“Water, Water Everywhere”

Today's CEOs need to upskill their workforce to take advantage of the sea of data surrounding them.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, “Calm Sea,” Simon de Vlieger

When asked about using data, today’s CEOs apparently feel much the same as the sailor immortalized in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” felt about water. They’re surrounded by it, but they can’t seem to make use of it. In the 2019 PwC Annual Global CEO Survey, CEOs voiced how dissatisfied they are with how data is used in their organizations. One way out of this dilemma is to upskill your employees.

TLDR: No Progress in a Decade

The survey asked about the importance of certain categories of data, and then about how adequate that data was. PwC measured the responses across nine categories of data. As the graphic below shows, with the exception of one (financial forecasting), there’s been no significant movement in the past decade.

Let that sink in for a moment. Even with the explosion of data that we’ve seen in the past decade, CEOs still report that they’re not able to get the data they need.

What’s more, the gap for the category CEOs deem to be most important of all (Customer Preferences and Needs) has actually widened in the past decade.

The past decade hasn't seen any improvement in using data, and in fact has seen it worsen in some cases.  A way out of this dilemma is to upskill your team.
Source: PwC 22nd Global Annual CEO Survey, Exhibit 12.

The sole category that saw an increase in its comprehensiveness is Financial Data. That makes business sense, since the bottom line is an organization’s ultimate metric. But other categories are just as important, and they saw decreases. Brand and Reputation, for example, ranked as one of the top five important categories, but its comprehensiveness figures dropped since 2009.

Upskill Your Way Out

The most-cited reason for this disparity was the lack of analytical talent in their organizations. Unfortunately there’s no silver bullet solution to this. You can’t just hire more specialized data scientists, because that’s not addressing the underlying problem. In today’s organizations, analytics is part of everyone’s job. Employees across every functional area, and at every level, are being called upon to work with data on a regular basis. Analytics is no longer the bailiwick of a highly-specialized data science team. So why are they the only ones with analytical skills?

Now, not every employee needs to be able to build machine learning algorithms. But every employee does need to know how to critically look at data, and at trends, and at the output of a forecast or projection and then interpret what it means for the question at hand.

Just because the respondents in this survey are global CEOs doesn’t mean that these findings are only applicable to large organizations. In my conversations with business owners here in New Hampshire, I’m hearing the same frustration. The amount of data available to them has grown exponentially, but their capacity to analyze it and use it for business decisions hasn’t kept pace. In fact, I’m often hearing that the capacity has stagnated, or has been de-prioritized in favor of “more pressing” short-term initiatives. I’ll have some suggestions for how to upskill your team in the coming weeks.

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