Data: A path to value, action

Cows, combines and cars have a lot more in common than you might think. In Chicago and across the Midwest, they’re at the heart of some of the biggest companies doing business here.

Businesses located in this region share more than just geography — they’re collecting masses of data.

Some of that data comes from sources like online customers, but there’s also data streaming from sensors measuring variables like equipment performance, how much feed livestock is consuming or temperatures on the manufacturing factory line.

Data volume and speed isn’t about to slow down. Last year, one company collected five times the amount of data from sensors on a small fleet of machines harvesting crops, compared with 200,000 machines in the previous five years.

If you want to use data to run your business better, you must isolate the most meaningful data. To do so, start with these questions:  “What problem am I trying to solve?” “How can data and analytics change my business strategy?” “Which decisions do I need to make better and/or faster?”

And then, keep three things in mind:

Analytics is all about the human element
While many companies have increased their capacity to produce analytics-driven insights to pinpoint customer preferences, improve operations or identify risk, they don’t always get the most from their analytics investments. Why?

Because unless people use analytics to rethink what they do and how they do it, even the best methodologies and technological capabilities will fall flat. A recent survey of more than 550 executives’ at large enterprises worldwide found that many — 89 percent — still struggle to get business users to adopt analytics insights.

Some companies do get it right
To optimize crop output, one agricultural firm convinced farmers in its cooperative to change the way they plant, manage and fertilize their fields based on data collected and shared with the farmers. The result? The co-op became a multibillion-dollar, data-rich enterprise. If you ask customers to share data, they will probably want something in return.

Consumers’ data-sharing behavior is shifting, as they question the use of their data that is collected from their mobile devices.

As consumers become more sensitive about the use of their data, businesses should move beyond what they can do (within a legal framework) to what they should do (within a “value exchange” framework) with it.

More companies are considering giving customers discounted pricing on products and services or other incentives based on the information consumers are willing to share and permit companies to use.

Pick the right person to lead the way
The people championing analytics initiatives are the link between your leadership and the analytics and technology teams.

Certainly, analytics skills are important. But an analytics leader should be a “Renaissance professional,” with a background that blends analytics skills with intimate knowledge of the business. You need a willingness to innovate to turn analytics insights into actions and experience in building relationships and teams across the enterprise, aligning groups and departments in a common goal to use analytics to improve the business.

Time to climb on board
Data is a path to action and value. You can collect data to predict when airplane parts must be replaced, or keep big rigs on the road by measuring tire performance and notifying drivers when they need new tires. We’ve seen it firsthand. For businesses that put analytics at their core, seismic changes are taking place. It’s time to climb on board.

Mike Juchno is a Central Region analytics leader, EY; Chris Mazzei is a global analytics leader, EY