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What data-driven CEOs really need from information

Making the most of information is a priority for business leaders everywhere, but achieving this goal can be difficult.

Research shows that just one in ten business leaders in Europe (12 per cent), has complete confidence in their organisation’s ability to extract value from information. One of the underlying causes of this could be a lack of understanding amongst those who create, manage, and use information.

In a recent Iron Mountain study that compares the roles and perceptions of business leaders and records and information managers across Europe [and the US], we found that 83 per cent of European business leaders don’t fully understand what their information managers do.

In return, 69 per cent of European records and information managers admit they don’t know exactly what senior business leaders want and need from information – with even more, (76 per cent) confused about the information needs of colleagues in marketing, manufacturing, finance and other departments.

The operational impact of such mutual confusion is not hard to imagine. One global study discovered that just 27 per cent of businesses believe employees have access to the data they need, and 42 per cent admit that access to their data is cumbersome.

So what do business leaders want from information?

It is worth noting that, despite the objective of releasing greater business value from information, most businesses prioritise locking it down: protecting it to mitigate the risk of a data breach (the top priority for 81 per cent of European companies) and avoiding litigation and fines due to non-compliance (a priority for 76 per cent). This may be changing as more organisations appreciate that, in order to harness the value of data; you need to increase access to it so that business units can make use of it. However, before the business makes information more widely available to more people, privacy and intellectual property constraints must be considered. Data may well need to be redacted or de-identified.

Business leaders use information to make decisions. For records and information managers to understand what information the C-suite needs they have to understand how the executive decision making process works and the role information can or should play.

Four in ten (44 per cent) CEOs make one really big decision a month, and in Europe these decisions are mainly about growing the business through new products, new markets and collaboration with competitors.

Two-thirds of business leaders say they have changed the way they make decisions as a result of increased access to information. However, they don’t have time to wade through high volumes of information that can be raw, complex, full of irrelevance or out-of-date. Half (52 per cent) of the CEOs surveyed admit they have ignored information they didn’t understand.

Consequently, the information shared with business leaders needs to be clear and relevant: a filter of analysis or insight needs to be applied. Depending on the size or type of business, there may be an individual or team dedicated to data analytics. Where the role exists, the data officer or scientist is a key partner in helping the records and information professional understand the data, how it might be used and can help communicate this to the leadership.

Records and information management professionals are, by their own admission, on uncertain ground when it comes to the business value locked in the data they hold. Our study found that 84 per cent of records and information managers have confidence in their ability to help business functions make the most of information – if only they better understood what was required.

The good news is that this gap in understanding, rather than in skill set, is relatively easy to fix. The solution to the challenge is two-fold: firstly, information professionals need to become more proactive about understanding the information needs of the business.

They need to become more integrated with other teams, such as data analytics, and more visible to senior management. Secondly, business leaders need to foster a culture where the role and contribution of records and information managers is better understood.

This would build a bridge of understanding across which value-added insight and information can travel in both directions.

Sue Trombley is managing director of professional services at Iron Mountain.