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Accurate and timely decision-making is a key component of creating competitive advantage, yet only 3% of business leaders describe their companies as "experts" in using business data to drive better decisions, and only 27% agree that their company makes better, faster decisions than their main competitors, according to a survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Although the benefits of having real-time information to drive decision-making are clear, data hoarding and working in silos still present difficult challenges for many firms.

Lack of collaboration among business units or departments is cited by more than one-half of business leaders (51%) as their biggest challenge, followed by inadequate tools for gathering, integrating or analyzing operational information (39%), and inconsistent reporting of information among business units, geographies or functions (36%).

Sales and Marketing Data Most Valued

Another challenge is the palpable gap between the need for and the quality of customer service data. Information from customer service and support is ranked among the most critical to a company's business strategy, yet it ranks poorly as a source of good business insight.

Among areas of the business that produce the best business insight, customer support and service is cited by only 10% of respondents, compared with 28% who rank sales and marketing as the best source.

As to what type of business information respondents cite as the most critical to their company's primary business strategy, customer service ranks second (34%) only to market research (36%).

Particularly in a weakened economy, when customer loyalty becomes paramount, the finding suggests a call to action for companies to improve the quality of insights gleaned from the customer-service function.

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Other findings:

  • Despite the historical tendency for businesses to slow spending and weigh investment decisions more carefully during a recession, business decision-making is actually accelerating: 48% of business leaders say decision-making has quickened slightly or significantly over the past 12 months, while only 23% say it has slowed slightly or considerably.
  • 33% of companies say decision-making processes have grown more centralized within the C-suite, defying the perception that faster decision-making stems from flatter, more decentralized organizational charts.
  • 32% of companies say decision-making will become more centralized within the C-suite over the next 12 months, due largely to the high scrutiny of decisions made during a recession.

About the data: Conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the survey included 208 respondents, 21% of whom were CEOs, presidents, or managing directors; 45% held other C-level titles; and 23% were senior vice-presidents, vice-presidents, or directors. Thirty-eight percent of respondents were located in North America, 27% in Western Europe, and 23% in Asia-Pacific. Nearly one-third (29%) worked at companies with annual revenue of $10 billion or more, and 31% of respondents worked at companies with annual revenue of $500 million or less.

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