Canadian execs cite data overload: SAS Canada

About half of all senior Canadian business leaders are overwhelmed and underutilizing their analytical data, according to a new SAS Canada/Leger Marketing survey. And while the poll results suggest IT shops are only partly to blame for the country-wide problem, IT leaders could play a key role in righting the ship, the company said.


The poll, which surveyed 1,022 private and public sector business leaders in March 2010, found that 47 per cent of respondents were overloaded with business information. Public sector business executives were significantly more frustrated (53 per cent) than their private sector counterparts (43 per cent) due to greater organizational politics, SAS Canada said.


Interestingly, responding business executives from Alberta were less likely to be suffering from information overload, with only 35 per cent indicating that their business data overwhelms them.


The company said this was due to the fact that the province is dominated by the energy and oil and gas sectors, which does not present some of the same analytical data challenges as the industrial, telecom and financial sectors offer to provinces such as Ontario and Quebec.


The survey also suggests business leaders are struggling with data accuracy and timeliness, with less than 30 per cent of respondents indicating that information is sometimes, rarely or never easy to understand.


Cameron Dow, vice-president of marketing for SAS Canada, said the poll results are surprising, with respondents citing information overload a bit higher than his company anticipated.


“It’s pretty high, so this tells me that there are a lot of challenges ahead for Canadian organizations to be competitive,” he said. With the business landscape becoming digitized and the explosion of unstructured data from voice, chat and social media, this problem will not be going away, Dow added.


Jean-Francois Ouellet, an associate professor of marketing at University of Montreal’s HEC business school, agreed, saying that comparable studies from Western Europe and the U.S. indicate that business leaders from those areas are not feeling as overwhelmed by their data.


“If we don’t address these inefficiencies, sooner or later we’re going to wake up with a pretty bad headache,” he said.


While the solution to this problem is more of a cultural one than a business or technical one, Dow said, IT can help alleviate some of this information overload.


In terms of significant barriers to improving the use of data for organizations, over 30 per cent of responding business executives pointed to the lack of skills in using analytic tools as a major barrier.


“I liken traditional information to cleaning up spills after they’ve happened,” he said. “You’re getting information in the past. You’re not getting information that is forward looking.”


For Dow, many companies need to first start working to consolidate their legacy data integration, reporting and analytics apps before they can start to take advantage of forward thinking analytics tools.


“There’s no way IT is going to be able to deliver on the promise of analytics and dealing with information effectively if they’re dealing with all these different environments,” he said.


Once that’s in place, Dow said, IT can try and gain executive commitment for using information more strategically.


“There’s no easy way to do it, but fortunately nowadays there’s a lot more discussion, research and case studies around how you do move forward with a more analytics oriented information strategy,” he said.


Ouellet recommended that IT managers and CIOs benchmark themselves against companies that are leading the way in data management, analytics and business intelligence. He pointed to as a strong player in this space and recommended companies try to emulate the best practices these companies follow.


Benchmarking against industry leaders could also help convince business leaders to pay attention, Ouellet added.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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