In the last few years thought leaders have been touting the inestimable value of big data, a concept which involves extracting useful information from a myriad of electronic silos within and without a company. While the idea of harvesting data to make smart business decisions is certainly a compelling one, figuring out how to do it is a challenge for many companies. Take some cues from Fred Shilmover, founder and CEO of Salesforce analytics company InsightSquared. He offers several bits of advice on how to do become a data-driven company.

Create a culture of transparency.

One way to do it is by giving everyone in the company access to financial data. At InsightSquared it means posting financial information shared at board meetings to the company's internal Wiki and all-hands meetings during which employees can put Shilmover on the spot. "I encourage people to ask hard questions," he says. "Not everyone is comfortable with giving everyone a login and having everyone see what the sales numbers and performance metrics really are, but in my view this is actually the beginning of creating accountability."

Set measurable goals.

The idea is to call your shots which forces you to defend your ideas. For example, if you set a goal to sell $1 million in software or get 1,000 leads but end up missing the mark, you'll be forced to diagnose what went wrong. "You're actually going to get better at forecasting going forward," he says.

Adopt technology to harvest data.

Considering how inexpensive cloud-based software platforms are, you really don't have any excuse not to. Scads of companies such as InsightSquared exist to pull data from various data sources such as Salesforce, Quick Books and Zendesk to give companies detailed analyses of their data, such as which customers are good ones and which ones aren't. "As sales moves from field sales to inside sales, and as a lot of deals that historically may have taken six to 12 months to complete are now taking 30 to 60 days to complete, there's just a lot more transaction volume," he says. "You can either take advantage of that data and make better decisions or you can ignore it and get left behind."