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IBM study spotlights why data is key to competitive advantage

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IBM’s 20th edition of its bi-annual C-Suite Study , “Build Your Trust Advantage,” polled nearly 900 C-level executives across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) to examine how companies in the region are achieving market leadership by emphasizing trust in their use and sharing of data.

The study, conducted by IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) in cooperation with Oxford Economics, found that market leadership is most frequently attained when an organisation establishes a high level of trust in the data from its customers, its own business processes, and across its partner ecosystem.

Through the quantitative and qualitative surveys issued, it became clear there was a set of leaders– dubbed “Torchbearers” – that stood out as understanding that transparency, reciprocity, and accountability are critical ingredients for earning trust among key stakeholders. These leaders have a deep understanding that building trust in customer relationships is a strategic imperative and work hard to earn and maintain it. In fact:

  • 91 percent of leaders in MEA, compared to 82 percent of their peers globally, strongly believe data helps create a strategic advantage in strengthening their level of customer trust as well as their bottom lines.
  • Torchbearers in MEA also outpace their peers in the region by 48 percent in their capacity to respect customers’ data privacy as a core competitive advantage. Globally, Torchbearers outpace their peers by 22 percent.

“Today, data is considered one of the most important assets that any organisation possesses, ” says Hossam Seif El-Din, Vice President, Enterprise & Commercial, IBM Middle East & Africa (MEA). “Not only does data have the power to differentiate businesses from their competition but transform entire business models. According to the recent C-Suite study, we are seeing that the majority of leaders in our region strongly believe data helps create a strategic advantage in strengthening their level of customer trust as well as their bottom lines.”

While the study focuses on the need for transparency on how companies handle customer data, it also highlights the importance of trusting data that’s within an organisation. Leaders in MEA were found to take great pains to ensure that the data within its own walls is accurate and clean so they can leverage it to make the best-informed decisions on important business ventures, such as developing new business models and entering new or emerging markets.

  • In MEA, 80 percent already extensively use data to develop new business models, compared to a global average of 70 percent;
  • While 73 percent already use data to make informed decisions on entering new markets, compared to a global average of 66 percent;
  • 70 percent of C-suite executives in MEA believes that automation of decision-making processes will increase in their business landscape over the next 2-3 years, compared to 65 percent of their peers globally

The study also revealed an emphasis on the importance of creating trustworthy ecosystems. Data that simply stay within the organization is more likely to drift out of date than to grow in value. Leading organisations are liberating their data while simultaneously de-risking data exchanges in a shared ecosystem – allowing it to circulate widely, without sacrificing their responsibility to secure permissions and safeguard it.

While the study provides the guidance that companies should always practice transparency, reciprocity and accountability when handling data and engaging customers and business partners, other recommendations include:

  1. Strengthen relationships with customers by becoming trusted custodians of personal data, demonstrating transparency by revealing data about offerings and workflows, and using the trust advantage they’ve earned to create differentiating business models.
  2. Build confidence in data and AI models enterprise-wide. Stimulate a culture of true data believers and data-based decision-makers, and in turn, elevate experiences for customers and partners along their value chains.
  3. Learn how to share data on business platforms without giving away a competitive edge. Turn the corner from amassing data to determining how best to monetize it, including how to build ecosystems to create new exponential value.

Access the full study findings here:


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