Big data is such a known concept these days that it’s surprising to learn there is a gap in business leaders’ perception of its value compared to employees’ perceptions.

To get to a point where data begins to offer significant value, companies need to become data-driven. This means putting data at the centre of the organisation’s every move to create a truly differentiated and personalised customer experience.

Data gives companies the tools with which to outperform the competition by making it easier to monitor and predict market forces, and respond accordingly in ways that draw customers closer to the organisation. Using fact-based decisions to drive business strategy, as opposed to relying solely on experience-based instincts, makes the strategy more accurate and, therefore, more successful.

Embedding analytics and optimisation into processes improves the ability of the organisation to implement new insights. It eliminates gaps between insights, decisions, and actions.

While many companies say they want to become data-driven, actually transforming the company can be easier said than done. Too often, companies approach this transformation in the wrong order. The first step should be to establish a strong leadership focus on cultivating a data-centric culture. However, many organisations leave this until last, preferring to focus upfront on technology and tools. They then look to acquire the right talent and expertise, before finally working to convince the rest of the business of the importance of data-centricity.

Real success rests on tackling the corporate culture first and effectively ‘giving the data a seat at the table’ in leadership meetings. As with any business change, direction must come from the top down and the evolution must be clearly understood by all employees. The goal is to encourage employees to embrace data and apply data analytics to all decision-making processes ion a day-to-day basis.

This can be complex, since different types of workers use data differently. I recommend creating a virtuous circle of data, which lets organisations implement a series of events through top-down leadership and employee engagement to establish a culture that puts data at the centre of decision-making.

Embracing a data-driven approach doesn’t necessarily mean each employee must become a data scientist overnight, and it’s important to emphasise this for employees who may be resistant to change. Instead, companies looking to become data-centric should employ data analysts or a data scientist and enable them to lead the way with an experimental, scientific approach to analytics; using data as their ‘raw material’. These experts can help analyse and interpret data sets to extract the insights the organisation needs.

It is important to ensure these data experts work closely with business experts to ensure the insight is deployable and that a project delivers value. A data project is only useful as long as it delivers insights that relate to genuine business questions. When that happens, the business can take action according to those insights and expect to see results in the form of increased sales, reduced costs, or greater market share, to name a few.

When data projects are conducted for technology’s sake, the company can end up wasting time and resources to get insights that don’t have any bearing on business activities. Companies that can’t use data effectively to facilitate better decision-making will simply not be able to compete as effectively as some of their competitors as time goes by.

By contrast, organisations that successfully adopt a data-driven stance will have access to more highly detailed and useful information, sooner. This will let them make smarter decisions, faster. As a result, they will be able to offer ongoing value to customers, stakeholders, and shareholders.

Research by Telsyte shows more than 70% of Australian organisations will become data-driven by the year 2019.

Relying on gut-feel used to be a prized business asset. In the age of big data, gut-feel is neither necessary nor sustainable; instead, organisations need to take a scientific approach to operations in order to yield stronger profits.