Three in four (76%) of UK companies are planning a big data or data analytics project within the next twelve months, but 70% of C-level executives say they are struggling to up-skill employees effectively to maximise Return on Investment (ROI) for business intelligence tools.

The big data skills gap is highlighted in a new report “Plotting the data journey in the boardroom”, from MHR Analytics, which examines the attitudes of 300 UK C-level executives across multiple business functions. It reveals that the top three drivers for big data projects are sales and revenue growth, cost reduction and efficiency savings, and the need to improve customer intelligence.

Sales, Marketing and Finance departments are leading the big data push, with almost half of companies planning projects in these three areas. In addition, 39% of companies are planning a big data project in operations and 34% will implement an HR big data project in 2017.

However, the research shows that companies still have a long way to go with 39% of C-suite executives reporting that most of their data is held on spreadsheets, with analytics mainly used for one-off requests and reactive reporting.

Boardroom executives report that their biggest analytics challenge is the effective up-skilling of staff, followed by developing a coherent data analytics strategy for the whole business and managing business intelligence initiatives by individual department heads.

Just 39% of C-suite executives were able to strongly agree with the statement, “our customer data is accurate and up-to-date”, and just 42% are very confident that their business is able to quickly respond to short term economic volatility and changing market conditions.

Nick Felton, Director of MHR Analytics commented: “It is very encouraging to see big data being given priority in the boardroom, but our research highlights a worrying skills gap. Perhaps most worrying is that less than half of businesses say they are able to respond to short term economic volatility.

“With the latest Supreme court ruling on Brexit, it is clear that uncertainty is going to be the new business norm for the next 12 months and beyond. It is vital that investment in business intelligence tools is matched by training for employees. In many cases, it can require a cultural shift for organisations to embrace business analytics and this needs to come from the top down.

“An analytics-driven culture requires employees who are passionate and skilled in exploring data and content. These users must understand the implications of critical data points and apply insight to every task. If the CEO is seen to sponsor the programme, or the role of the Chief Analytics Officer (CAO) or Chief Data Officer (CDO) has been established, then the programme is much more likely to succeed.”

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