But we're always playing catch up. In 2009, more digital information was produced than in all of the prior years of history combined. So spoke Michael Hopkins, editor-in-chief at the MIT Sloan Management Review at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.
Hopkins carried the thought to an ongoing survey about to close at MIT Sloan that asks organizations how close they are to an analytic execution ideal on a scale of 1 to 10, from not at all data driven to thoroughly data driven.
The answer at the moment is 4.5.
"What's holding things up?" Hopkins asked a panel of experts.
A variety of tales unfolded. Rock Gnatovich, COO of Tibco/Spotfire, says tools have not yet been sufficiently responsive enough to business users. Renee Locker of SAS said pure analytic (rather than technical) skills were most lacking. Sid Probstein, CTO at Attivio said a lot of ambitious data projects are monetarily impractical skunk works where they might instead be competency centers.
Brad Peterson, the CIO at Charles Schwab, agreed the problem calls for both enlightening senior management and getting better vendor tools.
But his best point (possibly the observation of the day) spoke to the budgets that really steer the corporate ship, starting, in this case, with marketing.
"If you look at how much a consumer company spends on marketing and on product, ... without increasing the cost of either of those two pools ... you can absolutely compete against traditional marketing dollars and create excitement [through analytic projects]," Peterson said.
After all, every CFO already knows what is being spent on marketing and has an idea of their return.
Peterson figures there's a "huge killer app" sitting inside every consumer organization's marketing budget. "The advertising agencies don't want to give it up so you need a stealth way to get in there, [and] a mobile app is a marketing Trojan horse. The opportunity to fund that mobile app shouldn't come out of technology, it should come out of marketing. That's the way to jumpstart it."
Peterson is a former CIO of eBay, and a part of that company's unique analytic history. At eBay, to which Peterson gives an "8" out of 10, enterprise systems initially broke down for running out of scale. A challenge there was simple infrastructure.
By contrast, he gives Charles Schwab a "6" for its pristine customer recording and the ability to match channels of activity to a unique portfolio. But the company still has strides to make in modern marketing growth Peterson says, and adds that's probably pretty common in the financial industry.
Beyond budgets and enablement, to overcome executive inertia to an analytic mindset, he answered a question about how to make things more flexible and attractive for use, possibly through a simulation or game that acclimates users.
Peterson suggested getting a budget for iPads included in the project. "If you can do anything that gets an iPad in someone's hands, and if they have budget, I would take one of the newer tools that are less expensive to implement and put it on an iPad and give it to a business partner and you'll get some traction."
His answer was partly tongue in cheek and drew a laugh, but most in the audience were nodding and could see he was right.
CIOs wear many hats and make decisions large and small, but most all of them know which way the wind blows.