Almost half of Canadian executives still say the amount of information they have overwhelms them, showing no statistical improvement from last year, though there has been some change at the provincial and industry level, with some showing improvement while others are facing an uphill challenge. These are just some of the findings from a SAS/Leger Marketing survey released yesterday. Overall, 45 per cent of executives in 2011 said they are overwhelmed by information, compared with 47 per cent last year.
This year, executives from Ontario and British Columbia are far less likely to say they suffer from information overload. In 2010, 52 per cent of B.C. and Ontario-based executives said they faced information overload, versus 38 and 44 per cent (respectively) this year.
While most provinces and business sectors showed little change, there were a few that saw things deteriorate. Those in the academic and education sectors were far more likely to say things have gotten worse – 42 per cent in 2010 versus 61 per cent in 2011 saying they suffer from information overload.
“Organizations often need to make significant procedural changes to effectively address information overload,” said Kathryn Brohman, Professor, Management Information Systems, School of Business, Queen’s University. “For organizations to be successful combating information overload they need both the right technology and the right procedures.”
Canadian executives understand that in today’s information age it is not about having all information, rather having the right information. Eighty per cent said they’d make better informed business decisions if they had the right tools in place to analyze information more effectively, yet 1 in 4 (24 per cent) say they do not have the right information to make effective business decisions about their business performance.
For the second year running, customer satisfaction and retention was by far the most important business issue for Canadian executives (34 per cent in 2011, 37 per cent in 2010). It was the top issue in all provinces; 39 per cent in Quebec, 35 per cent in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces, 32 per cent in B.C., 25 per cent in Alberta and 24 per cent in the Prairie provinces. Tied for second (in both 2010 and 2011) at 13 per cent was controlling operational costs and profitability. Dealing with government regulations was fourth, though 2011 showed a slight rise to 12 per cent, up from nine per cent in 2010.
The issue of customer satisfaction may be of concern for those in the food/beverage/retail industry. Twenty-eight per cent of the industry’s executives said they do not think they have the right data and information about their customers to make effective business decisions.
“We have many terabytes of data, covering companies and job seekers in more than 56 countries,” said Jean-Paul Isson, VP Global BI and Predictive & Predictive Analytics, Monster Worldwide. “We use SAS analytics to describe, understand and predict customer and job seeker behaviour in order to better support our decision making processes. Having the right tools to analyze all our data really helps minimize information overload.”
Other findings reveal that the vast majority (96 per cent) of executives across the country agree it is important to have access to information to make better business decisions. However 3 in 10 said their IT department is not able to support their information needs, which may contribute to the fact that the majority (51 per cent) said data is the most under-utilized asset in their organization.
We are also, apparently, not very good at sharing information. When asked if their staff could share information more effectively, 82 per cent agreed. Atlantic Canada, Alberta and Ontario-based executives were more likely to agree (86, 86, 85 per cent) than their Quebec counterparts – 77 per cent.
“Many business analytics initiatives are based on the concept of wanting and needing access to information while ignoring the elephant in the room – the fact we just aren’t that effective at sharing information,” said Elie Elia, Professor in the Department of Management and Technology, ESG at the Université du Québec à Montréal. “While access to accurate and up-to-date information is critical to business success, there is a substantial amount of untapped business value that can be gained by sharing information more effectively.”
Continuing from 2010, more than three in four executives said the information about their department or business performance is not always accurate, timely, useful or easy to understand. The biggest concern in 2011 was with the timeliness of the information executives received, with 1 in 6 saying it is rarely or never timely.
While six in 10 executives nationally said their company uses business analytics software, the technology designed to help people gain value from massive amounts of information and better understand the market in which they operate, the number is lower in Alberta at 47 per cent (compared to 64 per cent in the Prairies, 61 per cent in Quebec and 60 per cent in Ontario).
Regardless, there is a national trend toward understanding the value of business analytics software. In 2010, 21 per cent of respondents said their organization did not need business analytics tools. That number fell to 13 per cent in 2011. In at least one province the drop in those who did not see value in using business analytics software was quite large. Alberta fell from 22 per cent saying they didn’t need the technology in 2010 to just six per cent in 2011.
“Organizations across the country understand that business analytics improves not only the accuracy of the data they use to make business decisions but also the speed at which they receive it,” said Cameron Dow, vice-president of marketing for SAS Canada.