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Nine out of 10 execs think Big Data - the hoarding of information from server logs to social networking posts - is the fourth most important input to a business. The execs questioned in a survey published yesterday described data sets as the fourth factor of production after land, labour and capital.

The research by the Economist Intelligence Unit and funded by Capgemini examines the role of Big Data in influencing management decisions. Of the 600+ senior execs questioned, 65 per cent of them asserted that more and more management decisions are based on “hard analytic information”, as opposed to just having a hunch.

The responses showed a shift towards data-dredging and away from intuition in the boardroom. Over half (54 per cent) of respondents said that managers relying solely on intuition and experience are regarded as "suspect" by their colleagues.

And it's not just spreadsheets that these new, analytic managers are crunching. 58 per cent fed "unstructured data" into their decision-making process, including text, voice messages, images and video content. For 40 per cent of them that also comprises social media data, which "has become increasingly important for decision-making" according to Capgemini's statement. Sadly, what constitutes social media data was not defined.

The volume of the data involved wasn't seen as a major obstacle by the execs but keeping up with the data in real-time was an issue. Data inaccuracy caused problems for 67 per cent of them on a daily basis.

Also problematic were data silos - having information locked away in inaccessible databases – and a shortage of data analysis talent, particularly notable in the consumer goods and retail sector.

All this looking at Facebook and picking over stats seems to be doing business good, according to the biz respondents: Big Data has improved businesses' performance on average by 26 per cent and that the impact will grow to 41 per cent over the next 3 years.

The 607 respondents came from 20 industries including financial services, manufacturing and consumer retail and from countries across the world. ®

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