Executives are drowning under data-driven demands — what’s the solution?

The pressure to make data-driven decisions is leading executives to make risk-averse decisions. Oracle NetSuite's VP EMEA, Nicky Tozer explains the issue.
21 February 2020

Drowning in data. Source: Shutterstock

As advanced technology permeates the market, businesses are continuously harvesting masses of data each day — all of which can be combed through to provide insights on anything from buyer behavior, competitor analysis, market trends, and internal workflow.

Where once executives would make tactical decisions based on their business experience, conversations with workers and peers, direct observations — and of course, much more limited data sources — today, they are expected to make full use of the hard data at their disposal — all the masses of it.

With businesses told that data is now the lifeblood of their industry, and its utilization the key to pulling ahead of other players, this new direction is placing a huge amount of pressure on executives to mobilize it and drive business success from it. There’s no excuse for not doing so.

We have, for some time now, observed how business leaders are struggling to realize ‘data-driven’ expectations. Now, a new study by Oracle NetSuite reveals that 94 percent of executives report being overwhelmed by volumes of data available now when making decisions — 78 percent find it more pressuring to make decisions at work than at home. 

This is far from the ideal reality that employers envision when instilling a data-driven culture in organizational operations. With that in mind, TechHQ spoke to Oracle NetSuite’s VP EMEA, Nicky Tozer — an executive with two decades of experience in cultivating business intelligence — on this new and tense relationship between executives and data. 

Tozer first outlined the issues of mismatch in the usage and allocation of data in organizations.

“[…] those in HR or marketing are being bombarded by information that is of most relevance to the finance team. This is where judgment becomes clouded, as the data ‘in play’ isn’t particularly relevant to those functions, and confidence in the insights they are receiving is lost,” Tozer stated.

The lack of confidence in making decisions has driven executives to actively make risk-averse decisions, even if they know it will bear little success.

Risk aversion is more pervasive among executives from high performing organizations, as 62 percent admit to choosing a more familiar and safer route. Fears about negatively impacting revenue (40 percent), damaging personal reputation (22 percent), losing one’s job (17 percent) are major factors in shying away from playing for higher stakes. 

A system of fear and lack of confidence with data in decision making is not sustainable. Tozer emphasized that organizations need to take a step back and return to the fundamentals — establishing a culture of trust and lifting leaders to feel confident about the information provided to them as well as the value it brings. 

A solid first step could be to break down siloed data, where vast amounts of data are placed in different places and is often hard to access, leading to inefficient processes. Organizations must look into integrating previously siloed data and the appropriate tools to harness the value-driving power of data. 

A growing number of executives in the UK (33 percent) and France (51 percent) are turning to robots as a source of support in making critical decisions. But a continued move in this direction isn’t the answer, Tozer explained. Human intuition is still a vital ingredient — insights from robots or AI are only as good as the information available to them. 

“It’s not a case of removing human intuition altogether,” she said. 

“Yes, organizations need to be data-driven, but human intuition will always play a role. As more automation enters the workplace, people will be needed to drive strategy forward. They create strategies based on data.”

Essentially, a healthy balance between deriving insights from data and trusting one’s gut would be the driver of success. That means working on making analytics systems more accessible and efficient, enabling business executives to access data easily and make decisions from it on the fly, with confidence. 

As the growing crop of data from the cloud and AI systems continues, business management systems are tailing the trends of consumer tech, including voice technologies and AI-powered virtual assistants

“We’ve reached a tipping point whereby business applications cannot thrive on the sole merits of their performance,” Tozer said. 

Instead, Gartner predicted that by 2023, 40 percent of professional workers would expect to manage their business applications similar to their music streaming services, which is with a consumer mindset. 

The carrot for using data in making decisions as a route is there. Oracle NetSuite found that 55 percent of executives that called themselves “data-driven” reported exceeding their growth targets.