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Elizabeth Bramwell, director at Iron Mountain

Regardless of geography, company size or industry sector, business leaders can be remarkably unanimous about their strategic priorities. When it comes to the strategic significance of digital technologies, for example, 80[i] per cent of the respondents to PwC’s recent CEO survey ranked the need to extract value from information through data mining and analysis as strategically important, second only to mobile technologies (selected by 81 per cent).

Perhaps, as suggested by Forbes, CEOs have simply had enough of listening to colleagues present business ideas unsubstantiated by data and evidence[ii]. Or they are tired of having to make decisions based on impenetrable data that is impossible to understand, as suggested by the Economist Intelligence Unit[iii]. Either way, business leaders appreciate that information has become a vital business asset and competitive differentiator that holds the key to, among other things, better and faster decision-making, improved productivity, and enhanced innovation and customer experience.

As the PwC global CEO study shows, the majority of C-level executives know they need to have the practical resources and skills in place to extract the insight and intelligence they and their business units want from their information. Yet the reality is that despite the good intentions of top executives’, very few organisations are actually employing or deploying the required resources effectively.

A new international study by Iron Mountain and PwC[iv] has discovered that half (53 per cent) of C-level executives believe their organisation doesn’t have the tools or competence to extract the full value from information, and many (48 per cent) suspect that their competitors are doing a better job of it. Just four per cent of businesses appear to have all the skills and resources they need.

The study, which questioned 1,800 senior decision-makers in Europe and North America, including 225 C-level executives in Europe, reveals that many organisations lack understanding of the information they hold and how it is used.

Around a quarter of the European C-level respondents say their organisation doesn’t know what information it holds (23 per cent), how the information flows through the business or where it is either most valuable (28 per cent) or most vulnerable (24 per cent). A fifth (18 per cent) say their organisation doesn’t facilitate the internal sharing of information, and 27 per cent say the organisation doesn’t know how to calculate the value of information to the business.

Access to the right capabilities also represents a considerable challenge for many. A quarter (27 per cent) of the C-level executives surveyed admit to not employing data analysts to extract value from data. The same number confess to a lack of data interpretation (27 per cent) or insight application (26 per cent) skills that would help turn information into decision-ready facts, targeted marketing campaigns and improved processes and innovation.

In the light of this it is not surprising that around 43 per cent of the European and North American companies surveyed currently obtain little tangible benefit from their information and approximately 23 per cent derive no benefit whatsoever.

To help business leaders get to a point where they can start to reap real benefits, Iron Mountain worked with PwC to create an Information Value Index from the study findings. The Index measures how well different businesses in different countries currently manage their information for competitive advantage and realised an average score of 50.1 out of an ideal score of 100 (46.9 in the UK). The Index puts a marker in the sand that executives can use to compare their own performance with other businesses in their size and sector.

There is no time to waste. Over the last few years the information conversation has shifted. While information risk and security remain important, it’s no longer all about locking information down to keep it safe.  Business leaders are now focused on how to set information free and make full use of it for growth and competitive advantage. This new approach to information management will demand change in many areas. The impact of some changes will be easy to accommodate; others, including the impact on culture may be harder; but in the long term, the impact on the business of a failure to act will be the hardest of all.