No one in business today is working in the world they were born into. The proliferation of data and 'consumer-ised' technologies has changed the way we live, work and play – and it's important to take a step back and not only acknowledge how far we've come, but how far we still have to go.

The prospect of rapid data-related change can feel legitimately daunting to organisations, but what's clear is that they need to recognise that with every new test there comes an equally sizeable opportunity. These are the findings of Experian's latest Global Data Management research paper, which discovered some fascinating insights into how well organisations are responding to this ever-changing and complex data landscape, particularly given the increased regulatory responsibilities coming their way.

One such example which is on the agenda for every business is the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Due to come into force in May 2018, this could pose significant pain as many businesses are still preparing for the enforced changes required. We have also seen the introduction of Open Banking in January, a new data-driven initiative transforming the way consumers can choose products and services that work for them.

It's widely recognised that such 'data developments' will have huge impact on organisations' operating models. However, these changes should also be seen as a chance to transform business for all the right reasons, encouraging the type of responsible data practices that can only improve relationships with customers, and profitability.

Delivering in a data-driven world

The standout statistics from Experian's research paper show an interesting story: 83% of businesses see data as an integral part of forming a business strategy, yet one in three suspect their data is inaccurate. This disconnect begins to lift the lid on how hard it is to implement data management strategies which harness the opportunities of today's vastly complex data landscape.

In fact, 73% agree that it is often difficult to predict when and where the next data challenge will be and crucially, over half (55%) believe that data has greatly disrupted their organisation in the last year in some way.

Despite there being no doubt that in 2018 data is the lifeblood of any organisation, volumes of data are clearly posing challenges. It's estimated that by the year 2025 the global 'datasphere' will grow to 163 trillion gigabytes (a Seagate commissioned study from IDC) – ten times the amount recorded last year. Yet, according to Experian's research findings, 68% believe that increasing volumes of data make it difficult to meet regulatory requirements.

A turning point in the data dimension

Encouragingly however, further findings show that 72% of organisations believe that the GDPR presents an opportunity to refine a data management strategy. This shows acknowledgement that, from a strategic point of view, the GDPR can be viewed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to review the complete journey of personal data. This gives a great foundation for future data innovation, enabling many businesses to get project funding that may have otherwise been denied.

And whilst 30% of organisational data is suspected to be inaccurate in some way, an overwhelming three quarters (75%) say they have seen return on investment from their data quality solutions, leading to more positive outcomes.

GDPR may be somewhat of a distraction and disruption is a valid concern, but getting the right data management practises in place provides so much more than just compliance.

The value exchange

A well-thought out, ethical data management strategy plays a very big role in building relationships with customers. It empowers businesses to be open and transparent about how they're using customer data responsibly. This in turn promotes much higher levels of trust which will build a fair value exchange between the two parties and support the creation of a more connected and personalised customer experience.

With the GDPR on the horizon, consumers have higher expectations than ever so understanding their perspective is key. A separate Experian survey flagged that 22% simply don't understand and/or don't take the time to understand how their data is used ('The Unaware'). Whilst this trusting attitude can mean that they are more likely to use a service that requires them to share their personal data, they can often react with genuine shock and anger when they do find out how the organisation uses their data. Not every customer is the same. Even beyond The Unaware group, there is a further 41% (The 'Accepting') who will share data rather begrudgingly but need to understand in simple terms how it is being used. There's also 28% ('The Cautious.) who will take the time to fully understand the data value exchange.

So how confident are businesses that they're meeting this critical requirement? The data management research suggests that there's still work to be done, with 48% believing their customers are fully aware of how their data is used and trust them to use it responsibly. However, there are encouraging signs of change. Of those surveyed, 41% of organisations said they had updated their privacy policy to make it easier to understand, and the same number say they clearly update their customers on any changes. This is certainly a positive step in the right direction.

The take-aways

Businesses need to build from the ground up. Get the basics in place. Data quality matters. It may not be a priority, but having inaccurate data has big implications on everything from customer experience and efficiency, to the ability to make well-informed business decisions.

Regulation is a great platform for future innovation so avoid thinking of it as a requirement in isolation. The forthcoming GDPR is a great opportunity because it formalises the requirement for well governed, accurate data management. That gives a tick in the box for compliance but more importantly it gives the best platform from which to consider what's next.

Experian's research discovered that in the next five years, organisations are looking to drive opportunity from analytics, real-time processing and automation, amongst other things. The world of data continues beyond the immediate compliance journey.

Choose tools that will empower your organisation. We've seen that businesses globally recognise that data now sits at heart of making decisions and strategy. That means that it's absolutely key that those who need it can get their hands on it. Consider how user-friendly and collaborative the data management tools chosen will be to those business users who need access to the data.

The answers are deceptively simple, but require care in the execution!