/ How executives can ditch the guesswork and become more data-driven

According to a recent PWC study, 68% of executives value their most important decisions at $50 million or more in terms of future business profits. Yet with so much on the line, a measly one-third of executives describe their decision-making as “highly data-driven.”

Getting insights from data requires some level of discrimination. “Big data is a natural resource so people think you have to take advantage of it,” Haier director Honbo Zhou says. “But if big data is consumed inappropriately or generated randomly, or kept for no reason, it will create a lot of virtual garbage.”

It’s time for executives to make more decisions based on the numbers. Here are two simple steps to do this:

1) Standardize data.

Life may be like a box of chocolates, but your business data is a bit more complicated. Chances are your data exists in disparate spreadsheets that are inconsistently formatted. How you standardize your data depends on the resources available to your business. If you have an existing cleansing solution, utilize it to scrub and consolidate your data.

If your business doesn’t have a solution for scrubbing data, your employees will have to standardize it manually—typically in the form of a comprehensive report (yuck). Standardized data is easier to compare and retrieve once it is consistently formatted. With proper formatting, insights worth pursuing include trends, projections and other indicators of potential success or failure. These metrics will keep you abreast of new developments when you’re making business decisions.

2) Visualize data.

As an executive, you have data shoved under your nose on a daily basis. Data visualization eases the process by which you consume and interpret complex data sets. Visualized information can help you gather insights about your business more quickly. In addition, visuals carry power that spreadsheets don’t. A dynamic chart wins out over a stack of numbers every time.

Most business decisions require executives to balance their intuition with insights gleaned from data. Becoming a data-driven organization is an ongoing process and will not happen overnight. It is well worth the effort, however, and will make business management run more smoothly.

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