Companies missing out as directors unable to deal with challenges of big data

Companies missing out as directors unable to deal with challenges of big data
Business news

Tuesday 30 October 2018

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Companies are missing out as their directors are unable to deal with the challenges of big data, new research suggests.

Coventry University academics found that many company directors don’t know how to use the vast volume of information to help them make major decisions, are too slow to react to new data, and often don’t do anything with it.

Businesses, therefore, are missing out on opportunities to use big data for their own benefit and competitive advantage, say the research team.

Researchers from the university’s Centre for Business in Society (CBiS) carried out a series of in-depth interviews with directors on company boards involved in strategic decision making.

This included CEOs and managing directors from sectors including: financial services, management consultancy, manufacturing, air travel, IT and leisure.

Among the comments from company directors were:

  • “The people who are doing well are the ones that can cut through all the cr*p and make decisions based on facts.”
  • “More data is available, therefore, the decision-making process is more based on better quality information, more robust information, as opposed to having to guess what is going on.”

But others admitted there were many challenges:

  • “There’s been a massive growth throughout the planet of availability [of data], it [is] growing much faster than the ability to analyse it.”
  • “I don’t think you’ve got enough hours in a day to solve these problems … We still have an overload of data … and sometimes less data is better than more data.”

The researchers found that directors did not understand how to cope with the data, did not recognise its value as a resource, and did not have the necessary skills to analyse it.

Many individuals were exposed to more information than they were able to process. This led to an information overload which disrupted a board’s ability to make strategic decisions.

Disagreements about how to handle big data and how quickly they could respond to it also affected board’s decision-making process. The researchers discovered there was a clash between old and new ways of working, which led to tension.

Many companies did not have enough people in-house with the skills to use the big data to their own advantage.

The researchers say that big data provides firms with new opportunities – including greater insight on customers and clients.

But companies need to adapt and work in new ways to meet its challenges, including learning how to handle the speed in which large volumes of data comes through to them.

The research was published in Journal of Business Research. ‘Big data, big decisions: The impact of big data on board level decision-making’, Journal of Business Research, Vol. 93, pages 67-78. 

The research team includes colleagues from Coventry University (Dr Alessandro Merendino, Professor Sally Dibb, Professor Maureen Meadows, Professor Lee Quinn and Professor Lyndon Simkin) and colleagues from the Open University (Professor David Wilson) and Brunel University (Dr Ana Canhoto). 

The team would like to acknowledge the financial support of (1) the Economic and Social Research Council, Digital Social Research programme, and (2) NEMODE, an initiative under the Research Councils UK (RCUK)'s Digital Economy (DE) research programme, in funding this project.


Report author, said:

We are in a new era of big data – and company directors are finding it hard to adapt. Directors struggle to introduce changes within the shortened timescales created by an ever-changing backdrop of new data and they are under pressure to adapt the way strategic decisions are made.

There’s potential negative impact where an excess of data causes an information overload and the massive volume of information does not necessary yield improved competitive advantage because decision-makers are unable to process this data and use it correctly.

Dr Alessandro Merendino

Co-author, said:

Our findings have important implications for companies seeking to make smarter, faster and more appropriate decisions by using big data. We have learnt that boards need to develop their cognitive capabilities and find new ways to make decisions to make the most of the benefits big data brings.

Our objective is to make directors and the boardroom aware of the benefits of using big data in strategic decisions. We want to help and support directors navigating in the big data realm.

Professor Maureen Meadows

For further press information, please contact Alison Martin, press officer, Coventry University, on 02477659752 or email