Big data? Great - so long as you get the analysis right

Finance professionals believe in big data but are seriously concerned about inaccuracies in current data analytics.

US and UK finance pros are upbeat about big data's potential to change business in the longer term but right now many of them think companies are losing significant sums because of inaccurate analytics.

Almost nine out of 10 global chartered management accountants and finance pros – including CEO and CFO level executives – say big data and better analytics will transform the way business is done over the next 10 years, according to a survey by the American Institute of CPAs and the UK's Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

However, an almost identical number of the 2,000 survey respondents think businesses are struggling to turn growing volumes of data into valuable insights.

Yet it's not just a failure to analyse current data. Many think what data analytics is taking place is not merely inadequate but positively detrimental.

More than one in three of those polled say incorrect analysis of organisational data is having a significant impact on revenue. A similar proportion feel they lack the technology tools to understand important new trends affecting their business.

When it comes making significant improvements in providing information for decision making or performance management, two-thirds of the accountants cite the accuracy and reliability of information as a problem area.

Roughly the same number think the timeliness of the data is also an issue.

The figures are contained in a new report, From insight to impact – unlocking opportunities in big data, which also highlights finance's insecurities about failing to take the lead with analytics.

"Big data raises challenging questions about the future role of finance. Accountants could be sidelined as the professionals who specialise in providing financial accounts to report past performance," the report says.

"Alternatively, they could seize the opportunity to become champions of big data as a source of evidence to support decision making – and help to redefine how business is done."

Perhaps understandably for a survey of finance pros, it's clear that accountants put themselves centre stage on questions of data analytics, with a third of them thinking that finance leads on finance-related data, and supports other forms of business analysis.

Only nine percent say they work as an equal partner with IT and business heads on analytical tasks.

When asked who has responsibility for ensuring the organisation gains a return on investment in data management technologies, 61 percent mention the CFO and only 28 percent the CIO.