The ability to turn data into action sets top performers apart in business, according to a recent MIT Sloan report. Every business, however, is at a different point along the road to incorporating data and analytics in their day-to-day and long-term decision-making processes.

How far along is your business? To proceed toward becoming a data-driven business, you must evaluate your business’s current position on that path and preview the course ahead. At that point you can move ahead at an appropriate and efficient pace.

Know your data level

In the MIT Sloan study, three levels of analytics capability emerged among businesses—Aspirational, Experienced, and Transformed. Knowing your level can help you identify your business’s distinct needs and opportunities

  • Aspirational organizations use analytics to justify actions. You’re focusing on efficiency or automation of existing processes and looking for ways to cut costs.
  • Experienced companies use analytics to guide actions. You’re looking beyond cost management and are interested in developing better ways to collect, integrate, and act on analytics.
  • Transformed businesses use analytics to prescribe actions. Because you’re already skilled at organizing people, processes, and tools, you’re most focused on driving customer profitability and making targeted investments. In other words, you’re using data and analytics as a competitive differentiator.

Consider your culture

So why isn’t every business a transformed business by now? Believe it or not, data capabilities aren’t the problem. For most companies, it boils down to leadership and company culture. Businesses struggle with both a lack of insight into how analytics can improve business and a lack of managerial bandwidth. To combat these seemingly innocuous obstacles, leaders need to set clear goals and ask the right questions. Data-driven organizations don’t ask, “What do we think?” They ask, “What do we know?” Retiring these old ways of thinking requires a cultural shift and strong leadership.

Here’s how Aspirational, Experienced, and Transformed businesses can progress:

  • Aspirational organizations should build a team of advocates to campaign for investments in analytics. Get a sponsorship for initial projects by identifying the big business challenges that can be addressed by analytics, and find the data you have that fits the challenge.
  • Experienced companies should move to enterprise analytics by focusing on the big issues that everyone recognizes. Collaborate to drive enterprise opportunities without compromising departmental needs.
  • Transformed businesses need to discover and champion improvements. Focus your analytics and managerial attention on going deeper rather than broader, but continue to demonstrate new ways that analytics can move your business toward its goals.

Your journey toward data-based decision making

Businesses at different levels will see transformation differently. It helps to set your business up for success and plan for the long haul by choosing the best entry point to capture the most value. Use this overview to identify that starting point and prepare your business for a range of options for future opportunities. In the end, it pays to be a data-driven organization, so evaluate your company’s current position. Remember, although the vision and goal are big, the first implementation steps can be small, as long as they fit your roadmap!