Businesses have government beat on data analytics

Canadian government executives are attributing internal politics and a lack of leadership as the two major barriers to improving the use of analytics data, according to a recent SAS Canada/Leger Marketing survey.


Forty-four per cent of 112 government respondents cited organizational politics as the main roadblock to using information for a competitive advantage. This compares to a national average of 29 per cent.


The findings are the latest to be announced from a March 2010 poll, which surveyed 1,022 private and public sector business leaders.


Additionally, 39 per cent of responding federal bureaucrats cited a lack of leadership from decision makers as a major reason for not taking advantage of analytics data, which is 12 points higher than the national average.


Cameron Dow, vice-president of marketing for SAS Canada, said the public sector is a little more pessimistic about information management and analytics across the board when compared to their public sector counterparts. Government executives were more likely to complain that data is inaccurate, not easy to understand, not useful and not timely, he added.


“There’s been a lag in adopting analytics technology in the public sector,” Dow said. “That doesn’t mean they’re not using analytics tools, but it does show it’s not to the same extent as the banks, major telecommunications companies, and more recently, large retailers.”


The survey indicated that only 31 per cent of government respondents felt they were spending enough on analytics software, compared to the national average of 44 per cent.


In addition to more investment in analytics tools, Dow said government organizations need to extent the shared services model and try to make it work across provincial borders. He called it the “cross-jurisdictional sharing of IT infrastructure.”


And while Dow argues rising government debt will force many agencies to increase analytics software investment and the sharing of IT, other industry observers point to a few more hurdles.


Jean-Francois Ouellet, an associate professor of marketing at University of Montreal’s HEC business school, said the first issue that government agencies need to address is what data they want to collect in the first place. He said that government organizations and their employees do not typically make a clear connection between the decisions they make and how those decisions impact Canadian citizens.


In government, Ouellet said, information is more about measuring the general well being of the population as opposed to being directly connected with citizens like private sector organizations typically are.


The key for government agencies, he said, is to try and maintain consistency — as close to a common baseline for decision making as possible.


“You have to have a plan and hold onto it,” he said.


A classic example of what to avoid, Ouellet added, is the federal government’s recently announced plan to scale back the mandatory long-form census. He said keeping consistent data collection techniques year-after-year is the only way to truly compare a situation today to one ten years ago.


“If you change the way the survey is conducted every other year, the results are not comparable,” Ouellet said.

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