Business Review survey of 442 business executives around the world found that corporate decision makers have major concerns about access to, availability of, and the quality of internal and outside data. The result is reduced confidence in their decision-making ability.

Moreover, nearly half of the global respondents (42 percent) said their lack of confidence stems from a lack of information or easy access to data. The findings are puzzling given the emergence of big data techniques, the proliferation of global networks and the sheer processing power contained even in mobile devices.

One reason for the disconnect between big data and decision making, the Harvard researchers found, is that “silos of data, typically imprisoned in customer, financial, or production systems, are frequently inaccessible by individuals outside of the functional group.”

In this regard, 43 percent of survey respondents said important external or internal data was missing, 42 percent said data was inaccurate or obsolete, and 33 percent said they “couldn’t process information fast enough.”

The Harvard researchers said the survey results raise critical questions about the challenges poised by data-driven decision-making. Among them are:

  • What types of internal data are most difficult to access? Which types of internal data are frequently inaccurate or obsolete?
  • What types of external data are considered important, and what are the obstacles preventing availability or easy access?
  • What types of decisions need to be made in real time?
  • What types of data are needed to make these real-time decisions?
  • What are the business drivers of real-time decision-making?

The Harvard researchers said their survey results were gathered between August 27 and September 4, 2013. Half of the respondents were from companies with 1,000 or more employees and almost half of the respondents were located in North America. Eighty-five percent of respondents were managers working in areas ranging from strategy and business development to supply chain and finance.